Initially all points seem to be equal but, in reality they all have a different value which is intrinsically tied to the moment at which the point is played therefore the score.
For example, an apparently innocuous first point (15-0 or 0-15) of a match can be a pretty straightforward ace affair on a hard/grass-court or a 10 to 20 minute battle on clay!
In the first case there are no scars. In the second situation the damage can be substantial. I have seen matches where the conqueror of that first point runs away with a quick 6-0 set. In other cases it takes so much energy from the winner of that 15-0 point that they end up losing that game and the set.
Once again in the first situation it is easy, you won a straight forward point. In the second it is hard to turn around, relegate it to oblivion and start all over again and become detached from a major battle for a point where you gave it all and lost. Neverthless, if you want to be a top mental percentage player it is a must, just tell your bruised ego to forget it, regroup and do battle again.
So what is behind a point, your whole self or nothing? It all depends on the importance you attach to it. In the BIG POINTS you have no choice but consider them as major building blocks of winning matches. Let’s observe the imaginary set below:
For me a BIG POINT is any point that can open the door to an eventual break point. They can lead to game point, set-point or match-point, whatever the situation get ready to pump some adrenaline into your system, your opponent certainly will. You will notice that I give more importance to the 30-15 and 30-30 then actual game points (40-15/40-30 or Ad). Of course a Match point is a bigger point then a 30-15 but, the key is to win the 30-15 to go 40-15 that can be the match point rather then the game point/set point/match point in itself.
Often it is said on TV by Coaches and experts around the world, “we arrived at a crucial point of this match the 7th game”, others say that in the 8th or 9th game! I am no expert or TV commentator or a great Coach either but, I put it this way; if I can break my opponent’s service at any time in the match 1st, 2nd or 15th game of the set and hold my own to win the set, that very game I broke my opponent was “THE” most important game of the set!
So your basic strategy and tactic should always take the following in consideration:
- Get ahead as soon as possible, if you can get an early break the better.
- Once you got “THE” break hold onto your serve. From then on focus 100% on your service games, unless your opponent is several classes below you, you do not need to break his serve again.
- In your opponents service games make him work for every point, while saving yourself. (Do not go for heroics and chaise unnecessary impossible shots!)
Questions start to arise about how to connect percentage play with the score and its complexity.
If we count the points each player won in the scenario above:
Andy won the most points – 27 points
Roger won fewer points – 25 points
But, Roger won the set 6-3!
So Roger won fewer points and won the set! Here we come to a very interesting part of the game of tennis and that is:
“Not all points or games have the same value or importance.”
Does that mean that I should not fight like a manic for every point? Yes…and….no.
You should fight very hard to win the match but, during the match certain points, games and even sets can be used to tire your opponent, break his rhythm, slow him down or rush him, frustrate him, drive him up the wall and you need not to kill yourself to win those points.
You have a 5-1 lead and your opponent is determined to win his next service game at all costs, by all means let him win that game but, make him pay a high price for it!
- Make him run for every point as much as possible.
- Use tactics and shots you did not use in the match until then e.g. drop shot and lob more often. Play cat and mouse with him.
- Bring him (unwanted) to the net and when he tries to close in, lob over his head. If you succeed you will have him running all over the place and your next service game should be a tad easier to close the set.
- Hit paceless high and deep topspin shots to the baseline and mix it with deep slices
- Hit deep soft balls with no pace in them and occasionaly hit a suprise winner once your opponent lowers the pace himself.
What is the difference?
- When you allowed your opponent to win the game to 5-2 you did not have the usual mental and physical drainage you would have as if you had to battle him if you wanted to break his serve and close the set. On the other hand your opponent had to spend plenty of energy, nervous and physical because he desperately needed/wanted to stay in the set and probably wanted to start serving first in the next set in case you closed the present set with your next service game.
- Because mentally you let your opponent win that game for tactical reasons, there is no damage to your confidence. Since you gave yourself a break in that game you will have a much higher level of energy and concentration to conclude the set with your serve.
- Your opponent is playing a catching up situation 2-5 all or nothing and just had to run hills and mountains to win the last game. His level of energy and concentration will be likely to deteriorate in the next game and you will give yourself a better chance to close out the set.
Now, beware of the following; do not use the situation to deride or humiliate your opponent, keep your focus and remember you are using this as a ploy to tire, rattle your opponent and save energy for your next service game.
Does this apply to a set especially on a best of 5 sets match? More often then expected it does!
Below is a writer’s comment of the “2005 Monte Carlo Masters Series final” between Rafael Nadal and Guillermo Coria.
“After losing the first two sets 6-3, 6-1, Coria stormed back to win the third set 6-0 in only 26 minutes. It seemed as if Nadal was saving himself for a fantastic fourth set and it was indeed great as the 18-year-old sensation broke at 6-5 to clinch his career first ATP Masters Series shield.”
This strategy is a good example of good percentage play and smart tactics. You made a tremendous mental and physical effort to win the first and second set, you are tired and need to reenergize yourself. Your opponent has no choice but, to fight for every ball and every game, if he loses this set he is out of the match. This is a golden opportunity to tire your opponent get him frustrated and upset. Make him lose rhythm as well as precious physical and mental energy while he is desperately trying to win the 3 set.
After he “won” the third set, you stacked up most ods in your favour to win the next set because you recharged your batteries while your opponent had to drain his to stay in the match. In the fourth set it is your turn to become relentless and drain the rest of the juice out of your opponents body. You should start playing point by point from the very begining of the set, try to get an early break of service, do not give up an inch of court and somewhere along that set your opponent will have a small mental of physical lapse due to the prolonged effort in both areas (physical and mental) in the previous set.
Nadal found that small mental or physical lapse in Corias armour at 6-5, you could find it a 3 all, 4-3, 5-4 or any other time of the set, the important thing though is to execute, capitalize in that very moment and walk away with the trophy!
The last example applies to 3 set matches as well. Hope you will build on those ideas! Enjoy “THE GAME”.
For comments or ideas about this article please email the author Sergio Cruz