Tennis can be related to gambling. Both in positive and negative aspects. If we play the match we have to know how to use our strengths and weaknesses. Are we going to start with all our weapons visible? How are we planning to not show our weaknesses? Is it worthy to spend additional few hundreds of dollars for extra practice sessions? These and many more questions are examples that tennis is not a linear process. If we want to go through it successfully we have know how to assess the risk.
A lot of successful people, not only in tennis but also in business say that to achieve great things you have to take the risk. If you are LeBron James you take the risk by taking the ball in the most important times. If you are Cristiano Ronaldo there is no other scenario than to try to score off the free kick in additional time. Roger Federer? You can be sure that Swiss player will stay offensive no matter the score. So should we take the risk every time we can? I don’t think so. Remember about people who took the risk and became homeless…
When playing in regional tournament there is no extra pressure according to your matches. If you lose you will be sad but the external costs are not enormous. But the better you are the more each loss will cost you. If you go to the Australian Open and lose in the first round because of poor risk managament you will not get extra money as also you will have to cover your plane tickes and other expenses. This is the pressure that many athletes can’t deal with. That is why it is crucial to understand the area of risk assessment and work on it to make sure that decisions established during the practice won’t be changed while competing.
As we know at the top level little details decide who will leave the court smiling. Risk assessment can give you huge advantage over opponents and let you win more matches. If you want to improve this crucial area consider these:
Return of the serve
Too many times players take too much risk while responding to first serve. We have to remember that good players hit first serve with significant power so there is no need to generate additional speed on our own. Taking regular backswing and aiming for sidelines are top mistakes visible at all levels of performance. Players who win consistently know how risky it is to try to hit winners off first serves so they decide to shorten backswing and go deep to the middle to force the opponent to hit at least one more shot to win the point.
First ball after the serve
Another area that has to be considered while working on risk assessment is the first shot after serve. There is a tendency among players to try to finish the point as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter if return is weak or solid there is only one idea in mind: winner! This strategy leads to few spectacular balls … and tens of unforced mistakes. To improve this area players have to understand that opponent’s return has impact on our decision. Even if we hit great first serve we have to change our offensive plans if the opponent was able to respond with deep return. Tennis is all about adaptation and it has to be included not only in strokes but also in decisions.
It is not surprising to see that most of the players have better offensive skills than defensive ones. Modern tennis is based on power and short rallies so athletes spend more time on abilities to finish the point. That is why many players don’t know what to do while being under pressure and they go for risky shots. Defensive strategy is all about putting the ball over the net and forcing the opponent to go with more power or more precision. Risk assessment is priority. If we understand that there is a small chance to win the point with too risky shots we will win more points in defense and the opponent will have to change something to get advantage.
Taking the risk has to be smart. If we take the risk in wrong situation we will lose. If we take the risk in right situation we will win. When is the right or wrong situation? The answer is not simple. Study the game, practice, learn and you will get it.
Marcin Bieniek is a professional tennis coach and founder of instructional website http://tennisisland.us. Marcin has been working with USTA, top 100 ITF and WTA/ATP players. He is a frequent contributor to TennisPro and TenisKlub magazines and he was a speaker at International Coaching Tennis Symposium 2016 at Hilton Head Island, USA.