To understand the Golden Rules you must first understand these 3 key concepts.
1. Winners & Errors
Tennis is a game of errors. Lots and lots and lots and lots of errors.
This is the number one statistic in tennis!
There are two basic ways a point can end in tennis – a winner and an error. I want you to basically put aside the idea of an unforced error as it is an extremely judgmental and flawed statistic gathered by volunteers at tournaments. Almost every shot has some kind of pressure to it so it’s best to focus just on winners and errors.
It’s amazing how these numbers are not ingrained into our brains and completely dictate how we watch, play and coach the sport.
MEN – 2012 Grand Slams
Men Total Errors = 70.7%
Men Total Winners = 29.3%
WOMEN – 2012 Grand Slams
Women Total Errors = 74.1%
Women Total Winners = 25.9%
2. Eight Ways To Force An Error
How do you force an error? Glad you asked.
Making your opponent uncomfortable is the bottom line.
The following eight ways to force an error all come from studying the different elements of the game.
The first four elements all have to do with the court. Numbers five and six deal with the ball. Seven is about you and eight is about rushing your opponent.
1. Consistency (the whole court)
Making one more shot than the other player. Think of players such as David Ferrer and Lleyton Hewitt who look so solid making ball after ball from the back of the court. They force you to go for a lower percentage shot than you normally attempt because you know that their shot tolerance is better than yours.
2. Direction (left and right)
This involves three major areas. The first is the obvious one of hitting the ball away from your opponent and running them. The second involves hitting the ball directly at a weakness. The last is hitting behind your running opponent. This also taps into breaking down a shot by constantly hammering away at it. You know your opponent can make one or two backhands but can they make five in a row?
3. Depth (front and back)
Depth is what you should be chasing at the start of every point. It’s more important to push your opponent back where they can’t hurt you than move them a little and give them better geometry of the court. A deep ball is typically defined as landing closer to the baseline than the service line. Depth also involved drop shots and hitting short on purpose to bring your opponent forward.
4. Height (low and high)
Most players like to make contact with the ball around their waist, or at least below their shoulders. Not a lot of players like making contact around their knees or lower or around their head or higher. Rafael Nadal’s impressive 23-10 record against Roger Federer has a lot to do with Nadal getting it up high to Federer’s backhand.
5. Spin (topspin and backspin)
Spin is a nasty weapon that can make the ball dance all over the place. It makes the ball jump up sharply, making it difficult to step into and also skid and stay low under the strike zone. It’s not always easy to read spin and correctly adjust to, resulting in lots of errors.
6. Power (harder and softer)
Ripping the ball has the effect of making the ball feel much heavier on your opponent’s strings and stops them dictating play. Think of Serena Williams. But you can also be effective giving your opponent no power, making them have to generate it all themselves. That’s not easy to do at any level of the game.
7. Court Position (where you stand)
Standing up in the court around the baseline lets your opponent know you are in great position to jump on any short balls which forces them to play deeper than normal – and miss. Where you stand visually expands and shrinks areas of the court that can have a large bearing on your opponent’s shot selection and propensity to miss.
8. Time (rushing your opponent)
A ball typically takes about 1.5 seconds to go from one side of the court to the other and your opponent needs time to get ready for that shot. What if you get the ball back slightly quicker to them and take away that precious preparation time? Errors are what’s going to happen. Time is needed to get the hands and feet organized, balance set and feet adjusted. Taking that time away is a great way to make your opponent uncomfortable and unable to run their favorite patterns.
That’s it. Those are the eight ways to force an error and form a fundamental layer on how you approach the sport.
But one of these is just a little more special than the others. Think of them as precious gems. One is an emerald, one a sapphire, one an Australian Opal and one is a diamond – more special and precious than the others.
Which one is the Diamond?
3. Tennis Is A Game Of Patterns
Primary Patterns (7-8 times out of 10)
Throughout the Golden Rules you will see many references to running primary and secondary patterns. You want to shove Primary Patterns down your opponents throat as much as you can. This is the “Go to the Well” play that you want to have a winning percentage with and also run when the match gets close at the end of each set.
Secondary Patterns (2-3 times out of 10)
Think of Pavlov’s Dog. You ring the bell (primary patterns) again and again and just when the dog starts anticipating your moves, you switch it up with a secondary pattern (usually to the strength) for a complete surprise. Running enough primary patterns makes secondary patterns very successful when done at the right time. Don’t overdo this area – it’s the art of the surprise.