Monday, April 25, 2005

Winning at a Loser's Game

In 1970 a scientist named Simon Ramo wrote a book called Extraordinary Tennis for Ordinary People. In his book, Dr. Ramo reported the results of a statistical study he did of tennis matches. Dr. Ramo found that at the elite level (top college and professional players), 80% of points were won (by forcing errors and hitting winners) while at all other levels, 80% of points were lost (by committing unforced errors). Therefore, he said, at the elite level tennis is a Winner’s Game and for the rest of us, tennis is a Loser’s Game, that is the outcome of the match is determined by the actions of the losing player.

Since very few of us play at the elite level, how can we win at a Loser’s Game? Well the obvious answer is to reduce your unforced errors. Given a chance your opponent will probably make enough errors to hand you the match. But the obvious answer isn’t necessarily the complete answer. While reducing your errors will allow you to beat many more of your opponents, it won’t be enough to beat one particular kind of opponent – the retriever.

The retriever has been playing error-reduction tennis his whole life. So if you simply commit to missing fewer shots you’ll win more matches, but you’ll probably still lose to the dedicated retriever. The matches will just take longer.

So short of bombing serves like Roddick, serve and volleying like Rafter, or pounding winners from the mid-court like Agassi, how the heck to you beat these players? The answer is to follow these three steps:
Step 1: Be consistent from the baseline

This means hitting mostly deep, solid crosscourt ground strokes, with the occasional short angle mixed in if you have those shots in your arsenal. Above all you must be patient. Trying to end the point from the baseline is a recipe for quick failure.

Step 2: Take advantage of shots your opponent hits short

This means attacking at your first opportunity – starting with weak second serves and any subsequent shot that lands short in your court (as long as it doesn’t pull you wide into the alley). This attacking approach shot should be driven toward your opponent’s weakness (or down the nearest line if you’re just inside the singles sideline), ideally cornering your opponent. Again, short angles are good here, too, if you have those shots.

Step 3: Finish!

This means moving forward and ending the point with solid, angled volleys and smashes hit either to the open court or behind your fast-moving opponent. The better your approach shots are, the easier this final step will be.
As Dr. Ramo found, many of your opponents will beat themselves if you just give them the chance. For those stubborn foes who won’t, it takes considerable practice, patience and skill to finish the job yourself. But if you follow this three-step recipe, you too can win at a Loser’s Game.

No comments: