What is percentage tennis? It means that, in any given situation, you would use the shot that has the greatest chance of success. Especially at the junior levels, playing the percentages is one of the fundamentals of successful tennis. Another way to look at percentage tennis is to play in a way that will make the most of your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. All to often, I see juniors going for the wrong shot at the wrong time. What needs to be taught is to go for the right shot at the right time in order to play at some level of consistency. How do you know what the right shot for the right time is? That’s difficult to determine. Every player’s percentages are different due to different skill levels. My advice is to teach your player to practice these few ideas that will help your player work out the percentages for his/her own game.
Practice your serve – Many juniors don’t take the time to practice their serves. Maybe it’s a little boring to them. Nothing improves your chance of winning so much as simply getting you first serve in play. The best way to put pressure on yourself is to consistently miss your first serve. Many juniors go for the ace in hopes of winning easy points only to wind up double faulting and loosing the point. Get your first serve in and you’ll be in a much more commanding position for the rest of the point.
Always get the ball back – What does it take to win a tennis match? To win a tennis match, simply get the ball back over the net and between lines one more time than your opponent. Right! That about says it all, doesn’t it?
Every time you get the ball over the net and in play, you’re still in the point.
When the score is close, teach your junior to use the most reliable stroke.
Let your opponent make the errors – At the junior level, in most matches, the ball crosses the net fewer than ten times on the majority of the points.
That means a player probably hits the ball no more than five times in the course of a typical point. Train your junior to keep the ball in play and the chances are that the opponent will make the first mistake.
During baseline rallys, hit groundstrokes crosscourt – If groundstrokes are hit crosscourt, the ball passes over the center portion of the net, which is lower in height, thus increasing the percentages of keeping the ball in play.
The court is also longer diagonally.
Hit approach shots down the line – Your best percentage play when you get a short ball that you can move in on for an approach shot is to hit your shot down the line. By doing this, you’ll be reducing the angle of your opponent’s passing shot.
Angle your drop shots – Like an approach shot, the drop shot should be hit off a ball that lands short. When attempting a drop shot, the best percentage play is to angle your shot over the center of the net.
Favor your best return – Most junior players have a better forehand than backhand return of serve. Some may have better two-handed backhands. In either case, move over a couple of steps to gain a better position to hit your best shot. By moving over a little, you’ll be inviting the server to hit to that side.
Hit your overheads crosscourt – When you hit an overhead smash, you should be trying to win the point directly or by drawing an error from you opponent. At the same time, you must be sure not to make an error yourself by trying to be too precise. If you hit your smashes crosscourt, you’ll have the most room, hence, the greatest margin for error.
Use a lob when deep behind the baseline – I call this shot the “moon ball”.
Obviously, you’re not in an offensive position when your opponent pins you back behind the baseline with a deep shot. If you lob your shot, you’ll gain time to recover back into a better court position.
Steven White is the author of…
Teaching Tennis: Protocol for Instructors