10-Point Match Tiebreaker: 8 tips on how to win more…

By Derek C. Gamble

The 10-point tie breakers are a critical part of all league play in the Greensboro area. Local leagues, including USTA, Gate City and Men’s Interclub all use super tiebreakers in lieu of a third set being played out.

Many of my players often ask me for strategies to use in these types of match situations.  People want to know what works best in a super tie breaker and how they can win more 3rd set match tie breaks?

Below are 8 tips you can use for greater success in winning the 10-point tiebreaker. Use these tips and you will put yourself (and your doubles partner) in a position to win…. You will also frustrate your opponents into cracking under the pressure!

First, what is a super tiebreaker? A super tie breaker is just like a regular tiebreaker in tennis, but played to 10 points instead of 7 still winning by a margin of 2 points. The tiebreaker is usually played in lieu of a full 3rd set when the opponents each win 1 of the first two sets (known as splitting sets).

For reference – super tiebreakers are also called 10-point tie breaks, match tie breaks and traditional tie breaks.

Most leagues and tournaments for USTA will use the coman tie breaker. In a coman tie breaker, players switch ends of the court after the 1st point, and then every 4 points. This allows the players to serve on the same side they have been using for the previous set.

How can you make sure your doubles team wins more tiebreakers!

#1 – Make more 1st Serves.

The idea that you want to make first serves is true on the doubles court. You want to be making 70-75% of your 1st serves in doubles. However, it becomes even more true in super tie breakers to handle the pressure of not hitting a second serve. We cannot handle the nerves as well as the pros, so we want to avoid hitting 2nd serves as much as possible. Free points, including double faults, become critical in super tie breakers.

#2 – Make Returns Back Crosscourt.

This will depend on the aggressiveness of the opposing net player, but the point here is to make as many returns as possible without going for much. I would not recommend returning up the line unless you are sure that the player will miss the volley. Use the lowest part of the net and the deepest part of the court, which is cross court. You want to make the other team play their weakest shots without beating yourself. Unless your opponents have a surprisingly weak serve, I usually keep everything crosscourt or lob down the line until I can get to the net. I have found that most net players get more nervous and timid during ten-point tiebreakers because of their fear of failure. So, I do not have to do much with the return other than get it in crosscourt. This will allow your partner, at the net, to be more active and involved.

#3 – Get to the Net!

This works well in super tiebreakers for 2 reasons. It adds pressure to the opponent. When you get to the net, they will feel that pressure, may tend to go for a little more, and miss. Most players are less likely to get nervous on a volley than a groundstroke since they have less time to think about it. Again, this is a great doubles strategy in general, but I have found that it becomes even more important in tiebreakers – because of the “nerves” factor!!

#4 – Double down and use your strengths!!

10-point tiebreakers can (and will) make you nervous. To relax your nerves, hit your strongest shots. If you have a go-to spin serve, hit it. If you like your forehand better, make sure you are hitting a lot of forehands by using great footwork. Whatever your best strategy and stroke may be on that day… Use it!

#5 – Attack the Opponent’s Weaknesses.

Your opponent is nervous as well. When someone is nervous, the first thing to do is use their weakest shots. Try to keep every serve, and groundstrokes to the opponent’s backhand unless you know that is their strength.

When both players are at the net, there is no need to hit a winner. Just hit at the weaker player’s backhand volley or… up the middle solves the riddle!! Using a great lob is also a way to neutralize the posing that players. This will make their nerves really come through, and they will miss. Do this relentlessly. It will be tempting to change it up, but if it’s working, don’t change anything – remember – “if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it!” If I know my opponent hates their backhand return, then don’t let them see a forehand during the tiebreaker. Even if you have to take pace off your serve to get it in.

6 – Move More at the Net / Poach / Fake.

Fake if you are not comfortable poaching. This is the time to make sure the opposing returner sees you at the net. BE BIG!!  While we want to keep our returns crosscourt and conservative, we want to make them go for more and miss.

#7 – Do What Worked Before During The Match.

The super tiebreaker is not the time to try something new. You have had plenty of time to figure out what works in the first two sets.

If you poached really effectively, continue it in the tiebreaker. If you have been consistently serving up the “T” and getting return errors, keep it up. A mistake many teams make is that they will change what they were doing that worked. Specifically, most doubles players will play more conservatively in the tiebreaker. This isn’t the time to back down from what’s working. Remember to play score-based tennis and play to win! Do not play – not to lose – that is playing scared…

#8 – Communicate More with Your Doubles Partner.

Figure out what works best with communication. If you and your partner communicate after every point… Keep it up. If you and your partner have played together long enough, where nonverbal communication works then do that! When matches get tight use communication patterns that work for you and this specific partner. Even if you do not think you need it, you should be doing this. One point can make all the difference in a super tie break.

Doubles Play: Job Descriptions

by Derek Gamble

Do you play doubles? Do you know your “responsibilities” on the court in order to be a great partner?!?

 Many players love and play doubles but truly have no idea of what they are supposed to do in their positioning on the court. Let’s go over each of the four positions on the doubles court and what I think their job descriptions should be!

 SERVER’S Job Description:

  • Call out the score before every point
  • Identify and serve to the opponent’s weaker side
  • Tell your partner where you are “trying” to / planning to serve
  • Make your next shot after the serve
  • Put 70% and above of your first serves into play

 SERVER’S PARTNER’S Job Description:

  • Be moving your feet before the serve is struck and being ready to move
  • Move around / stay active so the returner has to think / worry about you
  • If the return goes cross-court, “release” back 2-steps
  • Play your volleys at the other net player when being offensive (close-to-close)
  • Help your partner choose a target for his / her serve

 RETURNER’S Job Description:

  • Put the return of serve in play at all costs
  • Position yourself in the center of the server’s possible angles for serve
  • Attack weak serves with your body and not by simply overswinging
  • Make sure you are looking to be offensive on 2nd serve returns
  • Use your return to set up your net partner and remember there is no need to over hit

 RETURNER’S PARTNER’S Job Description:

  • Help call serves that are close to the lines
  • Move in and poach when the serving team is hitting is hitting a low volley
  • Do not move in until the return has gone past the opposing net player
  • If your partner is struggling with their returns, start back at the baseline (2-back)
  • If the return goes to the opposing net player, stay put, fight, and cover the middle
  • Keep the returner pumped, confident and ready to go

7 Traits of a TEAM Player…

by Derek Gamble

Ask any coach/ professional what qualities they want in players and you will definitely come across the term “team player.” Long-term success – in tennis or in life – without developing these traits is essentially impossible.

Whether you are trying to prepare for the next level, improve team chemistry, find new ways to contribute, have more fun – or all of the above – consider these intangibles. And then ask yourself: Does this sound like you?

1. Less “Me” and More “We”:  Players that care more about themselves than the team ultimately end up hurting the team. These players can be hurtful in all team sports.  Teams that are successful are built around players / athletes that truly do not care who wins their match or has the best serve, best forehand, etc.  The true team player is just as excited for their teammates’ big wins / shots as if they had won the match themselves.

2. Passion:  Come to the court every day and be excited about the opportunity to play!  Whether it’s practice or a game, be that player who’s always ready to compete and put their heart and soul into every opportunity they have to play. These players care about their teammates and the culture surrounding the team. Passionate players make things happen!

3. Hard Work:  The best advice I can ever give to a player? Never be outworked. There are a lot of talented players out there, but the irreplaceable ones are those that never stop working. Everyone has a different “work speed” and availability.  Maximize yours!

4. Communication:  There is no question that on court communication raises team play. This becomes more and more important as you improve and the game gets faster.  Encourage and support teammates in every facet of their game on the court and off.  Off the court, be open and honest – speak up when needed. With your coaches, communicate effectively and respectfully by discussing concerns and heading issues off before they test your culture. Make sure to talk about all the positives that are happening, too.

5. See the Big Picture:  Tennis season is about more than just your team. Embrace your tennis program, your community and especially your club. Be the player that recognizes the importance of family and building something long-lasting.  Come out and watch other levels of play at the club and around the area.  Get to know people.  See what it takes to play at different levels and set goals for yourself to get there.

6. Reliability: Coaches, teammates, friends, teachers, family – we all love having people we can rely on.  People that show up on time (or early), work hard, be positive and honest.  Be the player that your teammates and coaches can rely on at the court, and you – and your team – will be rewarded.  Players that endear themselves to their teammates, their club and coaches are the ones that prosper.

7. Respect:  Regardless of your talent level, the best team players are those that have the most respect.  This means respect for coaches, teammates, opponents, other members, fans and the game itself.  These players uphold the highest level of character and understand they’re representing their team / club in everything that they do.  Most importantly, having respect means something to them and they care about that representation.

Everyone wants to be a team player, but not everyone is willing to do what it takes. Sports can bring out the best in us if we follow these guidelines. Take pride and ownership in the way you play on the court and how you carry yourself every day.

8 Ways to Play & Stay Cool on the Courts

by Derek Gamble

The dog days of summer are officially here. The “feels like” temperatures are reaching over 105 degrees here at the club. The direct sun is amazing and string right now! As tennis players, we have to contend with more than the blazing sun on hot summer days. The heat-trapping surface of tennis courts can also leave a tennis player sapped of energy. Here are eight tips to keep your body cool even on the hottest days so you can perform well on the tennis court and recover quickly after your match.

  1. Freeze your water bottle – Fill your water bottle half full and stick it in the freezer the day before your practice or match. Don’t tighten the cap all the way when you put in the freezer. Before you head to the club / courts, grab the bottle (ice will be frozen) and top it off with some fresh water. You will be surprised how long the ice will last, making sure you have a cold drink even on the hottest of days!!
  2. Pay attention to your feet – Hard courts trap heat and send that straight to your feet. It is essential to wear quality tennis shoes to keep the bottoms of your feet and the rest of your body cool. Wear flip flops to the court and change into your tennis shoes right before playing. Wear socks that are made of wicking material to pull the sweat away from your feet and skin to prevent blisters. Always carry an extra pair of socks in your tennis bag! Soft courts also can be hot to the feet as moisture (water) is in the material on the courts due to the watering and maintenance. All court surfaces are hot this time of year. Shade on any court surface can be a HUGE key!
  3. Tend to your neck and wrist – Your body has pulse points, such as between the ears, the temples and wrists, that are sensitive to the cold. Sticking your wrists under cold water, or placing ice on your neck, can produce a tremendous cooling effect! When you’re on court use a bandana or cooling towel soaked in cold water to help you stay cool. Several companies also make cooling bandanas that can be worn when playing (we have them in the pro shop here)! They actually are designed to stay cool longer!
  4. Dress like you’re playing at Wimbledon – Wear light or white colored clothing to help reflect the heat, not absorb the heat. On the hottest of summer days try to wear ALL WHITE or incorporate as much light-colored dri-fit / wicking type of clothing. White colored hats can be effective as well.
  5. Hydrate & Re-Hydrate – This is NOT an overused theory but one that MUST be adhered to by players during all conditions! Your body loses a great deal of water and sodium on hot days when sweating. If your match is scheduled for a hot day, start drinking water the night before. Once you are on the court, drink a combination of water and drink with supplements like electrolytes. Try and avoid caffeine and alcohol (yes even beer ) on these hot days as they promote dehydration.
  6. Choose your snacks very carefully – Long tennis matches and strenuous tennis practices and lessons can work up your appetite. Instead of reaching for the salty snack or candy bar, try a hydrating food instead like melons, citrus fruits and cucumbers. These are all packed with water.
  7. Pick your play time wisely – Try to schedule your weekly match, lesson or clinic to the early mornings (7am-11am) or evenings (6-9pm) during the hottest days of play. Try and avoid 11am-6pm during these extremely hot days! Also use courts at your facility that have the most shade during these hours. At our club Courts 5 & 6 (although hard courts are completed shaded in the mornings and feel great!), Courts 2 & 4 have shade on them until around 10am in the peak summer heat weeks!
  8. Shade yourself and protect your eyes – Wear a hat or visor and keep the sun out of your eyes and face if possible. Some companies make larger hats that cover your head and completely shade your ears as well… may not be the most fashionable headpieces but they protect from the sun the best! Also wear a pair of good sunglasses that protect bot UVA & UVB rays! Take care of those eyes as well!!

Playing Tennis in Windy Conditions

by Derek Gamble

In most climates, fall and spring are windy seasons. Here in Greensboro, NC, it’s not uncommon to be playing tennis in a 20 mph wind with gusts to 30 mph or more especially during the spring months of March through mid-May. A lot of the players simply refuse to play in these conditions, opting instead for the indoor courts, but with league matches starting and players ready to get away from indoor courts – we need to prepare!!

If we made one list of what you can do better in the wind and another of what you can’t do as well in the wind, the first list might actually contain more items; the second, however, would feature one huge item: you just can’t hit the ball as cleanly. This is why people hate to play in the wind. Not being able to play “the way you want to” isn’t always a bad thing – it can be fun if viewed as a challenge!!  Your contact with the ball becomes much less consistent / predictable, so you can’t hit as hard or as accurately. When the ball blows around, you’re much more likely to hit off center, away from your traditional stroke zone, causing the racquet to twist and turn and vibration transferred to your wrist and elbow.

Some players have more trouble hitting cleanly in the wind than others. Short and relatively flat strokes are the least affected. Hitting flat means hitting straight into the path of the ball, instead of trying to hit excessive topspin OR slice.  When two objects (in this case racquet and ball) are headed straight toward each other, the certainty of solid contact is much greater than if one is moving on a path that will only cross the other’s.  This is true in calm conditions, but magnified in a headwind or tailwind, because the amount of time for the racket / body preparation is changed due to the wind.

So, should you try to hit flatter, with shorter stokes, in the wind? Not necessarily. If you’re constantly mishitting, yes. But, if you want to make the wind work to your advantage, then you’ll want to use your spins. Let’s look at how to take advantage of the wind as it comes from each of the four main directions in relation to you: in your face, at your back, from your right, and from your left.

Wind in your face: When the wind is blowing straight at you, hitting hard doesn’t mean the ball will keep much speed going toward your opponent. The positive to this is that you won’t hit many balls long; the downside is that your shots won’t have much pace. It will be hard to overpower your opponent when you’re hitting into the wind, but you might be able to out-consistent / out-rally your opponent, especially if they’re not taking proper advantage of having the wind at their back.  Hit harder and a little higher over the net than usual, and most of your shots will land in, but also mix in some short slices and drop shots.  Short slices will almost die on their side, and when they lunge forward to reach them, the wind at their back will often float the shot long.  A decent drop shot, when hit into the wind, can become a fantastic one.  Also a heavily sliced serve will stay low, and because it continues forward less when hit into the wind, it will curve / spin relatively more.  Used sparingly, the sliced serve hit into the wind can often produce an easy ace on crucial points.

Wind at your back:  If the wind is at your back, you have lots of options for playing aggressively. Your shots will fly faster and farther.  Your lobs will land deeper and be harder to run down.  Your approach shots will also land deeper, and your opponent’s passing shots will slow down, making them easier to reach.  The one (and main) hazard is hitting long.  If you hit as hard and as high over the net as usual, shots that would have been 3′ in might now land 6′ out.  The remedy is topspin.  Increasing your topspin will compensate for the wind, making your shots drop / dip into the court earlier, allowing gravity to take over, and with the wind behind them, your topspin shots will have a tremendous kick as they hit the court.  Your opponent will have less time to prepare their shot, and the ball will kick up higher, out of their comfort / strike zone.  Also, unlike most other windy situations, having the wind at your back might even make it easier for you to execute your topspin shot, because the ball will slow down, giving you more time to line it up. Hit aggressive topspin with the wind at your back, including some baseline-to-baseline topspin lobs that will often kick well above your opponent’s head or even completely out of reach. Almost try to have your shots land shorter in the court to allow for the wind.  Follow a lot of your better shots to the net.  Your opponent will have to hit an extraordinary passing shot or lob to overcome the wind against them.

Wind from your right:  If you’re right-handed, the two main shots you can utilize best with the wind from your right are the slice serve and the slice backhand, both of which will curve more dramatically with the wind’s help.  You’ll also want to tempt your opponent to hit an approach shot to your forehand side, perhaps by hitting a somewhat short ball and then leaving that side a little open.  If your opponent is less than court savvy, they’ll take a normal position at the net, not realizing that the whole court is, in effect, shifted to your right (his left) by the wind.  When you hit your passing shot, you can aim into the alley to the right of the court, and the wind will blow your shot in. Just don’t hit your passing shot too hard: you want the ball to have enough time in the air to get blown back in. Conversely, when you attack the net, tempt your opponent to try to pass you on your left.  Their shot, which would normally have been in, will blow wide.

Wind from your left:  The same tricks on passing shots and attacking the net apply as with the wind from your right, but of course, on the opposite side. In terms of specific spin shots, you’ll want to use your “kick” or topspin serve and, perhaps surprisingly, also again your slice serve.  The “kick” serve for a righty will kick to the right nicely, and a heavy slice, if used sparingly, will produce an unexpectedly dead bounce, as the slice’s sidespin will turn it into the wind.

Have fun with the wind and be creative. The windy conditions are a true challenge!  Remember – your opponent doesn’t like the wind either but if you are armed with tips and strategies – YOU HAVE THE ADVANTAGE!!  If you use it creatively, you’ll find the mishits less annoying, and you’ll have all of the fresh air, trees, and sunshine to yourself and your opponent frustrated and overmatched!!