Singles Tennis Strategy Guide

Tennis isn’t all about hitting the ball as hard as you can with the hopes that your opponent can’t return it. The reality is, you won’t always have a perfect opportunity to hit a winner, as your opponent will be utilizing something you should be too: tennis strategy. In essence, tennis strategy is all about outplaying your opponent, using techniques that can either: set you up for a winner, or make it so that your opponent hits the ball out, hits the ball into the net, or simply can’t reach the ball. So, here is some basic singles tennis strategy you can apply to become a better player.

Tennis Strategy

Your tennis strategy will often revolve around a certain type of style, although you are always free to change your play style on a whim to respond to certain situations. The most common styles a player can use in tennis include the counter pusher, aggressive baseliner, all-court, and serve-and-volley. Mastering one style can help you play better, sure, but learning all four can help you tremendously as you adapt to real-time matches and different opponents. Of course, the best way to learn tennis strategy is through first hand experience, as you’ll be able to improve naturally while discovering your preferences in play style.

Counter Pusher (Defensive Baseliner)

Nikolay_Davydenko - Tennis Strategy - Counter Pusher

Nikolay Davydenko – A great example of a counter pusher

A counter pusher is basically a player who “pushes” back any shot, returning the right shot for whatever their opponent sends their way. The goal of this style of play is not to hit winners, but to strategically outlast your opponent until they make an unforced error. Counter pushers often have a lot of stamina, and are very consistent and rarely make errors. As a counter pusher, you should think of yourself as a wall (minus the concrete and plaster, but with a touch of psychological warfare), with the sole objective of returning all your opponent’s shots.

The tennis strategy used by counter pushers include:

  • Staying at the baseline to return all of the opponent’s shots
  • Using lots of top spin, sidespin, or backspin to counter the opponent’s aggression, placing shots in disadvantageous locations that make it difficult for the opponent to return
  • Surprising their opponents by returning their hard shots
  • Having lots of consistency to outlast the opponent
  • Staying patient and mentally tough to get a point

Here is how to play against a counter pusher.

Aggressive Baseliner

Rafael_Nadal - Tennis Strategy - Offensive Baseliner

Rafael Nadal – Famous for being an offensive baseliner

The aggressive baseliner spends most of their time at the baseline, winning most of their points there by playing aggressively.The goal is to hit hard and deep shots that land several feet back from the service line, which will overpower the opponent. Aggressive baseliners are not afraid to take big risks with a shot, but only when there’s an opening where they can put away easy balls or force the opponent to make an error. But while waiting for an opening, it’s common to hit the ball from side to side until one appears. These types of players are often armed with a very big serve as well, which helps to put them on the offense.

The tennis strategy used by aggressive baseliners include:

  • Having good groundstrokes–such as a strong forehand or bachkand–to hit deep shots
  • Having a big serve to take advantage of the short return which can allows for a putaway
  • Hitting balls deep and fast to set up for winners
  • Crosscourt rally until they can find an opening for a down-the-line winner
  • Attacking players’ second serve
  • Hitting balls at sharp angles to control their opponent’s movement
  • Hitting hard shots make it difficult for volley players to return
  • Remaining confident even when making mistakes

All-Courter (All-Court Player)

Roger_Federer- Tennis Strategy - All-Court

Roger Federer – Widely regarded as one of the best all-courters of all-time

All-courters are very tricky tennis players, although the most versatile. These types of players don’t really have a shot that can be used as a weapon, instead relying on a variety of shots and incorporating aspects of every tennis style into their style of play. The goal of an all-courter is to keep the opponent guessing, using different shots and changing their approach to catch adversaries off-guard. As an all-court player, don’t be afraid of switching your game up if what you were previously trying wasn’t working.

The tennis strategy all-court players use include:

  • If playing against an aggressive player, adopt the counter pusher style
  • If playing against a passive player, adopt either an aggressive baseliner or aggressive volley approach
  • If playing against a serve-and-volley player, hit deep and powerful shots that can be difficult to return while at net
  • Hitting shots that throw the opponent off
  • Spotting opponents’ weaknesses and adapting to take advantage of it
  • Continuously changing their play style to keep the opponent guessing


Boris_Becker - Tennis Strategy - Serve-and-Volley

Boris Becker – Well known for his serve-and-volley strategy

The serve-and-volley player is an aggressive type of player that rushes to the net as often as possible in order to put pressure on the opponent. Being agile and great at the net are common characteristics of serve-and-volley players. This style of play is hardly used anymore because of the evolution of the tennis racquet, which gives players a better chance of hitting balls deep and hard. It is also a difficult style to master against other types of players, although it is an effective tennis strategy against counter pushers. This makes it difficult for serve-and-volley players to return those types of shots.

The tennis strategy serve-and-volley players use include:

  • Serving hard and wide to give them time to run up to the net
  • They will perform the “chip-and-charge”, which is returning serves deep and away from the opponent, giving them time to run up to the net
  • Using drop shots or deep shots with angles to keep opponents constantly chasing down balls, allowing no time to set up for offense
  • When given a lob, they will perform an overhead to put away the ball

Here is how to play against a serve-and-volley player.