How to Scout an Opponent (Ten Questions to Determine the Strengths and Weaknesses of your Opponent)

This is the first in a three part series on how to construct a game plan. In constructing a game plan for a match, the main emphasis is to develop a plan to allow you the opportunity to do what you do best. The second consideration is to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent and then tailor your game plan to not allow your opponent to do what he/she does best. Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent can happen in watching your opponent play in prior matches, during the warm-up and/or as an ongoing process during the course of a match. For this assessment or scouting process, I have listed a series of ten questions you can ask and review to best determine the capabilities of your opponent and what your opponent is likely to do in different situations.

  1. What is the player’s preferred style of play (i.e. aggressive baseliner, counter-puncher, rush and crush)? How versatile is the player? What is the capability of the player to change his/her style of play as necessary to win a match?
  2. Does the player demonstrate a left or right side dominance? Is the player left handed or right handed? Does the player prefer to hit from the forehand side or backhand side? Is there a preference to run around his/her backhand or forehand to hit an inside stroke?
  3. What are the player’s tendencies and preferred patterns of play when ahead, behind and in tight situations (i.e. hit returns down-the-line on the deuce side of the side, hit lobs when pressured to the backhand side, etc.).
  4. What is the player’s response (with groundstrokes, volleys, overheads, serve returns, etc.) to different types of shots and situations? How does the player respond to high balls, low balls, pace and varying pace, spin and varying spin, depth, high/low trajectory, hitting from the forecourt, hitting from the backcourt, etc? In what type of situations and in response to what type of shots, is it likely for the player to experience a breakdown in technique or make a poor decision?
  5. How would you rate the offensive capabilities of the player? What is his/her ability to finish a point? Does the player demonstrate quick strike capabilities? How well does the player transition from defense to offense? How well does the player recognize and take advantage of opportunities. Can the player dictate play with a particularly shot, pattern or sequence of shots, tactic or style?
  6. How would you rate the defensive skills of the player? How well does the player stay in a point, make opponents hit one more ball, take pace off the ball, etc.?
  7. What are the player’s placement, spin and tempo patterns on the serve? Does the player prefer to hit to specific target areas, particularly during tight situations? Does the player have the capability to hit the three basic target areas? Is it possible to adjust your return-of-serve starting position to cover your weak side and challenge the player to hit to your strength? Does the player like play to a fast, slow or varying tempo in delivering his/her serve?
  8. What is the level of fitness of your opponent? Does the player have a tendency to show fatigue after a long point? How well does player hold up physically in a long match? Is the player able to sustain maximum effort through the course of an entire match or does performance drop as the match progresses? As a specific example, does stroke velocity tend to decrease with time (particularly with the serve)?
  9. How well does the player cover the court? Does the player demonstrate sound footwork patterns in moving to the ball? Are there situations where the player tends to lose balance and lunge at the ball? How would you rate and compare the player’s ability to move up, back, left and right? As a specific example, is there a reluctance to move in to cover short balls?
  10. Is the player mentally tough? What is his/her ability to close out a point, game, set and match? Are there situations where the player loses intensity and focus? What is the player’s temperament and demeanor on court? Does the player respond positively in a challenge response to adversity or is the player apt to get down and discouraged? What cues in body language does the player exhibit when things are going well and when things are not going as well.

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