May 27, 2024 - What to Do in the First Game

The simple answer to this question, for most people, is obvious: WIN!. But there are really four things you should be doing in that first game.

First, you want to force your game on your opponent. This means both finding ways to set up your shots and getting those shots going. If you do this successfully, you’ll dominate from the start and won’t have to worry about the other three things I’m going to talk about. (But if you are really dominant, then you need to find stronger competition.)

Second, you want to adjust to your opponent. This partly goes with the first item above, where you are looking to set up your shots – and to do that, you need to figure out what your opponent does. For example, suppose you like to follow your short serves with a forehand (like me). But if your opponent pushes your serve aggressively to wide corners and quick-blocks if you go out of position, then you might have to adjust and loop from both wings. Or you might have to go to perhaps side-top or deep serves to stop that quick push. However, the bigger issue here is adjusting to an unorthodox opponent. It might be one with a weird stroke or with a surface you aren’t used to. You absolutely do not want to go into game two still uncomfortable with what your opponent is doing, so adjust in the first game.

Third, find a way to win. This could be the first item, but the first two items are ways to make sure you win. But if those two items don’t ensure a win, then find a way. For example, I used to be a slow starter, taking a game to get my shots going – and so I often relied on tricky serves to win the first game, and then the rest of my game would catch up. (Meaning, of course, that my opponent would see all my tricky serves in the first game, making them less effective the rest of the way.) There are all sorts of scrappy ways to throw an opponent off for the few points needed to win a game – a sudden heavy push, a slow spinny loop, an angled block, and so on.

And fourth, in the first game you should learn what you need to do to win the match, even if you lost the first game. It’s better to lose the first game but know with certainty how to beat the opponent, then to win the first game by luck (nets and edges, opponent missing easy shots, blow a big lead as the opponent figures out how to play you but barely comes up short, etc.), and go into the second game uncomfortable and unsure of what to do.

Bring this foursome to the table and you’ll be a force to fear!