June 9, 2014 - Controlling a Match

Controlling a match means forcing the rallies to go the way you want them to. In general, that means hitters hit, loopers loop, blockers block, and so on. How to you go about doing this?

There are two basic ways of controlling a match. One is to develop a style where you can force your strengths on your opponent. The other way is to develop an all-around style that adjusts to your opponent so that you can play on his weaknesses. In both cases it is your serve and receive that will often allow you to take control.

  • Forcing Your Strengths on an Opponent

First you must develop or identify your strengths. Once that is developed, you need to develop your game, especially your serve and receive game, so as to put these strengths into play. All options have advantages and disadvantages.

For example, if you serve short backspin, it'll often be pushed long, allowing a looper to loop, and allowing a hitter to loop to set up his hitting. But it might also be pushed short, or pushed quick and aggressively off the bounce at a wide angle, or flipped, and any of these three might give the receiver control of the point. So you might vary this by serving short sidespin or no-spin serves that look like backspin, and watch the receiver struggle against the varying spin (or no-spin).

If you serve long (either fast or a breaking sidespin), you might get a soft topspin return that you can loop or hit. But it risks letting the opponent loop, which can put a looper or hitter on the defensive and the receiver in control. But this might set up a quick blocker.

Better still, use both types of serves, and by varying them, completely dominate the poor receiver, who can never adjust to your constantly varying serves.

How do you force your strengths on the opponent when he's serving? See the previous examples, but from the receiver's point of view. Take control of the point against short serves by dropping them short, pushing aggressively, and flipping. Against deep serves, attack. Use placement and variation to take control of the point.

  • Playing on Your Opponent’s Weaknesses

The other option is to develop an all-around style where you can adjust to the opponent's weaknesses. For example, if the opponent isn't very fast, you might adopt a blocking game, and quick-block side to side. Use your serve and receive to force these types of rallies, perhaps with deep serves that force topspin returns you can quick-block.

Or if the opponent has trouble blocking against slow, spinny loops, serve short and get ready to loop any long push returns. If the opponent doesn't have a good put-away shot, then you might combine a steady game with sudden attacks, knowing you can take your time and pick your shots since the opponent isn't a threat to end the point. If your opponent has a strong forehand but weaker backhand, you might simply play everything wide to his backhand. If he's the type that plays his forehand from the backhand side, then perhaps go to the forehand first (perhaps with a short serve, an aggressive receive, or a quick block), then come back to the backhand and pin him down there.

There's also a psychology to controlling a match. You have certain tools in your tactical toolbox, i.e. your entire arsenal of shots (serves, receives, strokes, footwork). Think of your racket as your magic wand, and use it to completely dominate an opponent with these tools, and have the confidence to do so. If you don't have the tools to do this, then it's time to think about your game and what new tools you need, and develop them.