Point Blank! - Make Scoreboard Pressure Work for You!

by Adrian Coles, Tennis Canada Coach 3

August 2023

Smart players realize that, unlike other sports, match winners are not determined solely by the number of points won.

Are you one of the growing number of players wanting to get more competitive with your tennis? Do you want to move on from pick-up games to playing league or team matches, or even entering local or provincial events?

'The Competitive Edge' by lifelong player and coach Adrian Coles, features easy to digest tips and strategies to help keen recreational competitors play smarter. Improving stroke technique certainly helps but that requires a great deal of deliberate practice. A quicker way is to sharpen tactical skills whilst still using the strokes you've already got! He will cover topics often overlooked or even glossed over in on court instruction when hitting lots of balls is what is appreciated most.

This ONTENNIS exclusive series is a must-read for anyone who plays tennis at the recreational level and is interested in optimizing their match-play competitive experience. To access the other stories in the series, visit www.ontennis.ca.

The ONTENNIS Competitive Edge Series, Part 5:

Point Blank! - Make Scoreboard Pressure Work for You!

Do you just play your own game one point at a time? Do you play the same no matter the score? Smart players realize that, unlike other sports, match winners are not determined solely by the number of points won. The unique nature of tennis scoring means that you can win more points than your opponent, and still lose! This is because some points, like break points and set points, are more important to the outcome than others. Top players can produce their best at the most critical times in a match. Recognizing which points deserve more focus and attention is valuable, especially in close matches. But have you ever played points without being sure of the score? Do you go blank when your opponent asks, “What's the score?”?

Nobody in the history of tennis has played the big points better than Novak Djokovic!

Know the score - Call the Score!

Without an umpire it falls to the players themselves to keep track and announce the score clearly before the start of each point. So, to play to the scoreboard, to play smart on the 'big points' you must know the correct score!

Break Points - Set Points

Not being able to hold serve makes winning impossible. Often the difference between competitors comes down to one break of serve a set. These crucial moments usually don't go unnoticed, but what about those pivotal situations that lead up to these "Deciding Points"?

What are “Pivotal Points”?

Sometimes, one point can change the momentum of an entire match.

There are players that can change the momentum and direction of a contest. When the score is 30-all or deuce, the next point is either a game point for the server or break point. Winning a “pivotal point” gives you the chance to play a “deciding point.” It may seem that being level with your opponent is a safe situation but be aware of the danger, and the opportunity to get an edge! These points need to be played with the utmost thought. Play “high percentage tennis” to reduce risk and place the burden of doing more on your opponent. In a tiebreak when any point can be pivotal, Djokovic goes into “lockdown mode” to avoid any errors! It is, however, the next category of points that holds the most promise to close out a tight contest. The smartest players aim to arrive at the sharp end of a set with a few key strategies they feel have the best chance of success based on all that has gone before. They have invested some “throwaway points” to discover if there's anything in their opponent’s game that might break down under pressure, or if there is anything in their own game that needs refining.

“Investment Points”

Knowing when to play a point as an investment is the key. Any time you are comfortably ahead by two points or more, 30-love, 40-15, 40-love for example, this might be a good moment to do a little investing and testing! At worst you are still ahead, and at best you may have discovered a “trump card” play! Alternatively, you may be so far behind in a set that you don't mind giving away points to prepare better for the upcoming set! You may be having a little trouble with a particular shot and could use a prolonged rally to groove it. Maybe, it is a pattern you would like to sharpen, serve and volley for instance, or chip-and-charge. Or you need to get the feel of your drop shot! Perhaps you want to evaluate your opponent. How about changing the pace, or height, or spin to see how they react? What is their stamina like? What is their 'rally tolerance'? Evaluate their movement and patience with some prolonged rallies. Try some new patterns to be less predictable.

In Conclusion, relying on hitting winners is the toughest way to get the “W.” Playing to the score may serve you better! Do you have any strategies for those pressure points? Try watching the pros and observe how they play diverse types of points.

Adrian Coles, Tennis Canada Coach 3 and Tennis Analytics Certified Technical Analyst, brings a wide variety of perspectives to his new series 'The Competitive Edge' based on his decades of involvement in playing, coaching and managing. His success as a top British junior player, plus his time as the touring coach for his world ranked daughter, enable him to offer useful insights to players aspiring to compete in local, provincial or national events. Having witnessed the evolution of the game from the beginnings of Open Tennis to its current iteration, Adrian is familiar with many different styles of play giving options to players of different ages, interest levels and abilities. His passion is to help as many players as possible get the most out of this wonderful sport of a lifetime.

Do you have a favourite tip you would like to share, or a topic you would like us to cover? Please let us know via email at: pmalcomson@tennisontario.com, and don’t forget to practice your match play! “Good Luck”.