February 26, 2024 - Be the Lawnmower

Many players enter tournaments with the primary goal of beating stronger (i.e. higher-rated) players. And that’s an admirable goal. But thinking that way is also a way of making sure you don’t improve as quickly and beat more and more of these stronger players. Why?

Central to beating anyone is having a game that allows you to dominate. There are many ways to dominate – serve and receive, strong attacks (often set up with serve or receive), great defense or consistency, and so on. But to learn to dominate against stronger players you first need to learn how to totally dominate and mow down weaker (i.e. lower-rated) players with all the aspects of your game that you’ll need against stronger players. That means playing lots and lots of matches against such players where your goal isn’t just to win – it’s to win easily while using different aspects of your game. Be a lawnmower. If you can’t consistently easily beat these weaker players in multiple ways, then your game isn’t yet solid enough to consistently battle against stronger players.

Here's an example of how you can learn to dominate by playing weaker players first. When I play a weaker player, I can dominate with my serves. Then I play a stronger player and they handle the serve better – and since I’ve relied so much on the serve against weaker players (and likely players my level), I’m not as good as I should be when they get past that. So, instead of using your best serves when playing weaker players (in practice), instead perhaps serve simple short backspin or no-spin serves, they push back long, and you start each rally off by looping. Obviously, you vary this if the “weaker” player keeps attacking your short serve or even drops them short. But the key is you learn to dominate with all aspects of your game by first developing them against weaker players – and then, when you can do that, you learn to do it against your peers and stronger players. And note that when you play a “serious” match against these weaker players, that’s when you bring out your best serves (or the other parts of your game you might not have been fully using), and really dominate.

It's not just serves, of course. If you dominate against weaker players with your forehand, try dominating against them with your backhand. If you your attack overwhelms weaker players, try blocking them down. And so on. The key is to learn to dominate with many aspects of your game – and you first learn to do that by using them to mow down weaker players, then your peers, and then stronger players.

The side benefit of doing this? You rarely lose to weaker players because you've learned how to dominate against them in so many ways. So, are you ready to be a lawnmower, and mow down those weaker players . . . then your peers . . . and finally those stronger players?