Tennis is a great sport that requires holistic preparation, an individual activity that puts responsibility into our hands. There are many words that come to mind when we think about tennis, but the keyword that describes it would be “hard”, both as in “work hard” and “hard courts”.
In the last three decades, we have experienced different changes in the game.
Agassi and Sampras era
In the era of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, everyone wanted to be like them. Everyone wanted to play aggressively and put pressure on the rival. That was the way to succeed at the highest level, so tennis players chased the imitation of their idols.
Federer and Nadal era
Then we had (and we still have, although it is in its late stage) the era of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. These two guys took the game to a completely different level. They differ from Sampras and Agassi, and they differ from each other. Federer proved that technique and variety can give you plenty of Grand Slams and records. Nadal showed the world that being bulky and playing enormous topspin can be the solution to win Roland Garros year after year.
New tennis era
As in any other sport, new stars show the direction of the development of tennis. Right now, we have players like Daniil Medvedev, Matteo Berrettini, Iga Swiątek or Leylah Fernandez, who can add another building block to change the approach to tennis. The next few years will show the area and the intensity of possible adjustments, but it looks like there is one constant thing that we should keep in mind — the surface, the hard surface.
In different countries, tournaments are played on various surfaces. In Poland, we play on clay courts during the summer season, but we also compete on clay, hard, carpet and artificial grass courts during the winter season. However, when we take a look at the calendar of the ATP and WTA events, we can clearly see the established formula of playing at the highest level. Most tournaments are played on hard courts, so players who can compete effectively on this surface are dominating the world rankings.
If you think about playing at the highest possible level, you should consider focusing more on developing skills that will allow you to play successfully on hard courts.
General development comes first, hard court specific skills later
There should be no doubt that early specialization is not the best way to develop champions. During the early years, players should take a holistic approach and practice on different surfaces to develop a variety of skills.
The better the level and the more mature players are, the more often they should switch their development towards possessing specific skills that will be necessary to win on hard courts. It only confirms how important it is to use periodization and planning to guarantee success at different stages of athletic career.
Patience or pressure, what is more important?
When players are young and they practice, they focus on consistency. Consistency is a combination of technical and tactical skills, but it also affects the mental side of players. Hitting without a mistake creates patience, but it is not the crucial factor to win on hard courts.
The most successful players put pressure on the rival all the time. They don’t look for long rallies and unforced mistakes from the opponent. Working on offensive scenarios is a priority to hit winners after a good first serve or make opponent miss the ball after returning inside the court with significant power.
Mental aspects of playing on hard courts
Every surface impacts both a player’s game and mind. Playing on hard courts makes players aware that this game requires self-confidence, ability to take risks and the mindset that can accept mistakes.
It is important to think about mental aspects related to the playing style on fast surfaces, to address these specific skills during training sessions. Players who take points in their own hands and are not afraid of missing balls have the biggest chance of dominating their rivals, especially from the mental perspective.
Tennis is constantly evolving, so players and coaches should adjust to the new world of athletic rivalry. Every plan should be based on the long-term outlook and we can see right there that trophies are won on hard courts. Make sure that you include the conscious training on this specific surface to be prepared for what you are going to face in the near future.