Don’t Panic

Things can go wrong on the court. Tennis provides a number of “bumps in the road” for every player. When things go wrong as they are apt to do on the court, the important thing is not to panic and then methodically direct all your energy, attention and focus to getting out of whatever “hole” you are in no matter how bleak or desperate the situation appears to be. For every problem there is a solution. Here are ten things that can go wrong on the tennis court and what you can do to “turn a wrong into a right”.

Problem #1
The pace of play is too fast. Your opponent is playing close to the baseline, taking balls on the rise and closing with every opportunity. The rallies are ending quickly and you’re feeling rushed and are unable to get any sense of timing.
1st Response Don’t panic.
2nd Response Be very deliberate with your serve and take as much time as possible between points. Judiciously take towel breaks to slow the pace of play between points.
3rd Response Raise the height of your ball and try to establish more depth with your groundstrokes. Do everything possible to increase the length of the rally.
4th Response If this doesn’t work, “fight fire with fire” and attack. Apply pressure on your opponent by closing the net following your serve and return.

Problem #2
Things are going wrong with your serve. To use a catch phrase, “you can’t buy a serve”. Your first serve percentage is dismally low and you are prone to hitting double faults.
1st Response Don’t panic (unless you want to put on an entertaining show for your friends, family and other observers of your match).
2nd Response Focus on one or two things with your mechanics to get your serve back on track. Effective areas of focus are the tossing arm and head position. Keep your tossing arm and chin up as long as possible. Focus on keeping your head up and eyes fixed at the point of contact through the follow through and finish.
3rd Response Take pace off the first serve and hit with more spin. Hit a three-quarter pace serve to get your first serve percentage up over 65%.
4th Response Be deliberate and focused prior to hitting each serve. Reestablish your normal ritual prior to hitting each serve to improve your composure and concentration.

Problem #3
You’re having problems with your consistency (keeping the ball in play) with your groundstrokes. The most common errors are balls hit into the net.
1st Response Don’t panic. (Of course, you could panic and it perhaps would make a good scene but panicking would undoubtedly lead to your imminent demise and bad feelings after the match.)
2nd Response In terms of mechanics, ensure you are getting good extension with your follow through in an inside-outside path (if hitting with topspin) and accelerating the racquet head through the hitting zone to a strong, complete finish. Make sure you have lively and active feet and take a number of adjustment steps to the ball.
3rd Response Establish a better margin for error with your shots. Focus on hitting with more topspin and higher net clearance (particularly when pushed back behind the baseline). Hit predominantly cross-court unless in a position to attack (in response to a short ball and a favorable court position). Hit to the middle third of the court. Hopefully with time you will establish better rhythm and confidence and will be able to open up with your groundstrokes.
4th Response Reduce the need to hit groundstrokes by attacking the net and taking more balls out of the air.
5th Response Don’t sweat the outcome. If you have to come up with a 5th response, you’re basically sunk anyway.

Problem #4
You’re deep into a match and you’re hurting physically. You don’t have any energy and are having problems covering the court.
1st Response Don’t panic (which in this case would be a big time energy killer).
2nd Response Look for ways to shorten the length of the rally (avoid the need to play out long, energy sapping exchanges with your opponent). Take more risks particularly with your first strike options (serve and serve return). Go for more shots to end the point more quickly.
3rd Response Play inside the baseline to reduce your angles of court coverage. Be judicious in your choice to run down balls. Look for ways to economize your motion and conserve your remaining energy.
4th Response Do everything you can to recover between points. Slow down your pace of play. Take all the time you are allowed between points and during game changeovers. Hydrate and eat (if possible) during game changeovers.

Problem #5
It’s early in the season and you’re having a particularly difficult time adjusting to the wind.
1st Response Don’t panic. (Your actions may disturb the barometric pressure and make things even more unstable.)
2nd Response Dig in and fight through it. Be lively and active with your feet to put yourself in the best possible position to hit each shot. This is particularly important in the wind based on the unpredictable nature of the ball flight and bounce. Remind yourself that your opponent is experiencing the same conditions and potentially the same difficulties.
3rd Response Hit with a higher margin of error. Hit predominantly cross court. Be particularly leery of hitting down-the-line “tightrope” passes. Hit with more spin.
4th Response Determine the direction of the wind and adjust your tactics accordingly. Take balls earlier on the bounce (on the rise) with a shorter backswing and close into the net when the wind is at your back. Drive through the ball with an extended and full swing pattern and aim higher over the net when the wind is in your face (when you’re hitting into the wind).

Problem #6
You’re playing doubles against a team that is killing you with their lobs. You’re having trouble with both your overheads and your ability to run down and respond to lobs hit over your head.
1st Response Don’t panic.
2nd Response Be aggressive with your overheads and be decisive when you have the opportunity to finish the point at the net. Stay active with your feet and be prepared to run.
3rd Response Play a little further back from the net particularly when positioned at the net with your partner serving. Serve and stay back or serve and volley less frequently. When closing into the net with an approach shot or following a serve, do not close into the net as much as you usually do and make sure to time your split to allow time to adjust to a potential lob.
4th Response If all else fails, play “soft ball“. Stay back and play a defensive, patient style of play. Hit lobs and look for opportunities to draw your opponents into the net with short balls. Get your opponents out of their comfort zone.

Problem #7
You’re playing doubles and getting walloped by a team that aggressively closes and roams the net.
1st Response Don’t panic.
2nd Response Be aggressive. Play “no bounce” doubles (do everything possible to take the ball before the bounce). Beat your opponents to the net by following both your serves and returns into the net. Give them less time to set up.
3rd Response Play defensively. Lob off the return. Stay back and defend. Make your opponents hit one more shot.

Problem #8
You’re having problems finishing the point in doubles. The points are extending too long (for your preference).
1st Response Don’t panic.
2nd Response Look to close the net with your volleys (particularly in response to balls up in your strike zone). Redirect your volleys down-the-line when in a position to finish the point. Direct your finishing volley or attacking shot to the feet of the opposing player who has less time to respond (player positioned closest to the net). Look for ways to isolate one or both of your opponents at the baseline with depth and angles to open up more defined target windows. Be aggressive in roaming the net. Cross whenever you can to cut off weak replies by your opponents. Don’t let your opponents recover when on the defensive. Take balls early and on the rise and take as many balls as possible before the bounce.
3rd Response Do more of the same. The important message is to be bold (not tentative).

Problem #9
You’re getting hurt by your opponents’ return of serve in doubles.
1st Response Don’t panic.
2nd Response Vary the location, spin and pace of your serve. Try not to be predictable and as much as possible hit to the weak side of your opponents. At the same time, mix up how and when you close the net following your serve. Serve and volley some points. At other times, serve and stay back. Encourage your partner to poach off the serve. Utilize signals as necessary to communicate intentions to cross with the serve.
3rd Response Try different starting formations such as the “I Formation” (where the partner of the server straddles the center service line at the start of each point) or the “Australian Shift” (where the partner of the server starts on the same side of the server requiring the return of serve to be hit down-the-line). Do anything you can to disrupt the rhythm and timing of the serve returner.

Problem #10
You’re playing against an opponent or opponents with superior talent and you’re outmatched.
1st Response Don’t panic, be happy.
2nd Response Focus on the things you can control and try not to do too much with the ball. Trying to do too much (or playing outside of your skill set) generally leads to forced mistakes and a quick end to your outing. Focus on holding your serve and keeping things close. Anything can happen if you can get the score to four games all.
3rd Response Despite real or perceived differences in playing abilities, you still want to be competitive and smart in how you approach the match. Look to claim any advantage possible. Establish a game plan to take advantage of your strengths and exploit the weaknesses of your opponent(s). Be prepared to change course if things are not going to plan.
4th Response Have fun and use the match as a learning opportunity.

Be resourceful, clever, draw on your prior experiences and refer to your contingency playbook and there should no problem or adverse situation that you can’t deal with effectively.  The important thing is to hang in there and do whatever you can to get back into the match.

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