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The Tennis Player’s Dilemma: Play It Secure, or Go For Broke?


Tennis players must continually make tactical decisions about the very best strategy to win a degree. It starts with where to place the serve and the way hard to hit it, but once the rally starts the query often becomes whether a player should aim for the lines or hit the ball hard to a safer goal with more margin for error.

Selecting right is very vital in a detailed match when the stakes are high and the opponent is one in all the world’s best players, as they will likely be on the Laver Cup.

The perfect tactical approach, players and analysts say, requires a combination of each styles.

“It is determined by your strengths, your opponent and the situation within the match,” said Patrick McEnroe, Team World’s vice captain. “That’s what makes it so interesting at this event. Every match is against top players, and you’ve gotten to weigh all three of those things.”

That’s not so easy. Anyone who watched Carlos Alcaraz in america Open knows the game’s recent king (who isn’t on the Laver Cup) will run, run, run in infinite rallies but in addition happily goes for broke anytime and from anywhere on the court; superb players like Team Europe’s Caspar Ruud and Frances Tiafoe of Team World tried matching him for hours and fell short.

“When Tiafoe got a midcourt ball, he probably thought, ‘I actually have to hit it closer to the road’ than he would against, say, Fabio Fognini,” who’s ranked at No. 55, McEnroe said.

Elite players like Roger Federer and Andy Murray of their prime might need hit defensive backhands against a go-for-broke shot — not weak but defensive, with the intent to neutralize — but McEnroe said the U.S. Open showdown between Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner featured two players “hitting hugely aggressive shots and going toe-to-toe, point after point.”

Often, nevertheless, big moments in big matches against top opponents prompts an adjustment. Tennis is a confidence game, said Jimmy Arias, a Tennis Channel analyst. Players like Novak Djokovic or Serena Williams in her prime would nail the lines in big moments just because they believed they’d win and subsequently played more relaxed.

For contrast, he points to his 1983 U.S. Open quarterfinal victory over Yannick Noah, who had won the French Open that 12 months. When Noah, down 5-6 within the fifth set, double faulted at 15-30 and missed his first serve on match point, Arias, who hadn’t broken serve in over two sets, saw a chance.

“I do know one hundred pc he’s going to do a protected serve, and I’ll have the ability to run around and hit a forehand,” recalled Arias, who was 19 on the time. “In a standard match, I’d have been confident and would’ve gone for a winner. But I’d never been to the semis of a significant, and I wanted it so badly.”

So Arias decided to play it protected and hit hard up the center, granting himself a margin for error. “I used to be so anxious I hit the ball way out in front,” he said. Had he aimed for the sidelines, the shot would have landed way out, but because he played it protected, the misfire “ended up being an angle winner.”

The proper approach is commonly determined by the player’s outlook. “Young players sometimes do an excessive amount of on points after they’re playing the very best guys, who all the time have a mental advantage. In the event you are playing [Rafael] Nadal or Djokovic or Federer you are likely to think, ‘I actually have to do something extra,” said Bjorn Borg, captain of Team Europe.

Borg advocates for starting tougher matches by hitting big to safer spots “to get a feel for the match” before becoming more ambitious; if a player starts missing the lines midmatch, they need to retreat to safer shots for a number of games to regain their rhythm and feel.

McEnroe said that a player like Diego Schwartzman of Team World knows he “must play out of his comfort zone or he won’t have a likelihood,” but that aiming for perfection right away means “you possibly can hit yourself out of the match early, so that you don’t want to present your opponent an excessive amount of respect early on.”

But, Arias said, it gets tougher mentally to go for the lines as sets proceed, especially in a tournament just like the Laver Cup, “when it appears like all of the opponents are higher than you,” he said. “There’s extra tension at 5-5 or 6-6, so you could not give you the shot.”

Playing Andre Agassi late in his profession, Arias reached 4-4, but Agassi was playing every point protected while Arias was going for broke and realized he had no likelihood: “I couldn’t do it eternally.” Arias lost the set and the match.

Ruud said that the nicks and dings of life on the tennis tour were also an element. “I attempt to play my game against top players,” but added, “If I’m hurting I’ll take more risks, while if I’m feeling strong I’ll try wearing my opponent out.”

A fitter and quicker player could be more patient and take a look at to force errors. The primary of Alcaraz’s five-set Open wins got here over Marin Cilic, who’s fit but 14 years older and without Alcaraz’s blazing speed. “I actually have little doubt Cilic was attempting to play more aggressively due to that,” McEnroe said.

Nick Kyrgios, who played in the primary 4 Laver Cups, said that he preferred going for broke, especially at the largest moments.

“I like low-percentage tennis,” said Kyrgios, who landed two dangerous cross-court short-angle forehand winners down 0-30 at 4-4 within the fourth set of his second-round win at this 12 months’s U.S. Open. “My strength on the tennis court is my unpredictability. Why wouldn’t I just go for it?”

But Arias noted that in the subsequent round, against the young, big-hitting J.J. Wolf, Kyrgios switched gears, hitting safer shots and letting Wolf make mistakes. “You might see the sunshine activate in Nick’s head throughout the match,” he said.

Shifting gears is simpler said than done, after all, especially in the course of a match. “It will possibly make sense to modify,” McEnroe said, “but against the top-level players all of those decisions change into magnified.”

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