Tactics in singles: 7 timeless principles for successful tennis in a tournament (+ bonus)

I’m always afraid that he’ll fall over during a rally.

He is smiled at by many, almost laughed at. But he has what many don’t have:

A clear tactic in singles .

And now I ask you:

Do you have a clear tactic for your matches? Reilly Opelka has them.

serve . Point.


You’re now shaking your head while looking at your smartphone.

“Huh? Opelka, tactics? What is he writing there?!”
dr Holzhammer has clear principles for his matches . These principles form into a tactic. This tactic gives him the direction to go in every match. Imagine if the good Reilly had thought two years ago:

“Hmm, dig up everything three meters behind the baseline?! That would make my game even more flexible and varied. Man, if I can master that, I’ll play even better. Especially on clay!”.
Would he have gotten far with this tactic? As far as he got without this tactic?

Probably not. He would have been more likely to hurt himself. Or he would have actually fallen over in the running rally.

Instead, Reilly focused on his principles. Only then did he refine his style of play, his tactics. Yes, almost perfected.

Where we arrived at perfection:

Just between us: What are your tactics in detail?
In this article I would like to introduce you to seven timeless principles that you can apply to your tactics. Like a template you put on your matches .

You will learn how to improve your behavior in the match. How to make better decisions about your game and how to improve your level in league and tournament games.

But before we dive into the tactics:

What is the difference between tactics and strategy?
A tactic is a hack, a trick, a play that gives you a quick , short-term advantage. A strategy, on the other hand, is a long-term mindset that doesn’t use hacks and tricks.

We can state:

A tactic is a move, the strategy is the game philosophy behind it.
How do you win more games in tennis?
You win more matches if you play tactically clever tennis and can always adapt your playing style to the opponent and the dynamics of a game. Sounds complicated, right? And that’s it. But that’s roughly the rough framework in which you can think. It’s smart from a purely psychological point of view to work with questions during your matches.

Keep asking yourself how your opponent scores against you. Ask yourself how most rallies go. What can you do better or differently in these rallies? What shots does your opponent like? On the other hand, which of your punches damage him?

With this way of thinking, you can quickly win more games at tennis. But I’m not telling you that this will be easy.

What should today be about?

This article is about your tactics in singles . Maybe later I’ll write something about the tactics in doubles. Today it’s about giving you a tactical map for orientation in your championship and tournament matches.

So you can cleverly navigate your way to victory.

Here we go, dear friend of the flying felt ball.

Tactics in singles: 7 timeless principles for your success as a tournament player
Quiet Please …!

Just one more thing: What are principles anyway?

A principle is a tenet or standard of action that guides a player. A principle is a basic idea . A basis for thinking about your own tennis game in the best possible way.
Are you ready for a few principles that will improve your tennis? Did you straighten the strings and wrap the grip tape wrinkle-free?

Then it starts.

#1 The rally principle: It is easier to make a fast ball faster than to accelerate a slow ball

You stand between the T and the baseline.

Your gaze creeps down. You are ashamed. Heck, some viewers just actually saw that.

What have you been observed doing?

How you threw an opponent’s egg, a slow, mid-high ball onto the T-field, two meters behind the baseline. With your forehand, your strongest shot in the repertoire.

Man, those simple things you usually play in your sleep. But: In a match, your thoughts work more than in training. you think more And if your opponent plays slowly, then you have more time to think.


You have more time to make mistakes.

I learned the principle of the slow ball from my great tennis teacher, Hans-Egon. He taught me that slow balls need special attention. As tennis players, we have a misconception about these balls.

What is this error in our thought system?

We subconsciously think that we can also move more slowly towards the ball. But this is a fatal mistake. You have to move dynamically and explosively towards slow balls – like Rafa Nadal .

Write on your grip tape:

It’s always easier to speed up a fast ball than to speed up a slow ball.
You make better decisions in rallies. Your so-called shot selection improves.

Short digression: What is the shot selection ? This describes your decisions in your shots. Where do you play your forehand like ? Where and how is crucial here . Example: Your opponent hits you with a flat slice on your forehand. Which variation do you choose? Topspin and half-up? Straight and flat? Drop shot with feeling? The decision you make here is your shot selection. Players with an outstanding shot selection are: Daniil Medvedev, Carlos Alcaraz, Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal. Players with a mixed shot selection are: Grigor Dimitrov, Benoit Paire or Matteo Berrettini.
#2 The mentality principle: Each match consists of two games

I’ll take any bet that you have at least five players in your club who only ever play one game in their matches.

What game am I writing about?

The game during rally.

In tennis, people always like to babble about the mentality . Well, as a mental coach, I would like to explain to you briefly what is behind it.

Technique, tactics, coordination and a bit of head will be required of you during the rally. That’s one game.

Which is the other game?

You play the other game – consciously or unconsciously – between the rallies. In the breaks from 3:15 to 30:15, for example, or when changing sides when you are helplessly at the mercy of your thoughts. Here you will be challenged mentally and emotionally. Here your psyche throws questions at you.

How can such questions look like?


“Well, master, how do you put away the lucky line ball of your hated opponent at 3:3 and 30:30?

“Ha, see, that backhand mistake again . It’s getting on your nerves, isn’t it?”

“… always the fourth or fifth shot where you make the mistake. Don’t you notice that yourself? Aren’t you starting to doubt yourself?”
This is the mental game you play in each of your matches. And, I can promise you this from a few years of mental training :

The stronger you get in this game, the better your performances will be. Especially under pressure, in the tournament. A first step is to become aware of this game.

A powerful principle that can do a lot for you.

Reading tip: 5 mental exercises that will improve your tennis

Before we continue with principle number 3, one important thing:

What is a tactic against stronger opponents?
A few moons ago I sat in the audience at a tournament and listened to my neighbors.

The guy must have been a trainer and said to his mate:

“… if you want to get something against stronger opponents, then the head is decisive. The underdogs often play well in the match. But then it gets stuck with the big points. I can tell you from my experience: Who is a good tactic against stronger opponents, he should start to find in his head…”.

If you have already had a few matches against stronger opponents in which you were able to play very well, then the following applies:

Were you aggressive on the big points? Did you show your stronger opponent that you believed in winning?

I can tell you from several years of mental coaching:

The big favorite gets it in their heads when they see a focused and confident opponent on the other side of the net. What you project onto the stronger opponent has a direct impact on rallies. Your tactics against stronger opponents can be long backhand balls , net attacks or stops.

It’s all a fine thing.

However, your tactics against stronger opponents will be even more effective if you also show your opponent your strength.

Here are a few ideas for that:

Faust balls
Find and maintain eye contact
Prance before the return
Make opponents wait before a point
Smile when your stronger opponent has played a strong point
Implement some of these things. They all signal your opponent real, not artificial, strength that comes from within.

All right, let’s move on to principle number 3.

Reading tip for tennis elbow: The Masalo Cuff

#3 The strategy principle: If you don’t understand your opponent, it will be difficult to defeat him

Sun Tzu was a Chinese military strategist and philosopher.

Sunzi lived between ca. 534 B.C. and 453 B.C. And he left a damn good tactic for you:

If you know yourself and the enemy, you need not fear the outcome of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, you will suffer defeat for every victory you achieve. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will lose in every battle.
Matteo Berrettini would probably have won a Grand Slam title long ago if he knew and understood this saying. Instead, he still misplaces his forehand on big points when it comes to big wins.

If I were his coach, I would have had to be dragged off several times because I would have jumped on his neck.

how about you

Do you understand what your opponent is good at? What strokes does he like to play? How he moves to his punches?

Can you tell when he’s nervous, scared, and self-doubting?


do you understand Do you know your weaknesses, the thoughts that scare you? And do you know your immovable strengths? Do you know your guns to shoot a game or play home?

All the answers to these questions will improve your tennis.

Internalize this principle. I recommend that you go through these questions after three service games and think about them:

How can you answer these questions?

These answers can form your match plan . They can tell you moves. And they make you a tactically stronger player – in the long term.

agassi neu
#4 The pyramid principle: Your own performance results from a simple pyramid

Are you afraid of an important league game?

Do you feel helpless when your opponent doesn’t make any mistakes and hits you in the face with your short balls?

Perfect, then you have everything you need to take an important lesson with you today. This teaching is unconsciously carried out to perfection by the absolute champions.

It is the doctrine of the pyramid.

What does this pyramid look like?


1) Thinking

2) feel

3) Spielen

How you think influences your emotions . How you feel then affects the way you play.


It’s 4:5 from your point of view, you serve at 30:40 and your opponent has so far chased three of your four second serves straight into the corner as a return winner.

You stand ready at the baseline, tap the ball anxiously, serve – and your first serve sticks to the edge of the net like the chewing gum used to under the wooden table in the classroom.

What do you think before your second serve?

“Oh dear, F*ck! Now, on this important point, go over the second one… crap ey…!”
How does this thought make you feel? Desperate, afraid. Panic is spreading that you could lose this important first set with the following second serve.

How do you think you will play your second serve?

With an arm as heavy as a yokozuna . Slow, harmless – and too short. A bad mix for a second serve when the opponent has set point.

The pyramid principle tells you how you can think differently in such match situations, feel more self-confident and then play better.

How can a tactic against bringers in a match look like?
The bringer, or as I like to call him here on tennis-insider.de, the moon ball player, is a special type of player.

He’s the bogeyman. The one you don’t want to play when the championship game is coming up at the weekend.


You can only look stupid against the bringer. Sadly it is how it is. A nice match, no matter what your tactics look like against the bringer , will not be possible. In the last almost 30 years between the T-line and the baseline, I’ve talked to numerous players about bringers and suitable tactics.

It all starts between your ears. Here is a small checklist for your head:

Check off a great match against the bringer as soon as you hit it
Forget the idea of ​​trying to kick the bringer off the field
See the match as a character challenge, not a playful one
I know, I know …

It’s easier written than played. Nevertheless, you should think carefully about whether you really want to lose without a murmur against a bringer – or not 😉

And if you don’t want to lose, then you should heed at least two points on the checklist. Your attitude is the Bringer’s greatest strength. But if your attitude is on-point, then you’re robbing the bringer of its greatest strength.

Logical, right?

We continue with the seven principles for your successful career.

#5 The habit principle: Every single match is the unwinding of fixed habits

Our behavior is made up of habits.

When we get up in the morning, we go to the bathroom. When the boss is annoying at work, we roll our eyes. If the opponent plays better than his LK previously promised, then we get pulse.

Even as a child, it was my habit to move as little as possible on the pitch between rallies. footwork ? Only if you can’t do anything.

Please refer:

edberg outfit

Well, you can use the habit principle for all sorts of outrages on the pitch.

I recommend you:

See what habits your opponent has. You’ll find out pretty quickly.


By paying attention to where he hits his backhand when he has to run. Yes, you’ve read that correctly. Many players just have their habit of playing some balls. Rafael Nadal, for example, plays a lot of backhands crosscourt on the run.

Novak Djokovic plays, I think also purely out of habit, many balls back exactly as they came to him. It reflects the opponent’s game.

And your opponents will also bring their quirks to the court. We humans are just like that. For example, many club players stop – out of habit – after a shot. They forget that they would have to move back to the center of the square.

Instead, they look spellbound after their shot.

Playing against the barrel could be a shot in the foot in this case 😉

#6 The Fear Principle: Those who are afraid lose. Even if he is the better player

Sven used to play in our club.

Technically incredibly strong player. Loop on the forehand backswing. Always on his knees when he was getting ready to punch. Perfect trophy position on serve.

A work of art on the tennis court.

This work of art, however, cracked and stained when it went into the league games. Then the enemy crept up from behind, climbed over the back of Sven’s neck and made himself comfortable on his harness.

Who was this enemy?

Exactly, the fear.

Whoever is afraid in the match:

plays a lot of strokes lying on his back
doesn’t pull through easily
makes wrong shot decisions
blocked in the head
makes the opponent stronger than he actually is
You notice it, don’t you?!

It’s hard to win a match that way. It gets damn tight even when you’re clearly the better player on the court. I wouldn’t just speak of an applied handbrake here. More of a total loss, where a dense cloud of smoke is already rising.

If you suffer from anxiety in the match, then you can take four coaching sessions per day. Your performance in the tournament will only change minimally . Will she improve ?! Rather not.

I wrote a mental report. Short, crisp – quick to implement. You can find this report for free here .

#7 The Defeat Principle: Defeats are the best coaches

It’s just ignored.

Honestly?! Anyone who ever said you should tick off defeats quickly simply had no idea.

Yes, check off emotionally – okay.

In this article you will find the story of my most embarrassing defeat.

But please not playfully, tactically – mentally. It’s fatal if you don’t learn from your mistakes and those of others. If you watch your next opponent’s match and see their opponent playing high every ball and your next opponent killing all those high balls right away – are you playing high?

Would that be your tactic in this match?

Of course not! You can save yourself high balls directly and use your backhand slice.

A defeat can give you so much:

How did the opponent earn the most points against you?
Where were your weaknesses here?
Did you lose? If so, were the service games at least close? If so, where did you fail in the tight situations?
Did you narrowly lose? If so, what did your opponent do better in big points? How would you play if you could play this match again?
How did you score your points? What made your game stand out? Did you have a clear tactical plan? If yes, why did it fail? Has your opponent possibly caught you in your tactical plan? Did you miss adjusting your tactics again?
Have you noticed what a clean defeat analysis can do for you?

The great Roger Federer is the best example. He had learned so much about himself and his tactics from his tough defeats against Rafa and Djoker that he began to go to the net more effectively and purposefully. He was able to expand and improve his individual game philosophy.

If he hadn’t experienced those grueling defeats, he could never have improved his game so significantly.

Is Roger Federer a good ending for this article?

I guess so 😉

Now it’s up to you to integrate these principles into your tennis.

Pick out two to three of these principles for your tactics individually. Implement them, collect your experiences.

And keep honing your tennis.

Bonus: Tactics and Head: The best methods to let unknown opponents lose the place
They exist.

Those guys marching.

Juan was one of those.

You know who I mean don’t you?

Juan Martin del Potro had an incredible run back then. He won 23 (!) matches in a row. Four tournament wins in a row. Only Andy Murray was able to stop the tandil tower in the quarterfinals of the 2008 US Open.

Consider why:

23 wins in a row.

Was that coincidence? Definitely not.

Play better through mental training:

Your head is your biggest enemy? Grab my free mini e-book and learn how to play mentally strong tennis:

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Of course, Juan had some advantages on the stringing. He was young, hungry – and unknown. His opponents didn’t know that he couldn’t do anything with short slice balls on the T. In addition, Juan played a speed tennis that had hardly been seen before. I remember a match he played against Rafa Nadal. Sometimes del Potro hammered forehands from the hip, so fast that Rafa didn’t even flinch.

The matador saw no chance of getting at some projectiles.

Which brings us to the psychology behind del Potro’s run of success.

This psychology is important to you when you play tournaments and championships. First we need to clarify:

Who is an unknown opponent?
The question sounds too simple, doesn’t it?!

But be patient, dear tennis crack. You may know an opponent by name. You’ve seen him on a play sheet or at Mybigpoint. It may also be that you once chatted with him at a tournament.

Exactly, now comes the but:

Do you know his style of play? Do you know if he’s right or left handed?

A short story about it:

I met Julian when I used to play in youth ranking tournaments. We trained five times a week and played tournaments on the weekends. Over time we got to know each other. Many tournaments featured the same players.

Julian was a top player with outstanding technique. After a match, which Julian unfortunately lost, we talked afterwards. I followed the match closely. Always with the ulterior motive of learning a few new things for my tennis myself.

Smart players don’t think of themselves as perfect, complete, or mature. Smart players think they are stupid so they can learn as much as possible.

The most effective way to learn in tennis is to analyze other players’ mistakes.

I said to Julian after the match:

“… but hey, why did you always play him on his forehand? He really got steamed up with that!”.
Julian replied:

“Really? I didn’t notice that. I thought I always played into his backhand…”.
I said:

“… Um, no… he was left-handed!”.
Julian was amazed. He told me he didn’t realize it the entire match.

You won’t believe how little your opponent notices you in the match. It is amazing.


An unknown opponent is a player whose style of play you don’t know anything about.

You don’t know the brand of his racket, nor do you know if he’s wearing his shirt tucked in or over his pants. You don’t know if he’s wearing a headband, a cap or no headgear.

You don’t know whether he’s playing with a damper in the stringing – or without.

In short:

An unknown opponent is someone whose way of playing tennis you don’t know.

There are tons of different types of players out there on the courts. Everyone is unique. I don’t believe in putting things into four or five different categories. Therefore, I advise you to put an end to this nonsense. If you’ve had such thinking about your opponents before.

There are no player type categories.

There are only single matches. And in each of these matches different, unique laws apply.

Which leads us directly to the next important point.

Why is playing against an unknown opponent different?
Of course there are players who can just play their game. Or as the tactical donkey always whinnies:

“I’m playing down my boot!”.
Nice, he can do that too. But what do you do when problems arise? When your boot consists of pinning your opponent on the backhand, but he slices each backhand two millimeters from the baseline?

What do you do then?

Rafa Nadal once said in an interview:

“I just go out there and try to find the best solutions to my problems. I do my best. Is that enough? I’ll see then…”
Do you notice the switch in the setting?

Away from you, towards the opponent, towards the game dynamics, towards the big picture. That’s a completely different way of thinking. A completely different take on the match. Rafa has won one or the other trophy. He will know what he is talking about.

It is exactly this setting that will help you in your matches against opponents you do not know. In mental training, I really like working with questions. This is also called, quite unspectacularly, the question method.

You can use these for yourself in the match or before.

In a match against an unknown opponent, it can look like this:

Is he left or right handed?
Does he play with a lot of spin or more straight, flat, fast?
Does he move well – or not?
Does he prefer to play forehand or backhand?
Is his second serve a chance to attack?
You can also go a bit in the psychological direction:

Does he get upset quickly?
What’s his body language like? Does he doubt, is he more afraid than me?
Does he look towards the audience a lot? Then he seems unsure
Does he take his time between points or is he hectic? Then he could also become hectic in longer rallies
Tip: Copy the two lists into an app or print them out. They could prove extremely valuable in your career.

Another tip: If you are a trainer, then copy the two lists as well. For example, you can go through these tips in a conversation before your protégé’s match. When collecting the balls, deducting the court or simply in a short conversation.

It is working 😉

agassi neu
How can you prepare for a match against an unknown opponent?
We already talked about it in the blog.

Don’t stalk your opponent.

Neither at Mybigpoint, nor anywhere else. I know human beings are naturally curious. You want to know who you will get in front of the clothing.

It’s better to save this energy and instead invest it in your match preparation. Into that which you have influence in the match.

Isn’t that much more effective for a great match?

You can come up with a few basic plays. If you have my Jimmy Djoker course, you already have twelve moves on your smartphone.

Go through the first service game of the match in detailed pictures. You only see yourself. No, you should not become an egocentric in this world. But you don’t know the opponent. He is a black shadow.

Here are a few questions you can answer in your images:

How do you want to play the first serve of the match? With slice to the outside? With speed on man? A board through the middle?
When do you want to get to the point in a rally? Directly with the first or second shot? Do you want to keep the ball in play and gain security?
Want to attack your opponent’s second serve if possible? Do you want to be well behind the baseline on the return? Or just a step behind?
Lose yourself in your imagination.

Imagine exactly how you face the ball, how the club head is below the ball in front of the impact point of the ball. How to give your forehand a lot of spin and fly it halfway over the net with incredible rotation.

You’ll notice on the court that you feel more confident with your shots.

When should you go through these visualizations?

I would recommend the night before your match. You surely know the stories of how students and pupils slept with their book under their pillow. Unfortunately, I can’t guarantee you 100% that it all works that way – with the book.

However, I can guarantee that with detailed visualization exercises you will have better timing of your shots. That’s no guarantee of 22 forehand winners in the match. But better timing can give you 13 winners 😉

We’ve put you in a bit of shape tactically and mentally. I have a few more examples to solidify it all for you.

How I acted tactically and in my head in a youth ranking list tournament against a completely unknown opponent – and won in two sets
On paper he was way behind me.

But not when warming up on the court.

His name was Johannes and he played incredibly well in the first two minutes. No mistake, lots of spin – I got pudding in my hitting arm.

I stayed reasonably cool and wanted to see how the match went. Tuck and Match are two different pairs of Lacoste shirts. Instead, I checked where I could grab him.

I consciously played a few shorter and slower balls as I was throwing in.

And tadaa:

Johannes didn’t like to move too much. I mean who loves footwork?

I wrote down “let it run” on my imaginary match plan. In the next step I searched and found my own beat rhythm. I was and still am a huge fan of “Control Tempo Thought”. This may be due to the fact that we used to be taught more about rhythm than violent tennis in association training.

But of course, it also depends on the individual playing style of the player.

Carlos Alcaraz you can’t come with rhythm. He wants to bludgeon.

So I put the following tactics together in my head:

Play safe right-left
sprinkle stops
Don’t waste too many points with minor mistakes
Attack when Rafael falls short
Since I didn’t know Johannes at all before our match, I found this plan quite good. I had a fairly detailed picture and was able to start using that picture for my success.

It worked quite well.

I would also like to remind you of Rafa’s teachings:

Go into the match, face the problems and find the best possible solutions.

How Novak Djokovic was almost taken apart by an underdog and narrowly saved himself
The interviews after the matches are pure tennis gold.

Not the ones performed on the court. I mean the interviews in the press conference. Most of the time the player was in the shower and could let the match sink a little. His mind has already processed a few things.

We then learn this wisdom in the press conference.

Novak Djokovic once said after his match against serve-and- volley player Maxime Cressy:

“..amazing, he always came to the net. I knew his name but I didn’t know how he played. His second serve was tremendous. I don’t think I’ve ever had to return such a dangerous second serve…”
Here we find crucial lessons for your tennis.

The djoker quickly revealed the second serve as a strength in Cressy’s game.

Unusual, isn’t it?

In his head he will have recorded this information as the key to victory.

That’s creative!

Djokovic quickly noticed Cressy marching fearlessly to the net. So Djokovic had to cancel long rallies. I don’t think it’s that easy. Because the greatest strength of Djoker is the baseline game.

Reading tip: The fastest 3 ways to a perfect forehand

This almost didn’t happen against Cressy.

Djokovic had to rethink. Tactically, but also mentally. He couldn’t just “play his boot down”. He had to, now Rafa comes into play again, find the solutions to the problems.

Djokovic probably focused heavily on Cressy’s second serves. Especially with the big points like 30:30 or debut.

The Djoker won the match in two damn tight sets.

What can you take with you to prepare yourself perfectly for your matches against opponents you don’t know?

Here’s your checklist:

Don’t stalk your opponent. Results do not say anything about the way you play
Remember Rafa’s lesson: Find solutions to your problems in the match
Ask the opponent questions by analyzing where their strengths and weaknesses are
Make it clear whether you want to play cautiously or directly aggressively
The level of throwing has nothing to do with the level of the match – don’t be fooled
Get a detailed picture of your opponent
Say goodbye to the “I’ll just play my boot down!” Thoughts
Okay, that’s it from me for today.

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