There are four primary styles of singles play in tennis: aggressive baseliner, serve-and-volleyer, counterpuncher, and all-court player. Being aware of your opponents’ preferred style of play is pivotal to understanding the optimal strategy and tactics to use against them. In this Hub, I describe the four styles of play, key strategies to beat them, include video of those strategies in action, and provide examples of touring Professionals for each so that you know who to watch to see each style consistently in action.
Style 1. The Aggressive Baseliner
The aggressive baseliner likes to be in control and dictate play. They rely on the strength of their groundstrokes to move opponents around the court and will aggressively go for winners from the back of the court. These players typically have a weapon in their forehand and, often times, their backhand. At more advanced levels of play, they use the geometry of the court to hit angled shots that open the court for winners. Because these players like to be aggressive, they will attack short in the court, and they will take the chance at making a few unforced errors in order to hit big shots.
Key Strategies to Beat The Aggressive Baseliner
When playing aggressive baseliners, you need to keep your shots deep into the back third or quarter of the court. Mix in high bouncing shots with low, slicing shots to keep your opponents guessing. Also vary the spin of your *****: topspin, flat, and slice. By doing this, you will make it difficult for your opponents to find their “wheelhouse” and they will be more likely to make errors.
Style 2. The Serve-and-Volleyer
The serve and volley player will attack the net coming in behind their serve. They come to the net after nearly every first serve, and often times after a second serve. Their goal is to come to net as soon as possible, usually within the first several ***** in a rally.Their typical point construction is to serve, hit a well-placed first volley that opens the court, and hit a finishing volley to end the point.
Key Strategies to beat the Serve-and-Volleyer
When returning your opponent’s serve, focus on hitting the ball down the line instead of cross-court. This is because it’s harder for your opponent to cover the entire width of the court when you return the ball down the line.
Use sharply angled topspin shots. When returning your opponent’s serve or during a rally, using a heavy topspin will give you the margin of error to hit angled, cross court shots.
By hitting the ball on the rise when they serve, you take away precious time they need to get closer to the net for their first volley. This will keep them pinned to the baseline, which is where they don’t want to be. Serve and volley players typically don’t have consistent enough groundstrokes to sustain long rallies or be aggressive from the back line. So make sure you keep them there by following through with your return!
Style 3. The Counterpuncher
The Counterpuncher, also known as the Pusher, is a player who is all about consistent defence. This type of player knows which shots are most likely to succeed, and always hits them. They know that two-thirds of points won in tennis are from errors made by the opponent, so they focus on making their opponents make mistakes. They will never go for too much on a shot, they almost never hit winners, and they win most of their points because their opponents eventually make an error. To top it off, Counterpunchers are usually fast and have good court coverage. The best Counterpunchers keep their shots deep, have good lobs, and place ***** effectively.
Key strategies to Beat the Counterpuncher
Be aggressive when attacking the net. Counterpunchers don’t like to be rushed and they will try to pressure you if you go for too much too soon. Be patient and construct points to get your opening. However, don’t stay in long, protracted rallies. Hit behind them. A lot of counterpunchers cover the court well by running to the open court. Hitting ***** behind them can effectively make them run out of energy and tire them out.
If you’re getting killed with lobs, it’s time to start hitting overheads. The lob is a high percentage shot, so don’t get into a long battle of lobbing back and forth with your opponent. Instead, hit an overhead shot, drive the lob, or even better, hit an overhead from the baseline off of those deep lobs.
Move them forward and backward. Counterpunchers are usually excellent at moving from side to side, but often they’re not good at moving from forward to back. Hit drop shots and short cross-court angles to move them forward, then follow it up with a deep lob or deep, penetrating groundstroke to move them back again.
Style 4. The All-Court Player
The All-Court Player is a tennis player who is able to use a variety of different shots, depending on the opponent’s weaknesses. They are often aggressive attackers of the net against counterpunchers, and consistent baseliners against serve and volleyers. They are sometimes referred to as a “jack-of-all-trades” because they can hit every shot in the book – volleys, drop-shots, lobs, etc.
Key Strategies to Beat the All-Court Player
When playing tennis, it is important to know your strengths and play to them. If you have a great forehand, use it to your advantage as much as possible. All-court players will have a tough time returning that are hit with a lot of topspin deep into the court. This is why Rafael Nadal hits his forehand against Roger Federer’s slice backhand.
To keep your opponents pinned behind the baseline, hit high looping topspin deep into the court. It is very difficult to hit variety from 3+ feet behind the baseline, like as drop shots are impossible to hit while moving backwards this far from the net.