Is Tennis a Tactical Game or a Technical Game?

Hi everyone,

Over this holiday period I have witnessed a broad range of competitive levels of tournaments. This has ranged from JDS events through to the Pro Tour event at QTC. At each level of event the one thing that has stood out is not the fact that some players hit the ball better than others, it’s the fact that some players play tennis better than others.  What I mean by play tennis is that they understand their own games better and they understand their opponent’s games better. From these two points they can compose an array of tactical options and deploy those options.

Through this block of events I have discussed with our coaches to ask the players the following questions.

  1. What was your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses?
  2. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  3. How do you match up those things to develop your tactical plays.

Nearly all of the time the answers have been the same.

Typical Answer to Question Number 1

Either nothing or simple answers, eg forehand or backhand – almost always nothing specific about the shot they chose.

Typical Answer to Question Number 2

My forehand or backhand or serve –  almost never anything specific

Typical Answer to Question Number 3

Almost always I don’t know. 😕😕😕

Now I want to clarify the above question. Most of the game at each level a player transitions through is less than 10% difference in the technical variants in players swings and mostly less than 10% difference in the quality (speed) of shots hit. In many cases of the above 2 points those differences are as little as 1%.

So where are the differences in players ability to win matches over other players of a similar level. It can only be in 1 of 3 other areas.

  1. Competitiveness- personal qualities.
  2. Physicality – movement and other fitness aspects
  3. Tactical plays- ability to play tennis, not just hit balls.

As mentioned earlier, I have gone around to the different levels of events over this break and watched the matches of each age group and level of players competing.

At the JDS event the shot quality of the players in each age group was very similar.

At the Bronze level AMT those players competing within their differing age groups were very similar in terms of shot quality.

At the Gold Level JT event same as above.

At the Pro Tour event. SAME AGAIN! 😠😠

So here’s the question.



If you want tactical to technical percentages it will be something like 80 : 20 or 90 : 10 yet everyone is so focused on technique. Why? Because it’s easy to learn!
In fact it’s much easier to learn than the tactical application of the game.

Parents and coaches, how many times has your child / player come off the court to sit down for a debrief and said. I played like $&%!. I hit my forehand badly. I hit my serve badly. Yet they used in most cases no tactical plays and just hit tennis balls. They had no awareness of their opponents strengths and weaknesses and didn’t employ any of the patterns of play that usually work for them.

Now I’m not a smart man but I do get very confused when players come off court unhappy with a result and didn’t think at all throughout the match about HOW they wanted to play. I cannot accept this and neither should you as a parent and especially as a player.

I want to make it clear if you do not prepare, think about and deploy your shots tactically you are either hoping your opponent is going to HIT not PLAY worse than you or you are tanking. (giving up). There is nothing else, no excuses and reasons. My impression is that you want a result without having to work for it. Good luck with that particular attitude.

I’ve got to say over the years I have seen many, many players with copybook technics who have gone absolutely nowhere in the game. At the same time I’ve seen a number players with really poor technical flaws in their game able to go on and make a very good living out of the game.

Why do players not want to be good tacticians of the game but want to LOOK GOOD and hit well.

Most of you have got it very wrong. You spend copious amounts of money, time and effort on private lessons making your game look good ineffectively. Kind of defeats the purpose doesn’t it.

Start learning the art of tennis. That is the game in all its tactical wonders. Boys and girls, it’s time to become students of the game and not showmen and show girls.

Start placing most of your development importance on the tactics of tennis and not the way your technic looks.

You need to intimately know

  1. What are your strengths and weaknesses.
  2. How do you turn them into tactical / patterns / combinations of plays.
  3. What are my best offensive, defensive and neutral plays.
  4. What variation plays do I use around them, so my opponent doesn’t adapt quickly to what I am doing.

How do I read my opponents strengths and weaknesses?

  1. Shots – be specific
  2. Patterns of play –  how do I diffuse them.

How can I learn about the tactical application of the game of tennis?

  1. WATCH MATCHES🤓🤓. NO children / players do this with any degree of focus or paying attention.
  2. Play practice sets. Parents and players don’t be afraid of losing, that’s where your best learning experiences come from.
  3. When hitting think about how you would use that particular shot tactically in matches.

Here are some examples of the differences your tactical mindset and approach to training methodology.

In the past I worked with 2 different players.

Player 1, was doing everything right in terms of his training volumes and content. He was, doing 2 privates lessons per week, 5 squads, 2 hitting sessions, some serve and return sessions and had an excellent competition program.

Now you would think that he would improve quickly. Well this wasn’t the case. Yes, he was hitting the ball better, harder, a little more consistent but was not winning more matches. We had talked at length about developing better tactical applications to the game. Watching matches, putting himself in one of the players shoes and imagining what he would do in that situation, but he never really took it on board.

He simply collapsed tactically when playing. In debriefs, he didn’t know his own strengths and weaknesses and didn’t know how to read his opponents strengths and weaknesses hence couldn’t formulate any tactical plays and just hit balls relating to frustration and anger in matches.

Player 2, Had a 45 min private lesson bi- weekly, had 2 hits / practice sets with older gentlemen who couldn’t run per week, played adult fixture comps twice a week and did a couple sessions of serving per week. His technic was pour and he moved awkwardly.

This same guy won a national 14’s and went on to be a grand slam junior semi -finalist and was part of the winning Junior Davis Cup team. This guy could play, he seemed to know where to hit each ball and what would come back from that shot. He knew the affect his shot would have on his opponent and how to put patterns of plays and combinations of shots together that would make him successful as a player.

The real difference in the 2 players?

One boy could hit tennis balls but couldn’t play tennis while the other boy didn’t hit that well, but boy could he play tennis.

The best way of developing in this game is to play tennis first (tactics) then learn how to hit (technical) second. Your technical development comes off the back of how you want to play tactically and not the other way around.

In my opinion, most players, parents and many coaches are focussed on the wrong things in their tennis journey.

They take the softer option of learning how to hit the ball rather than playing the game. This does not mean you don’t work on your technical, physical and mental components of your game. You will always need improvement in those areas. Put tactical development first and the other components of your tennis development second and watch what happens.

You don’t have to be the same as everyone else. It’s time for you to be different and start to prioritize those aspects of your game that will make a real difference.

Play practice sets. WATCH MATCHES, not look at them.

Become a real tactician and student of the game.

Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed please share with your friends!!

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