How to Analyze Mistakes In A Tennis Match

Analyzing the mistakes of a tennis match or practice is crucial for the improvement of the player. Some mistakes are obvious and easy to correct while others take a little more thought to figure out what really went wrong and what it will take to correct the error.

The more obvious part of losing the point happens with the last shot. If a player misses a shot and loses a point, he will see that shot as a mistake.

The real reason for losing the point can also happen much earlier in the rally and is thus more difficult to detect.

So let's start with the more obvious part of losing the point - missing the last shot and how to analyze it and then we'll cover the more difficult to detect reasons for losing the point.

Analyzing the last shot that resulted in losing the point

Mistakes at this point can be divided into two groups: incorrect tactics (shot selection) and not executing the stroke well enough, thus missing the shot.

The most common conclusion that players make is that they missed the shot because they did something wrong, but what's very important to distinguish at this point is that the execution of the shot is NOT within the player's control and thus the player is NOT responsible for the outcome of the shot.

No one can hit every ball in. No one can hit every baseline shot in... Or hit an easy-sitter in... Or never make a double fault.

The same goes for other sports. No basketball player is capable of shooting every free throw in the basket - the best in the world manage around 90% (the same as the best servers in tennis for their second serve).

Michael Jordan misses an "easy sitter"

No soccer player is able to score from the 11m line every time just as no handball player is able to score every time from 7m line. That's the uncertain nature of sport and it's important to understand that the outcome is not within the control of the player.

The player should NOT FEEL GUILTY because he missed a shot / throw / kick. (if he/she decided for a good tactic!)

Roberto Baggio misses 11m penalty shot

What is within player's control is the TACTIC. The tactic is the decision made HOW (in what way) the player intends to play the shot, (or throw or kick).

In tennis this includes all the elements of the trajectory of the ball:
The player is in control of this decision - tactic (unless in 'time deficit' when receiving a very fast ball).

So the key question when analyzing the last shot of the rally is whether it was a tactical mistake or whether it was not executed well enough.

Example #1:
In the video below, you'll see a player approach the net then miss a short ball. His goal was to play the ball cross court and hit a winner.

Was this a tactical or execution-based mistake?

An execution-based mistake: His tactic was correct but he missed the shot because of the lack of practice and the difficulty of tennis. (I know because that's me playing and I know where I aimed. ;) )

Example #2:
The player below is stretched wide with a good, backhand, cross court shot and attempts to play a defensive slice, cross court shot.

Was this a tactical or execution-based mistake?

An execution-based mistake: His decision (tactic) to play a defensive slice, deep, cross court shot was a correct one, but he missed the shot because of not having been skilled enough with the backhand slice to make that shot every time... And, of course, no one is capable of hitting backhand slice EVERY time into the court.

Example #3:
The player below attempts a short, cross court shot while being in the middle and well behind the baseline.

Was this a tactical or execution-based mistake?

That was clearly a tactical mistake because the player did not have a good angle to hit a cross court shot.

A short cross is best attempted when the player is inside the court and off the middle, so that his shot can pull the opponent well out of the court. It's also much safer to play such a shot from this position.

So how can YOU improve?

If the mistake was because of poor execution, but the player chose the correct tactic, then he needs to PRACTICE more.

The QUALITY of the execution is based on the QUALITY and QUANTITY of practice. This is NOT the player's direct responsibility when on the court.

Why "direct"?

If the player is NOT training with 100% focus and NOT giving 100% effort into every drill and practice match he plays, then he is responsible too for the poor results of training.

But if he does the best he can in practice (100% effort) and then misses a shot in a game, it's not his fault. (if the tactical decision was correct) He either hasn't practiced enough or the mistake is just the part of the imperfection of being human and the difficulty of the tennis game.

And if the mistake was because of the wrong tactic, then the player is responsible for that. Of course, not the first time when this happens.

There are many different game situations in tennis and it's inevitable that player will not have all the ideal tactical answers for all of them. He will make tactical mistakes at the beginning.

Through analysis, like we are doing here, he can learn to play a different type of shot that has a much greater chance of winning the point.

Tactics are first improved by THINKING (analyzing, seeing what works and what doesn't and deciding what to play) and then by repeated practice of these patterns so that the decision becomes automatic and subconscious.

Analyzing the real cause of losing the point

The real cause of losing the point rarely lies in the last shot, especially when it comes to the club players and juniors.

Typically the player has made a tactical error or poorly executed one or two strokes earlier in the rally and thus allowed his opponent to get advantage in the point.

Example #4:
The white player (above) lost the point not because his opponent played such a good forehand, but because he was in a defensive position and decided to play a down-the-line backhand.

This opened up the court for his opponent so the white player was not in the correct recovery position to cover the court. If he had played his backhand cross court, he would have been in a much better position to cover the court for the next shot from his opponent.

Example #5:
The white player is attacked with accurate and deep ground strokes from the orange player, but he doesn't defend correctly. His shots are to the middle of the court and are too short. This makes it easy for the white player to keep attacking and eventually win the point.

The white player lost this point probably with his first, but surely with his second, shot that was played into his opponent's racket. Note how little the orange player moves throughout this point...

In summary, here are some questions to ask yourself when analyzing your mistakes, and some thoughts to keep in mind:

1. Was the last shot missed because of a wrong tactic or poor execution? If it was the execution, did I give 100% to get into the position quickly enough and put my best effort into the execution?

2. The execution is corrected by practice and the tactic is initially corrected by thinking (it takes practice of the patterns too)!

3. Did you lose the point with the last shot or did you lose the advantage of the point earlier in the rally? What happened and what needs to be done to prevent that?

4. Most importantly, realize that the outcome is NOT within your control. If you feel guilty because you lost the point, then you may be blaming yourself for things that are not within your control.

You can avoid 100% of the guilt if you put 100% effort into your training and playing a match. You cannot do more than your best!



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Win More Matches When It Matters Most

Most tennis matches are decided not by a better stroke but by a better tactical play and by a stronger mind.