How to Learn Different Styles of Play by Martin van Daalen

Every player eventually chooses a certain style of play they feel comfortable with. A style of play has to mature over time. It is not something that is often found in beginning tennis players. They might have either an aggressive, neutral or defensive style of play. It is the task of the coach to assist the player in finding a style that suits their strokes to make them feel comfortable during play and to suit their character and expression of the game.

The Aggressive Baseliner
This player tries to dominate from the baseline with aggressive baseline strokes in order to get the opponent off balance. They move the opponent around the court using the speed, spin and angles of the ball to draw mistakes from their opponent. They play aggressive in every way: physical, mental, technical and tactical. The player is quick to move around the court and has a first strike mentality. The qualifications to become an aggressive baseliner are:  
1.     Aggressive nature of play.
2.     Mental and physical strength.
3.     Speed with the arms and legs.
4.     First strike mentality.

Training: The coach will try to assist this player by teaching the basics of “The Third Ball Strategy”(Also called “First Strike Strategy) and “Open Court Strategy”. The “Third Ball Strategy” is the tactic and technical execution of how to play the ball that returns from the opponent after the serve. This first strike strategy is based on taking advantage of the return by taking time away from the opponent and applying pressure. The “Open Court Strategy” is the tactic and execution in keeping the opponent running to draw errors and to not allow them to apply pressure on you. Players with this particular style of play have very strong baseline strokes and like to be in control of the rally. Their footwork is aggressive in nature to fit their strokes. Note: Once this open court pattern is established, you will have an opportunity to play behind a player and wrong-foot the opponent.

The All-Court Player
This player tries to mix up baseline and net play in order to disrupt the rhythm of the opponent. The all-court player is just as comfortable at the baseline as playing serve and volley or approaching the net. An all-court player can mix up spin and slice and accelerate at any time. Their footwork is very well developed and adaptable to the various tactical situations in playing either offensive or defensive tennis. This player is very good at creating opportunities to pressure the opponent from the baseline or net position. The qualifications for an all-court player are:  
1.     Technically well-developed strokes.
2.     Good footwork in offensive and defensive situations.
3.     Good strategic and tactical insight.
4.     A creative and adaptable mindset.

Training: The coach will stimulate this creative player in learning all the different strokes and footwork necessary to feel comfortable all over the court. The all-court player will have to spend time practicing offense and defense as well as practicing serve and volley and approaching the net in different situations. The coach has to be very supportive and instill patience since the development of an all-court player takes more time to develop than the other playing styles.

The Defensive Player
This player plays very consistent and tries to run down and return as many balls as possible in order to draw mistakes from the opponent. Often these players will try to slow down the rallies by playing higher over the net and adding spin. The defensive player has very good footwork and relies much on their speed to track down every ball. They can play topspin as well as slice on their ground strokes. They have a high first serve percentage to apply pressure. The qualifications for this player are:  
1.     Well developed ground strokes with topspin and slice.
Great speed on their footwork.
3.     Great stamina.
4.     Mental endurance.

Training: The coach will support the player by practicing consistency in the execution of the defensive ground strokes and footwork. As the player becomes more proficient you can add more topspin and slice. Footwork and fitness are key elements to play this game style. Practice matches are focused on playing defensive and neutralizing patterns to draw mistakes from the opponent or to wear them out physically.

The Serve and Volley Playe
This player seeks to go forward behind the serve and volley the ball in order to apply pressure by taking time away from the opponent. The serve and volley player has an aggressive playing style and likes to play fast points. The player has strong legs and great balance and likes to use the volley and speed of the footwork to dominate the opponent. The first and second serve are key elements in supporting this style of play. Most often the player will have the same aggressive nature in the return games and try to seek the net position. The qualifications for this particular player are:  
1.     Good serve and volley development.
2.     Fast and agile footwork.
3.     Aggressive ground strokes to force a short return.
4.     Aggressive nature in playing the game.

Training: The coach will assist in the practice of the serve and volley techniques and aggressive ground strokes. The coach has to guide the player through all the target and response possibilities for players to fully comprehend and recognize the serve and volley patterns. This style of play takes a lot of time to develop and is not suitable for beginners. It is possible to practice a lot of approach games to hone the skills for later in their development.

The Counter Puncher
This style of play is for players that use targets to pass the player at the net or to lure them into certain positions and then accelerate the ball to gain the advantage. The counter puncher has fast and agile footwork and is handy and crafty in creating shots to maneuver the opponent. This player will often leave a certain section of the court open or attempt to bring the opponent into the net when they are not expecting this particular strategy. This strategy is designed to create an element of surprise and distraction that will cause confusion during execution. The counter puncher will take advantage of the opponent before they are properly prepared and tactically positioned for the offensive. The qualifications for this player are:  
1.     Fast and agile footwork.
2.     Topspin and slice ground strokes.
3.     Creative mentality.
4.     Good touch.

Training: The coach will try to create practice sessions where the player has to defend either at the baseline or create a passing shot or lob over the opponent. The key element for players to learn is how to exploit the tactical situation by catching the opponent off guard and taking charge of the situation with rapid action.

Learning all these different styles can be an excellent way to teach or learn different strategies and tactics. As a very young junior (15 years or younger) it is not always possible to perform all these styles to make a choice for your own game. Over time each players will soon find out what style of play suits them best and how to develop that game for the future. This is an area of your game that can use some advice from a coach or trusted mentor that understands your character and your strokes to make a long term plan to develop your style of play.

Martin van Daalen
Director Player Development Finland
Author of Teaching Tennis Volume 1

There are many different ways to play tennis but there are only a few distinguishing styles of play. The style of a player is determined by the method and consistent reproduction of the strokes and patterns.