This must be the most annoying thing in tennis. You know the situation, where you are facing a weaker player and you somehow manage to lose that match? The pain afterwards is just something we can’t avoid or hide, it’s just pure disbelief and strong feeling of disappointment. There must be so many tennis players out there, that have decided to quit, just because they were so often losing to weaker players. Was this a wrong decision? Certainly.
Before we move on to strategies that you can utilize when playing against weaker players, let’s first define who a “weaker player” might actually be. We usually label someone to be a “weaker player” if we think that we have superior shots and technique, better game and overall higher fitness level. This is also a player that we have beaten in the past. If any of this is the case, we start calculating and imagining the outcome of the match, even before it has begun. We simply think that we are better and that we are entitled to win, no matter what. What often happens in those situations? We lose the match, and when we do - it hurts.
First of all, we should be aware that there are really no guarantees in tennis when it comes to a match outcome. There are players of various skill levels of course, but there is also a common misconception that tennis technique is a guarantee that you are a better player. Somehow you are automatically better if your opponent doesn’t have as beautiful shots as you do. Tennis is much more complex than that. There are lots of physical components such as current fitness level, technique, weight, height etc. On the other hand, there are lots of psychological components such as winning mindset, optimism, good visualization, on court strategy and game plan etc. Having all this in mind, tennis is ultimately an extremely complex game. Even a junior tennis player has a real chance of winning a point against Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer, as there is always a chance that he or she will hit a really good shot that even tennis greats can’t get to (or that Novak or Roger will simply make a mistake).
Here are a few points to think about when entering a match against a player that you consider to be weaker:
This is certainly the biggest mistake we can do. We’ve all played at one point a match against an opponent who is at least 10 to 20 years older than we are, and who seems to be having trouble running on the court. Sometimes this age difference can be huge and if we are the younger player, it’s hard not to think “Oh, this guy is old - I’ll beat him easily.”. Also, if we notice some other aspect about our opponent such as a weak backhand or volleys, we take it for granted and think that we can win just because of that. The most common way we underestimate our opponents is based on the tennis technique. If we notice that we have better and more correct shots technique-wise, we automatically start underestimating the opponent just because of that aspect of his game. Truth is that lots of tennis players have secret weapons. The older tennis player, actually runs great on the court, has excellent court positioning and strategy. The one that is overweight can have excellent shots placement and keep us running all over the court. The one with “bad technique”, has great stamina, returns all the balls and appears to be unbeatable in long points.
Some players, due to their technique or overall tennis level are just inconsistent. This makes it very hard for a player with a better overall game and technique to adapt. The balls the opponent is sending are non-standard. Something we are simply not used to. These players can really make us work twice as hard to win the match. The problem is, if we think that we should be winning this match anyway - do we have enough mental strength to focus and work twice as hard to win this match? For example, our opponent might be sending us weird slices, or balls without any pace. We all know how hard it is to constantly be the one who is adding the pace to each and every shot. If our mental game starts to break up in these matches, there is a real chance to lose against a seemingly weaker player.
When we are playing against a player who we consider to have an inferior tennis game, we like to go for quick points. It’s always easier to end each point in a few shots. What often happens in those matches is that we start rushing. We try to play amazing shots on every ball we get as we think that we are simply the “better player”. This results in unforced errors. Then we start to get angry and lose focus, which pulls aways several more points. No matter who we are playing against, we should always try to be consistent in our strategy. We should build each and every point from the grounds up and wait for our opportunity to blast the winning shot. It’s not possible to attack every ball and it’s not remotely possible to hit winners every time.
We should always bring our best game to the court, no matter who we are playing against. The way we play on that particular day, in that particular match is the only thing that matters. We need to be ready to adapt to our opponents game style, be mentally strong and to work hard for each and every point. In the end of the day, even though we might not like to admit it - the player that wins the match is the better player in that specific match and he or she deserves full respect. Always respect your opponent and give your best on the court, enjoy the game for what it is and most importantly, have fun on the court!