Playing The Score


Do you need help with these situations in a tennis match?

– How not to lose a lead . . . (Ever been up 5-1 or 5-2 in a set and end up losing the set?)
– How to think and play when you are behind . . . (do you usually lose quickly after being down in a set?)
– How to close out a set or match . . . (do you get more nervous and have a hard time closing out a set or match?)

“Playing the Score” will help you think like a coach and learn what tennis coaches know, plus apply these coaching ideas and tips to your game during matches! You will discover proven tactics and techniques to practice and use when you are up in a set and how to make it easier to close it out. You will also learn how to handle being down in a set and ways to approach a match against a stronger player. Each chapter provides practice drills and or games and a key points section at the end for quick reference. “Playing the Score” is something new and easy to apply to quickly improve your match play!

There is a need for this information because in most tennis matches players don’t have the luxury of a courtside coach. Instead players must learn to coach from within for competing and developing the mental skills needed with regards to what is happening in their specific match.

Each chapter is focused on a situation that occurs in a tennis match. You will also find some valuable worksheets including; how to scout your opponent in the warm-up, how to develop your “go to” plays and more! Finally the last chapter includes tips and questions to ask for each changeover that can happen in a set based on the score. For example, if the score is 5-4 find out what should you be thinking during that changeover?

So read on and discover and develop your tennis coach within!

Tennis Series for Self Coaching: “Playing the Score” Chapter 1
Before you look at the coaching ideas used in different scoring situations occurring in a tennis match here are some ideas, tips and a scouting worksheet for creating a good start in a match.

The Warm Up
The warm up will help you prepare for the match both physically and mentally. It’s also the
time for making some decisions about your opponent(s). Here’s what you can do on your own as part of the warm up. Start with some dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretching increases the range of movement and blood and oxygen flow to soft tissues prior to exertion. This type of stretching improves performance and reduces the risk of injury. You want to start slow and then gradually increase the range of motion and often try to mimic the motion you will use on a tennis court.
Start with some activity done at an easy pace such as jogging or skipping rope for a few minutes then execute some dynamic stretches. Here are some specific examples for tennis:

High Step with Rotation
Step high with right knee while rotating trunk and both arms to the right. Repeat with next step using left knee and left trunk rotation. Increase amount of trunk rotation and height of knee as you repeat several repetitions. This can be done while walking across the court.

Jumping Jacks
Start in an athletic stance and slightly jump as your legs spread to the sides and your arms move above your head and clap hands. Then quickly return to the starting point and repeat.

Racquet Swings
Go through the different motions (forehands, backhands, serves) with your racquet. You can add some steps moving a few feet to each side and then swinging.

As you start to hit balls in the warm up try to use a structured approach, for example you may want to start closer to the net hitting a number of slow groundstrokes with your opponent. This should be cooperative and then you can move back towards the baseline adding pace. Make sure you have the opportunity to warm up all of your shots including volleys and overheads.

Another goal in the warm up is to review your opponent. As a coach here are some ideas and notes that I would observe about the upcoming match and opponent:

Table 1.1 Scouting Opponents

Pre-Match Scouting Table


As a coach I also want my players to use the warm up as a time to gain confidence and improve their focus so they start the match ready to compete. Here’s how you can use the warm up to start your mental preparation:
To warm up your eyes and your focus practice watching your opponent’s body language and racquet swing (speed and type; low to high, high to low, etc.). It can provide clues on the type of ball being hit. Then pick up the path of the ball (speed, height over the net and direction) while it’s still on the other side of the net. Start to make early decisions when the ball is still on the other side of the net; where you need to move to set up your shot, racquet preparation and best shot to hit back. For example, if your opponent hits a ball with heavy topspin you may have the most success returning it with a slice or hitting a flat ball. Another tip is to say to yourself “bounce” when the ball bounces on your side and “hit” at your contact. You can extend this tip further by saying the same words when the ball bounces on the other side and then when your opponent makes contact – it’s a great focus drill!
Here’s another good practice drill to use in the warm-up to activate your footwork. Just before your opponent makes contact with the ball say “now” and make a split step!

Even though you can lose confidence don’t dwell on the mistakes in the warm-up. You will make mistakes, expect them and practice how to react to them to stay confident (more in a later chapter). Think of mistakes as part of the learning process.

Starting the Match
It’s natural for you to be a little nervous and or anxious as the match starts. Nerves will affect both you and your opponent and usually the player that learns to quickly handle these feelings will have a positive and effective start. Here are some ideas to help you manage nerves at the start of a match and other ideas for creating a good start for your next match.

Have a Plan
A plan is made up of plays to use and plays will help keep your mind focused. Often an idle mind will become filled with thoughts about things that may have a negative effect on your performance. For example you may start to think about what ifs:
• What if I play really bad
• What if I can’t hit my backhand
• What if we lose and no one wants to play doubles with me
Thinking about a play will help avoid these thoughts. For example, as you step up to serve at the start of a match instead of having your mind wondering about how you are going to play think about; where you are going to place the serve, what type of serve (spin, power, etc.) and anticipating your next shot off the return. This is a skill and will take practice to develop just like a forehand or overhead. But you will get better at this skill with practice. Keep the plays simple and practice these thoughts, you don’t even need to be on a tennis court playing a match! Here is one of my favorite “go to” plays at the start of a match:

Serve at the body


Serving directly at your opponent can often produce a weaker return and reduces the angles. Start by playing the serve directly at your opponent. A successful serve at the body will often produce a block return to the center of your court. You may have time to run around a backhand and play a more offensive shot on your opponent’s return hitting to the open court.

I like this play for a variety of reasons especially at the start of a match. First it’s a high percentage play for the serve; I’m hitting a spin serve which means higher net clearance and
aiming it basically at the middle of the service box. So if I’m off to either side it’s still going to be in the service box. Second, on my next shot I’m hoping to hit a forehand crosscourt. Another high percentage shot because I have more court to hit on a diagonal and the ball will usually cross the lowest part of the net. This high percentage play at the start of a match will often help overcome nerves and create some success (confidence)!


  1. Anonymous says

    Not seeing anything after the Serve at the body section. Is there more to this article?

  2. Ist says

    Where can i subscribe to your site?

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