The Most Difficult Thing In Tennis


The game of tennis has many challenges, but which one is the most difficult one?

I see many people obsess over the technical part of their shots, how they are unable to keep their head cool when it matters most, or how they just cannot hit a topspin serve; but rarely do they address the real reason for the mistakes they make.

tennis serve pronation
Some find the technical parts to be the most difficult:
  • how to properly grip the racquet
  • whether they have a double bend on their forehand
  • what is the correct footwork when approaching the net
  • learning the correct tennis serve technique
Some find the strategic part the most difficult:
  • how to beat pushers
  • how to play on fast surfaces
  • how to make your opponent run
  • what kind of shots to play against serve-and-volleyers
Then there is the physical part of the game, but there is not much you can change by knowledge, it's more a matter of actually doing it.

Some tennis players find the mental game the most difficult: Yet, in my opinion, there is an even bigger challenge than the ones above.

The most difficult part of tennis is deciding tactically and correctly WHAT and HOW you are going to play in less than half a second on every shot you play (except the serve).

A tennis player has to decide approximately 200 to 300 times, in a 6:4 set, what and how he is going to play, and make those decisions in half a second!

When your opponent hits the ball toward you, you need to base your decision about your next shot on:

1. Your abilities and skills at tennis (quick; good coordination; good ball judgment; able to play slice, spin, flat, drive volley, half volley, etc.)

2. What kind of ball are you receiving (fast - slow, slice - spin, high - low, wide - in the body, etc.)?

3. Where in the court are you positioned (behind the baseline, inside the court, out of the court, etc.)?

4. What are your opponent's skills and abilities (cannot play a slice, has trouble with high balls, can hit a winner with a forehand from inside the court, cannot smash well, etc.)?

5. Where is your opponent positioned (coming to the net, retreating, recovering slowly, etc.)?

6. On what kind of surface are you playing (clay - slow, carpet - fast, etc.)?

7. What are the conditions (windy, opponent will look into the sun if he plays an overhead, slippery court, etc.)?

8. What is your mental and physical state (nervous and tight, relaxed, feeling confident, tired, etc.)?

9. What is your opponent's mental and physical state (agitated, calm and composed, getting cramps, etc.)?

10. What is the score (you are losing 0:5, you are up 40:0, you are up 5:1 up, etc.)?

And more...

If you want to hit the most effective shot in a given situation, you must consider all of the above points and make a decision very quickly, so that your brain will have enough time to send the appropriate signals to your muscles and your body will have enough time to perform the appropriate actions before the ball reaches you.

The ability to decide correctly in a very short time is the most important, and yet often the most overlooked, skill needed to hit an effective shot and play good tennis.

It's also one of the reasons that learning to play tactically good tennis takes so long.

A tennis player has to make thousands of incorrect and correct decisions to store in his memory the successful patterns played in each specific situation.

This stored memory allows the player to quickly compare his current situation to the stored information of thousands of similar situations, and the shots that were successful in the past.

There is not enough time to consciously analyze all of the above 10 points, and make a decision based on this analysis, in less than half a second (if the ball travels slowly, up to 1.5 seconds are available for this decision, but this is rare).

So how can you learn to make better decisions quickly?

1. Practice specific situations. Isolate one situation and work on it in order to store the decisions you make in this particular situation. Example: play crosscourt and when you receive a shorter ball, attack down the line.

2. Gradually add more options. Example: play crosscourt and when you receive a short ball, either attack down the line or play a drop shot.

3. Watch a lot of tennis. I think that this is the BEST way to learn smart tactics. Do not watch the ball, but observe the patterns of play and try to understand and remember the type of shot that is played in a certain situation.

When you play tennis and DECIDE on a specific type of shot, in your mind's eye you SEE the ball's flight (direction, speed, spin, depth and height).

There are no words in the decision made in your mind, just an image of how you want the ball to fly.

That's why it's best to store the information in the same way - visually.

See how the ball is played in a certain situation and you'll be able to quickly recall it when needed.

4. Play lots and lots of tennis with different opponents. This will help you to create a massive database of correct decisions by learning from your mistakes and from your successful shots.

So the next time you make a mistake in tennis, check with yourself what your decision was before you start blaming your poor backhand for missing the shot.

What kind of shot did you want to play?

In which direction, how high over the net, with how much spin and speed and how deep did you want to play your shot?

Thinking about this takes too long, but imagining the ball's trajectory takes only a split second, and that's what is needed to overcome and master the most difficult thing in tennis.


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