Although I'm not a tennis pro by any stretch of the imagination, I want to share some of the strategies that work for me playing singles tennis. I thought tips like these might come handy for our compadres playing the new Active Tennis Ladder...
Over the years I found that my best strategy for winning singles matches is to HAVE A PLAN. Unless I am totally outclassed by my opponent from the get go, having a plan puts me one step ahead of him or her already. The same is true for doubles tennis, of course. Talking about a plan with your partner, developing it together, sharing observations about the opponents' game and habits, sticking to the plan and adjusting it as necessary - very powerful tools to win a match regardless of individual abilities! All my plans are designed to exploit my opponents' WEAKNESSES.
Here are my steps to developing such a plan
1. The warm-up lays the foundation for The Plan. Observe your partner thoroughly. It's amazing how much you can learn about your opponent during warm-up. And if you know your opponent and have played against him already? Learn what his present form is. Are his shots right on the mark or is he spraying bullets all over?
2. Still during warm-up, feed him (her) balls to both sides. If you have the feeling you see a weakness on the back hand side, feed some more balls there. See what he does with wide shots. Is he using two-handed back hand returns? Does he like forehand shots? The last thing I want is to trade forehand ground strokes with a guy who is a human back board. He'll wear you down and you'll be on the court for hours. Not my preference. I want to win a ladder set as quickly as possible.
Don't forget to throw up some lobs to see the overheads. If he doesn't want them, he probably doesn't like to do overheads. Make a mental note to give him some during the match! Next are the volleys. Observe how he reacts to both forehand and backhand volleys and make mental notes. The last thing you can expect to observe is the serve. Is it fast, does he know how to spin a serve? Much information to be exploited later.
3. So I observed my opponent enough to develop a plan. And I'll work this plan from the first shot in the match, adjusting it only if I see further weaknesses or if he improves certain aspects of his game. In this example, my opponent loves forehand ground strokes, has errant shots on his back hand because he tries to power everything in, does so-so with overheads. His first serve is hard, and, as I learned soon, the second serve comes in much slower with no spin. He's just trying to get it in. And he loves to run!
4. I work the plan. Most of my shots will go to his back hand. I'll throw in a couple of lobs when he's looking into the sun. I move in on his second serve and attack it with an attempt for an outright winning shot. When I have him running a lot, I'll send some fluffy spin shots and drop shots his way, see what he does with them. When I see him trying to rush the net I'll hit a hard shot flat over the net to his feet - he's not comfortable with running volleys and puts them in the net.
I love net play and volleys. Since his returns from serves to his forehand are very good and hard, and I can't always control serving to his backhand too well, I'll stay back after most of my serves and decide to come in as often as possible in two situations:
a) when his returns land short on my side of the court
b) when my shots drive him way back behind the baseline or way out to the side
Two habits of mine pay off most of the time, and I learned them from Rod Laver during a clinic at La Costa Resort a few years ago:
Watch your opponent's racquet on all his shots. If a shot comes in with heavy slice you can always see that by judging the angle of the racquet head. Make sure you change your own reply to shots like this. Taking off some speed maybe, and/or lifting the ball up a little seems like a good approach here.
When you have to stretch sideways to reach a shot, regardless if it's on the forehand or backhand side, the ball often needs extra lift to clear the net. Taking off some power is a very good idea, too, but the lifting up of the ball is always burned in my brain.
As I said above, this works for me. No guarantee it'll work for you, but it'll definitely improve your chances... Good luck playing the ladder - maybe we'll meet one day?