As the female game continues to evolve, the differences between it and the male game appear more marked.

—Steven Martens (2006 Davis Cup Captain, Belgium) and Carl Maes (2006 Federation cup captain, Belgium)


omen’s tennis has enjoyed a huge increase in popularity worldwide in recent years . As with most other sports, it has benefitted from major improvements in coaching methods, training techniques, and equipment . As a result, female players are becoming faster and stronger and are playing the game at a higher tempo than ever before . Today’s top players are now widely admired for their strength, athleticism, and determination, and have become valuable role models for the next gen­eration of athletes . Female players also appear to be playing the game very differently from male players, and these differences are becoming greater as time goes on

The significant physical discrepancies between men and women have a huge bearing on how and why the game is played so differently. Generally, women are shorter and lighter, hold less muscle mass than men do, and possess significantly less upper- and lower-body strength also . Specifically, females have 54 percent of male upper-body strength and 68 percent of male lower-body strength (Pluim 1999) . This contrast in strength means that female players tend to play from different court positions using different techniques than their male counterparts .

To hit the ball hard, the female player will tend to play farther up the court (i . e . , closer to, or from inside, the baseline) . Hitting the ball early allows her to use the speed of the oncoming ball to create time and pace pressure on her opponent . She will tend to hit the ball with less spin as a result of this because, to play from inside the baseline, her technique needs to be as efficient as possible . This means hitting the ball with short, simple swings that are easy to coordinate and that produce less spin . Indeed, this is a big reason the double-handed backhand is such a popular shot in women’s tennis . This shot allows the player to absorb the pace of the oncoming ball more easily because the two hands provide extra strength . It is also easy to coordinate because the swing is shorter as a result

By contrast, male players often choose to play from farther behind the baseline .The extra body strength that they possess, compared to women, allows them to impart heavier spin on the ball (by using stronger arm and shoulder units) from deeper positions behind the baseline, enabling them to use more of the court and its surroundings . It also allows them to use the forehand more as a weapon . The single-handed forehand uses a longer swing and involves more body parts in its execution than the backhand does . In other words, it has a longer coordination chain that requires more complex coordination and strength to hit effectively. However, the single-handed forehand generally allows the player to hit the ball much harder than he could with the backhand, and it creates more spin and angle from a wider range of court positions .

Male players also play with a stronger reliance on the serve (they win a higher percentage of first and second serve points), compared to women, who rely more heavily on the return of serve (because there are usually more breaks of serve in a women’s match) . Again, the greater physical strength of the male player allows him to create more serving power, as well as topspin, to dominate an opponent . This combination simply enables him to hold serve more often . Female players, on the other hand, will prefer to create slice on the serve because less strength is needed to control and move the ball in an aggressive manner The slice serve moves in an opposite direction to the topspin serve, thereby creating different tactical patterns for the female player to build on .

Furthermore, women tend to approach and play from the net less frequently than men do . They choose their moments to approach more carefully (using more ‘instinctual’ approaches than planned approaches) and, not surprisingly, enjoy a higher success rate when doing so . This is because they tend to use the volley as a ‘finish’ shot, with much of the work in creating an advantage done from the baseline before the volley is played . Male players, on the other hand, tend to approach the net more often—using a combination of planned and instinctual approaches—and are prepared to take more risks in the process .

The ability of the male player to use more of the court and its surround­ings and to hit a wider selection of shots means that the men’s game tends to have more tactical variety. Female players are tending to play with less variation, with a few exceptions, because they are hitting the ball earlier and flatter, with the intention of dominating their opponent as soon as possible in the rally.

These differences become even more apparent when the tennis season switches court surfaces . In the men’s game, certain players strongly favour a particular court surface over another because their game style is well suited to it . Male players tend to show stronger preferences because of the more diverse range of shots that they use . The clay court season, for example, often allows a different group of players to excel, compared to the grass court season . In fact, between 1995 and 2005, only two male French Open champions won Grand Slam titles on other surfaces (Andre Agassi and Yevgeny Kafelnikov), compared to six female champions (Steffi Graf, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Mary Pierce, Jennifer Capriati, Serena Wil­liams, and Justine Henin-Hardenne) . In the women’s game, therefore, far fewer ‘specialists’ excel on only one surface . The majority of top female players impose their game style on the court surface, as well as their opponent, without needing to make big changes to the way they play.

The fact that females physically mature earlier than males do also affects their tactical development, because this means that a young player can start competing with her more senior counterparts far earlier. At 14 years of age, for example, a girl can compete far more effectively in the senior game than a boy of a similar age can . Indeed, it is not uncommon to see a girl of this age start to compete at a professional level—some­thing rarely, if ever, seen in the men’s game . This is because the physical differences between a girl and a woman are smaller than those between a boy and a man at this stage . As a result, the ‘development window’ for girls stays open for less time (or at least it closes earlier) than it does for boys . In other words, girls have fewer opportunities to develop a variety of tactics because of the expectation to compete at a senior level at a much earlier age . This is important because research suggests that players have less chance of developing their game once competition becomes the main priority. Boys, therefore, have more time to develop and experi­ment with their game because competing at a senior level remains only a distant ambition during their early teenage years .

As a female player matures and gains experience, she will begin to develop her game style . A player’s game style simply represents how she plays the game of tennis . It is made up of a number of factors, including her technical ability, physical condition, mental strength, and tactical intelligence . (How these performance factors shape a player’s game style is discussed in detail in chapter 6 . )

There are three traditional game styles in women’s tennis: baseline, all-court, and serve and volley—all of which have been exhibited by great champions of the past . The baseline player plays the majority of her tennis from the baseline, using powerful and accurate groundstrokes to win points . These groundstrokes are the bedrock of her game . This game style characterised players such as Chris Evert, Tracy Austin, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, and Monica Seles, who were four of the most consistent, accurate, and resilient baseline players of all time . The all-court player is comfortable playing from all areas of the court and finishes her points at the net far more often than the baseline player does . She plays with more tactical variety because she uses a wider range of shots, and she is capable of adjusting her tactics quickly if necessary. Perhaps Billie Jean King epitomised this style of play best of all, with players such as Gabri- ella Sabatini and Steffi Graf also experiencing huge success by using an all-court game in addition to strong baseline play. The serve and volley player is most comfortable playing from the net . She often uses her serve and her return to approach the net with, and she relies heavily on good volley and smash technique . Martina Navratilova dominated her opponents for many years using this game style .

From a tactical viewpoint today, many women are learning how to dictate the point at the earliest opportunity, and the majority of their tactics now reflect this common theme . Such aggressive tactical intent has meant that the game styles of many top players now look very similar. Indeed, it seems that the three traditional game styles in women’s tennis are continually moving closer together as the game evolves . The base­line player is hitting the ball earlier and with such power and precision that she is naturally finishing points at the net more often . The all-court player is playing with much more aggression from the back of the court and differs from the baseline player only in the number of approaches she makes to the net . The serve and volley player now has to play more aggressively, and more often, from the baseline also . She has to choose her moments to serve and volley more carefully because the return and passing shot have improved so much . These recent trends have left the two extreme ends of tactical variety almost extinct .The all-out serve and volley player and the defensive baseline player now struggle to find a niche in the modern game . The serve and volley tactic is being used more selectively (although it is still effective when used at the right times), and very few players on the WTA Tour rely solely on consistency, without dominance, from the back of the court .

Players such as Lindsay Davenport, Serena and Venus Williams, Jen­nifer Capriati, Kim Clijsters, and Maria Sharapova are recent examples of the modern-day power player who looks to assert her game against anyone, on any surface . These players have helped take women’s tennis to a new level in recent years and have forged the way for a new breed of aggressive, all-court power player in the future . Their tactics have been based around dominating with the serve and return, as well as hitting hard, flat groundstrokes from on, or inside, the baseline whenever pos­sible . Without a doubt, the next generation of players will continue to use the same tactics to an even greater extent .

Some players are exceptions to this rule, however, and they often find that their success lies in the fact that they offer a different style of play from the majority—even though the intention of dominating their oppo­nent remains the same . Recently, players such as Justine Henin-Hardenne and Amelie Mauresmo have experienced great success by playing with more variety of shot—particularly on their single-handed backhand side . The fact that they can hit aggressively with slice and topspin, as well as absorb the pace of the oncoming ball, has proved to be an extremely useful asset for both players .

Henin-Hardenne—with her ability to hit topspin serves, create sharp angles from both forehand and backhand groundstrokes, and play confidently from the net—is a fine example of how variety can be used to dictate an opponent . Martina Hingis, on the other hand, has experienced great success by using variety in a slightly different way. Hingis developed into a highly intelligent counterpuncher by absorbing the pace of her opponent’s shot and sending the ball back with a high degree of accuracy and consistency. She used efficient technique and quick, balanced movement, combined with acute tactical awareness, to frustrate and pressure her rivals for many years . She continues to do so today after taking a break from the game . This type of counter- punching player is occasionally seen on the women’s tour (Martina Hingis and Anastasia Myskina, for example), as is the player who uses variety as a weapon . Nevertheless, both of these game styles remain in the minority, compared to that of the more powerful, aggressive baseline player.

No matter what game style they use, however, the one common theme among all top players is that they are tactically astute . Every successful player knows what she is good at, knows how she wants to play, and uses tactics within her game style to maximum effect . For example, a baseline player (her game style) may try to attack with her backhand after hitting her first serve—by using the serve and groundstroke attack tactic. An all-court player (her game style) may try to play from the net whenever her opponent is under pressure—by using the sneak approach tactic . In other words, a player will use tactics that incorporate her best shots as often as possible

Very often these shots will be hit in recognised sequences—called pat­terns of play—and are repeated throughout a match, season, and even career. For example, the baseline player using the serve and groundstroke attack tactic may use the specific pattern of serving out wide from the deuce court before hitting her backhand crosscourt into the space . The all-court player using the sneak approach tactic will use the pattern of hitting the short angle slice backhand that pulls her opponent short and wide of the court . Patterns of play, therefore, are the specific sequences of shots that players use to execute their favourite tactics .

If you watch closely, you see professional players use certain repetitive patterns of play over and over again. They have developed certain combinations of shots from years of practice, and they rely on those patterns when they compete.

—Ron Woods and Mary Joe Fernandez, quoted in World-Class Tennis Technique by Paul Roetert and Jack Groppel, Human Kinetics

Being tactically astute also means being aware of an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as being able to use good perception and anticipation skills to sense attacking and defending opportunities ahead of time . These skills simply allow a player to make smart tactical decisions . In other words, being able to read the game and the opponent allows a player to choose the most relevant tactics and patterns for every competitive situation .

This book examines the most common tactics seen in the modern game and provides examples of the best patterns of play to use with each one . This is done through a range of practical drills and coaching tips tailored for all levels of play from the beginner to the pro . Some drills are aimed at a specific level (i . e . , beginner, intermediate, or advanced), whereas others are relevant for all players . In the context of this book, the term intermediate applies to a junior or senior player who is starting tournament play and is close to playing team matches at club level . The advanced player will range from experienced club or regional standard through to the professional ranks . Many of the drills encourage a player to observe and assess both her own play and that of her opponent . The skill of analysing an opponent is crucial (and is often underpracticed), yet doing this allows a player to capitalise on an opponent’s relevant strengths and weaknesses and helps her to develop a better ‘reading’ of the game in general

The tactical side of the game is studied in detail from all five playing situations (i . e . , serving, returning, playing from the baseline, approaching and playing at the net, and opposing the net player) in both singles and doubles . A player’s tactical development is charted in chapter 6, in which the four key stages of development are considered for junior and senior players alike, along with how personal factors such as decision making, problem solving, and responsibility shape a player’s game style . This book explains how each shot, when executed well and at the right time, can be used to gain maximum tactical advantage . Developing tactical awareness in this way is crucial to a player’s success—and should be at the heart of every tennis programme .


Updated: 29 августа, 2022 — 10:52

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