When talking tennis with my peers and fellow tennis coaches it became evident that we all had our own preferences on tennis singles strategy. However, none of us had the data to suggest which approach would be ideal. So I decided to do some research and found many valuable resources, one of which was from Craig O’Shannessy who was formerly on the strategy team for Novak Djokovic, and is known in the tennis world for sharing tennis statistics and tennis patterns that apply to all levels of play.
I created the following article on tennis singles strategy and statistics to help my tennis pros and clients improve. I hope you find some value in it as well.
You will find a tennis court template that is labeled with numbers and letters at the end of the article. Refer to the tennis court template when serve locations and patterns of play are mentioned. I will put together a video as well to provide more insights in the near future.
Who am I?
Know your strengths and weaknesses.
Who is my opponent?
Figure out what the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses are.
Who is the best?
Know what the top players in the World are doing and copy their patterns.
Based on the above findings, put together a game plan for patterns of play for the first 4 shots. Remember to focus on forcing errors. What strategy does my opponent dislike, finds uncomfortable, or takes away rhythm? It is easier to make the opponent play bad then to play great yourself.
- Primary patterns: ~75% of the time. (Utilize to get up in the score.)
- Secondary patterns: ~25% of the time. (Utilize when the score doesn’t press the situation.)
8 Ways to Force an Error
*Depth*, Consistency, Direction, Height, Spin, Power, Court Position, Time.
Tennis Singles Strategy Win Percentages
- Baseline: 46%
- Approaching: 66% – Ideally a heavy forehand to the backhand behind the player. (Increases to 71%)
- Serve and Volley: 69% – Ideal first volley is behind the player.
- Primary 1st serve pattern: out wide to 1 and 8.
- Primary 2nd serve pattern: serving to the body-backhand jammer (3 and 7) and to the backhand.
*The 1st service game will have a greater percentage of serves to the body than any other game to increase the percentage of 1st serves in the court.
- 1st serve in 60%
- 1st serve points won 70%
- 2nd serve points won 50%
- Breakpoints saved 60%
- Service games won 80%
- 1st serve return: On the defense. Return deep down the middle of the court.
- 2nd serve return: On the offense. Step up and take the serve early. (Murray) Run around it and hit a forehand. (Nadal) Remember, big shots go to big targets.
*70% (men) 75% (women) returns come back.
- Primary passing shot is the crosscourt roll.
- Secondary passing shot is down the line.
Playbook for Tennis Singles Strategy
Zones in Tennis to Guide Shot Selection
Where you are physically positioned on the court can help guide your shot selection. Here is a framework that can be used as a guide. Utilize the photos below to illustrate the framework as well.
- Defensive zone is when you’re positioned six feet or more beyond the baseline.
- Typically in this zone you want to hit your shots at least six feet above the net. This helps limit your chances of missing into the net, can assist with placing the ball deep, and provide yourself time to recover.
- Neutral zone is when your beyond the baseline but not being pushed back beyond where you would like to stand.
- When in the neutral zone, it is important to focus on depth and try to keep the ball deep. This keeps your opponent at bay, needing to take on additional risk if they decide to go for an aggressive ball. Hitting balls three to six feet over the net with topspin is a great choice in this zone because it may push your opponent back near the defensive zone and result in your opponent hitting the ball short.
- The attacking zone is when you’re positioned inside the baseline.
- In the attacking zone, the court has now shortened. It is important to hit lower over the net keeping the ball within three feet over the net. This will assist in keeping your attacking or approach shots from sailing long
- The kill zone is when your are positioned around the service line.
- All the points in the attacking zone apply to the kill zone as well.
- First shot is deep to C+ to push the opponent back in the court.
- Second shot is wide to D to open up the court.
- Third shot is placed to A for the unspectacular winner.
Your forehand (sword) vs the opponent’s backhand (shield). Make your opponent hit 4 backhands in a row.
*If it is clear that this is your opponent’s pattern of choice, attack his forehand first.
*To counter this pattern, hit the backhand down the line without giving up court position.
Serve + 1 Forehand
- Hit the forehand instead of the backhand. (2:1 winner ratio)
- Attack the Deuce or Ad side twice. (Causes the opponent to freeze and removes anticipation.)
Number of Shots per Point
- 1-4: First Strike – 70% of points.
- 5-8: Patterns – 20% of points.
- 9+: Extended Rallies – 10% of points.
*Takeaways: Spend more time on the serve and return, serve +1 and return +1.
More Keys for Success
- Understand that the best players in the World win 55% of points. Be mentally and emotionally prepared to lose 45% of points.
- The match is being played during the point and between the points.
- One point can change everything.
- 80% of points played end in errors. Chase the 80% by making the opponent uncomfortable resulting in an error.
- Hit run around forehands. Forehands produce 2 times more winners than backhands.
- C+ is where players stand the most.
- Spend 80% of the time developing strengths and 20% of the time minimizing weaknesses.
- Play more than you practice.
Tennis Singles Strategy Framework
When formulating your singles strategy and patterns of play, refer to this court diagram. It is a great way to come up with set plays before you play a match. If you enjoyed this article I know you will love the tennis doubles strategy and positioning post.