Analyzing Court Conditions
When you step onto the court before your match, the first thing you want to do is to determine the court dynamics: speed of the court, wind direction, sun position, etc. This should only take you about a minute at most. Once you have done that, the real analysis begins. Analyzing your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses so that you can develop an initial match strategy is best use of your time during the “official warm-up” period.
Analyzing Your Opponent’s Game
Begin pre-match hitting with little pace on your shots. Hit balls to your opponent’s forehand and backhand using both slice and topspin to see how he/she reacts to both. Hit some balls down the middle to see which side your opponent prefers. If he/she consistently runs around the ball to hit a forehand, and hits it well, you can tentatively conclude that he/she prefers the forehand side. If he/she consistently runs around a ball to hit it on a particular side and doesn’t hit it well, you can tentatively conclude that he/she is trying to practice that shot because he/she doesn’t hit it well.
While warming-up groundstrokes, pay attention to where shots from your opponent’s forehand and backhand are landing in your court. Determine which is producing deeper shots, and which is hit with more or less topspin. You also want to note whether he/she is using a variety of strokes or hitting the same shot repeatedly. A player who can’t hit a slice shot will have some difficulty playing very low balls. A player who can’t hit topspin may have difficulty hitting a penetrating passing shot.
Look at Footwork
Observing your opponent’s footwork can be helpful as well. To which side does he/she appear to move more comfortably? Does he/she out of position more on one side than the other? What type of shot does your opponent hit when moving wide to the backhand or forehand? Perhaps your opponent doesn’t go after any balls that are hit wide during official warm-up. That might indicate he/she doesn’t hit well on the run.
Observe Net Game
Often players will come to the net for very few volleys, perhaps an overhead or two, and run back to hit more balls from the baseline. You can rest assured that this player doesn’t like the net much, and you should hit a few short balls during warm up to see if he/she hits the ball and moves forward. If he/she doesn’t, chances are he/she doesn’t play the net well. When your opponent is at net hit a variety of shots to observe how he/she handles all shots at net. Pay attention to the ease with which shots are handled.
During the official warm-up, in addition to analyzing, you are employing mental game strategy. You can assume that your opponent is analyzing you as well, so masking weaknesses is every bit as important as concealing strengths. If you have a killer forehand, slice the ball on that side. There’s no need to show it off before the match begins. If your big serve usually wins you easy points, there’s no need to allow your opponent to get used to it before play begins.
If you have a stroke that is suspect, concentrate heavily on the fundamentals and get the ball in play consistently. If you know you don’t have a stroke n your repertoire, don’t try to fake it; that will only call attention to your weakness. Simply put, keep all of your strokes basic, under control, and provide as little information as possible.
Develop Flexible Game Plan
Once you have sized up the court and analyzed your opponent, develop a game plan for the first few games to test the theory you’ve developed about your opponent. However, make the plan flexible and be prepared to change. Remember, your opponent may have played the mental game as skillfully as you during official warm-up. The mental game keys to remember for the moments just before play starts are:
1) analyze your opponents strengths and weaknesses
2) conceal your own strengths and weaknesses
3) develop a flexible game plan to begin the match
These keys will help you free your winning potential.
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