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Kaptain Karl 12-05-2005 01:04 PM

The Six Playing Styles Described
 
There have been numerous threads addressing different playing styles. But they’ve pitted one style against another ... or deeply analyzed a particular style. Here, we’re going to define all the different styles of play in one location. (At least that’s my goal.)

1 - Define and categorize the styles of play.
2 - Identify some Pros who exemplify the styles in question.
3 - Be prepared to defend your opinion with some logic.

Let’s see if we can arrive at some level of agreement ... and keep the flaming to a minimum.

- KK

Kaptain Karl 12-05-2005 01:19 PM

I’ve put a lot of thought into this. Here’s my best shot at this -- garnered from over thirty years of playing, teaching and coaching tennis. Tell me what you think.

I describe the styles of play with Major Categories ... and Subcategories. Some of these groupings may surprise you, but please read through it before you fight me. Of course, I’m open to different views ... so long as you can support them.

<Edit> I am removing the examples of Pro Players from my descriptions. I agree with those who have suggested this creates confusion, rather than clarity. (Look at Roddick: When I made this guide he played quite differently than he has the last two years. He's just one example of a Pro NOT being a "pure" example of a style anymore....) </Edit>

My Major Categories of Playing Style are:

1 - Attack the Net
2 - Baseline
3 - Counter Punching
4 - Junk-Ball
5 - All Court
6 - Pusher

1 - Attack the Net should be pretty self-explanatory. This player constantly presses, probes and exploits the slightest weaknesses they uncover. They push forward and try to finish the large majority of their points with winning volleys. They relentlessly pressure you to try and come up with your best passing shots or lobs. They put you on “constant defense.”

What I expect might ruffle some feathers is how I consider S&V to be a subcategory of Attack the Net. The more I thought about it, the more I like this manner of codifying the styles. (I’ve observed many players who S&V ... on “offense”. But when Receiving, they are baseliners. Maybe they lack confidence in their Returns, so the attacker becomes a more patient Baseliner....)

1 a. - Serve & Volley

1 b. - Chip & Charger

1 a & b ^^^ “ought” to be self-explanatory. If they are not, let’s get more detailed.

2 - Baseline is the most prevalent broad category of choice for the last 15 years. Almost all the WTA players are in this category -- as are most of the ATP’s clay courters and even several ATP pros preferring hard courts. These players stalk the baseline and rarely *choose* to come to net.

2 a. - Blasters, as Baseliners, may have a big serve and a big forehand ... or just a reliable serve with big ground strokes. Blasters pound the ball into the corners ... down the line ... inside out. They jerk you from one side to the other putting you in the position of constantly being on the defensive. Any ball is fair game for them to “go for broke.” Most points against Blasters are over in less than ten shots; usually from the Blaster’s winner ... or unforced error.

2 b. - Machine Baseliners are the steadiest opponents you’ll ever meet. They may not have any single stroke which is their “big weapon,” but they relentlessly hit with pace ... running you from one side to the other ... sometimes even prolonging the points to wear you down in the end. They don’t seem to miss. They don’t seem to tire. They demoralize you with their stamina.

2 c. - Soft-Baller Baseliners are tireless players with excellent footwork and anticipation. They always seem to be where they need to be to cut down your angles of attack. You cannot get them to engage you in a power exchange. They seem to absorb all the power of your shots and redirect it with good deep placement, but they won’t give you any pace to work with. You must always supply your own power. This player exhausts you ... physically and mentally.

2 d. - Retriever Baseliners are quick and tireless. He believes he can get any ball back and becomes a “human backboard.” They rely on your misses, rather than any one “money shot” of their own. Their strength is that while retrieving, they keep you pinned to your own baseline. They have good depth and uniformly good pace on their strokes. They just don’t seem to work the corners or angles the way most baseliners do. If you are playing the baseline game yourself, you are in for a long day against the Retriever.

This style rarely exists beyond the club level. In my area, most of the top HS Girls -- and many JV Boys -- play this “war of attrition” style.

3 - Counter Punching players are always looking for the opportunity to *instantly* switch from safe defensive tennis ... to ripping winners. They can “change gears” with a single shot. Their passing shots are “thread the needle” accurate against those playing Attack the Net. Their drop-shots and lobs are deadly. Counter Punchers can detect and exploit the baseliners’ inadvertent openings ... and end the point with one “high risk” down-the-line winner ... or fool you with a short-angle inside-out forehand winner.

Opponents playing both Attack the Net and Baseline tennis are fooled into thinking “He can’t keep that up the whole match.” When do these opponents realize their error? Unfortunately, when -- befuddled -- they are shaking hands at the net and congratulating the Counter Puncher on a 6-3, 6-3 victory.

4 - Junk Ball players can drive the “purists” among us into the Nut House. These players never allow you to get into a rhythm. They vary the height, depth, angles and quantity of spin so much your “strokes” fall apart ... right after your brain explodes. Junk Ballers seem never to be out of breath and play high-percentage tennis when it comes to “court position.” When you do manage to get them on the run, you learn they are also very quick on their feet.

4 a. - Spin Doctor players are the highest developed of the Junk Ballers. They stroke the ball with pace (when they wish) but also with crazy slices, side spins, topspins and some spins we don’t yet have names for. Spin Doctors keep you off-balance, wrong footed and clumsily compensating for their shots by altering your own strokes. They are serious threats to both players who Attack the Net and Baseliners.

Most players would rather have a root canal than play these guys. Their tennis seems as much “psychological warfare” as it is “real tennis” competition. While Spin Doctors’ opponents frequently “lose their cool” during matches, the Doctors themselves tend to be some of the most unflappable players you will encounter.

4 b. - Chop Shot-er Junk Ballers are found all over the Recreational and Club levels of tennis. These players have mastered the Chop Slice shot so well, they rarely bother hitting a flat or topspin shot. Chop Shot-ers can put their chopped slice deep, short, angled and lobbed. They are very good at “working the wind” with their chops and can run the 4.0 and below opponent into the ground with their accurate shooting.

Chop Shot-ers play very good “position” and rarely have to run for your silly attempts to blast them off the court. When you do succeed in running them, you sadly discover they are some of the quickest players afoot. They love it when you try to overpower them ... because they are masters at redirecting your power with their junk.

(A friend near the bottom of our ladder is 74 ... and proudly informs the 20- and 30-somethings on the ladder (after badly beating them) that the rest of us call him “Mr. Chop Shot.”)

5 - All Court players are able to adapt their games to give them the best advantage ... against any opponent’s style ... in any weather condition ... however and whenever needed. They can Soft-Ball the Baseline Blaster. They can Attack the Net against the Junk Baller. They find what works best against the Counter Puncher that day and dismantle *that* game. The All Courter can blow some Baseline Machines off the court with an Attack the Net style. They can exhaust the Serve & Volleyer with Counter Punching.

At the highest levels, the All Courter may choose to play directly into his opponent’s strength. (Bill Tilden was notorious for this tactic. When asked why he attacked the other guys’ strengths, his answer was, “That way, once I’ve broken him down, all he has to fall back on ... are his weaknesses.”)

All Courters tend to be able to change strategies and tactics “on a dime.” They may, within a set -- even within a point -- switch from one pattern to another. They can keep you off-balance ... and unhappy.

<See next post>

- KK

Kaptain Karl 12-05-2005 01:20 PM

6 - Pusher tennis players win by relying nearly exclusively on their opponent's unforced errors. They block, bunt or poke the ball with the goal of “just getting it back.” Pushers aim for just beyond the T in their opponent’s back court. This target gives them the largest margin for error.

They give you no power, no pace, no depth or placement. They just "get it back.” The strokes of the Pusher are never full and flowing. They have little ability to employ topspin. Any “passing shots” the Pusher hits are hardly intentional. (But they never act surprised when a shot of theirs becomes unreturnable.)

Pushers have unshakable psyches. Mind games and insults about their lack of “real” tennis ability have no effect on them. (They tell anyone in the Club about the times they beat the local High School “hero” in straight sets.) Pushers are completely aware that tennis competitors are not scored on “style”. They care only about the “W / L column.” Pushers are content with the fact that they will never be at the top of the 4.0 ladder; they know most Club payers don’t advance beyond 3.5 ... and since they are in the upper third of the 3.5 ladder, they are content.

Pushers are some of the friendliest and most outgoing members of the Club. They are always willing to help fill-in to complete your doubles court (which usually elicits groans from the other two players on your court).

There are no pushers in the pro ranks. None. The Pusher tops out at the 4.0 level.

Believe-it-or-not, I distinguish two types of Pushers....

6 a. - Soft-Ballers, as Pushers, have excellent court sense. They never seem to be out of position. Your efforts at blasting winners come floating back to land just beyond your service line. This Soft-Baller may be athletic from success in another sport, such as basketball, football or baseball. They may not have pretty strokes, but they know where to position themselves to give you the least likely angles of success. When you are begrudgingly shaking hands with them after they’ve embarrassed you again, you usually notice they are hardly even sweating ... which only “adds insult to injury.”

6 b. - Retrievers, as Pushers, move around the court like water bugs, getting to your best “winners” and floating them back again. Their foot speed is remarkable and they seem never to tire. Your frustration at not being able to hit winners against the Pusher Retriever only seems to refill their tank” for more.

They even have the temerity to smile throughout this match which is ripping your guts out. You try hitting even bigger winners -- or “wiping that smile off their face” with your display of power -- and they *love* this in you. They delight in watching your mind disintegrate as your very best shots just keep on coming back.

Back in the Clubhouse, they really “twist the knife” by offering to buy the beer with that SAME SICKENINGLY PLEASANT SMILE ON THEIR ROTTEN FACE!!! The Pusher Retriever makes you seriously think about taking up some other sport from which you will gain more fulfillment. Something like ... catching javelins for the Track Club. Sheesh!!!

- KK

joe sch 12-05-2005 01:33 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Kaptain Karl

1 a. - Serve & Volley

1 b. - Chip & Charger

1 a & b ^^^ “ought” to be self-explanatory. If they are not, let’s get more detailed.

Pro Examples of Attack the Net: Martina Navratilova, Tim Henman. [I don’t see Dent as a “pure” Attack the Net type because he spends a significant portion of his Receiving time as a baseliner.]

- KK

I agree that SV tennis has the 2 variants for returning serve. Resedski would be the prototype all attacker since he does not have the ability to hit return of serve winners. Edberg and McEnroe also fit this category. A player like Dent can blast return winners so he prefers to stay back rather than chip/charge. This was the style for the majority of the old school champions like Budge, Vines and Kramer.

arnz 12-05-2005 01:47 PM

Very interesting reading, thanks for that. I've faced several of those pushers that you've mentioned, one of those guys was in his late 50's, retired, and yet running around the court like a madman!! The other must be in his 60's, and brought his younger girlfriend to watch our match!:mrgreen:

I almost always have more fun in those matches than when I play with the baseline power players where we just match each others power to see who can hit harder.

I think you are right that pushers who slice and lob can't pass higher than a 4.0. A person rated 4.5 and above will just have too many weapons and have enough consistency for the pusher to have any effectiveness

LostMyMojo 12-05-2005 03:31 PM

Agassi went from your "Blaster" to sort of "Machine Baseliner".

I wouldn't really call him a machine though, he still has just as much power as he used to, he just doesn't end the point immediately.

dmastous 12-05-2005 03:53 PM

Chip and Charger examples; Paul Annacone & Pam Shriver. Neither had much a baseline game, so they came in on everything.
Serve/Volley; there are many in this catagory, Becker (though he fancied him self a basline basher at times and it go him in trouble) & Tim Mayotte are two more.
As for the Baseliners there are too many to count.
I would use Micheal Chang as a baseline retriever, but wanted to be more a counter puncher. Miloslav Mecir was also a retriever.
Were would you catagorize Kimiko Date? She was something of a retriever, but hit flat pinpoint winners that constantly surprized her opponents.

SB 12-05-2005 04:39 PM

Nice work!

Quote:

Originally Posted by Kaptain Karl
I... Pro examples: I cannot think of any WTA players. Fabrice Santoro is a “model” of the Spin Doctor.

Patty Schnyder and Conchita Martinez, at times.

Quote:

Pro examples of All Court players: Justine Henin-Hardenne is the closest WTA player I can think of.
Mauresmo, too.

LoveThisGame 12-05-2005 04:44 PM

From the USTA Newsletter for Coaches, there are four playing styles:

Style Example

Counterpunchers Guillermo Coria
Agressive Baseliners Serena Williams
All-Court Players Justine Henin-Hardenne
Serve and Volleyers/Net Rushers Tim Henman

FiveO 12-05-2005 04:54 PM

Very nice job KK,

You beat me to the punch, I was about to post the game-styles as described in "Serious Tennis" when I saw this thread. (I knew I should have checked w/ you first).

Quote:

Originally Posted by LoveThisGame
From the USTA Newsletter for Coaches, there are four playing styles:

Style Example

Counterpunchers Guillermo Coria
Agressive Baseliners Serena Williams
All-Court Players Justine Henin-Hardenne
Serve and Volleyers/Net Rushers Tim Henman

These are much broader definitions. Here's how "Serious Tennis" breaks game-styles down:

1. All Courters (Federer, early Sampras, Hingis)

2. Attackers
2a) Big-Serve Attackers (Ivanisevic, Flipper, Roddick)
2b) Net Crushers (s&v/c&c) (Edberg, Navratilova, Rafter, later Sampras)

3. Attacking Baseliners
3a) Big-Forehand Baseliners (Lendl, Graf, early Agassi)
3b) Heavy Topspin Baseliners (Nadal, Mauresmo)
3c) Pure Ball-Strikers (Connors, Evert, Kafelnikov, Davenport, Pierce, later Agassi, Safin, Sharapova)

4. Defensive Baseliners
4a) Counterpunching Baseliners (Hewitt, Chang)
4b) Junkballers (Brasch, Santoro)
4c) Moonballers
*Doesn't exist on the pro-level as per the author.

EliteNinja 12-05-2005 06:07 PM

Wow.
Awesome thread, I must say.
Well done and well researched.

dmastous 12-05-2005 06:10 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Kaptain Karl
dmastous - I was trying to stick more with players who are still current. But you're right about how you classed those folk.

- KK

You will find it hard to find example of either classic serve/volley types in todays game and almost impossible to find chip/chargers in today's game.
Watch a Wimbledon match from pre 2000 and one post and watch the grass wear out on the baseline instead of the service "T".

Superior_Forehand 12-05-2005 06:17 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Kaptain Karl
6 - PusherBack in the Clubhouse, they really “twist the knife” by offering to buy the beer with that SAME SICKENINGLY PLEASANT SMILE ON THEIR ROTTEN FACE!!! The Pusher Retriever makes you seriously think about taking up some other sport from which you will gain more fulfillment. Something like ... catching javelins for the Track Club. Sheesh!!!

- KK

Man, you hit it right on the money with this one man. The Pusher Retriever is usually very passive agressive. They feed off your anger and negative energy, delighting in your mental anguish. After the match, they are always so friendly too! lol

joe sch 12-05-2005 06:17 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Kaptain Karl
Yeah. I like Rusedski and Edberg for that model. Good ones.

I'd argue Mac was some sort of "type" of All Courter. He could play lots of ways. (But he *mostly* played Attack the Net.)

Cool! This falls into the "You learn something every day if you're not careful" category. I never knew *what* Dent was thinking on his Returns. (Frankly, he'd better work on that. His "blast" Return isn't that good, IMO.)

Thanks for the input, joe.

- KK

Greats posts KK !
Thanks for adding Rafter, he was about my favorite attackng all out SV game, along with Edberg.
Your correct that Dent is not playing smart enough.
He has had top training from all the aussie friends of his father Phil and the potential is scarry. Would love to really see him revive that style and effectiveness of some of those boys !

Mahboob Khan 12-05-2005 07:44 PM

1. Serve and volleyer (this also includes chip and charge, and Attacking Style of Play).

2. All court player. (a player who can serve and volley, play from the baseline, passing shots, and also attack the net behind approach shots).

3. Aggressive Baseliner (like Agassi who can pound the balls from the baseline and put any ball away for winner that lands short either in the mid-court, in the right zone, or in the left zone).

4. Defensive Baseliner: Who simply returns the ball via a topspin; does not go for winners, no approach shots, no net).

5. Counter-Puncher: (Chang, Hewitt). He thrives on someone else's pace. He can approach and volley if he so pleases!

Every thing else is included in the above.

Kaptain Karl 12-05-2005 09:13 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by dmastous
Watch a Wimbledon match from pre-2000 and one post- and watch the grass wear out on the baseline instead of the service "T".

Yeah. I see that and wonder, "What's wrong with those people???"

Everything seems to go in cycles. Serve & Volley will be back ... at least at Wimby....

- KK

Kaptain Karl 12-05-2005 09:45 PM

Mahboob - You and I are probably of the same "tennis era." (I'm 49.) The more I thought about the classifications you describe -- and to which I used to, also -- the more I realized how today's players simply don't *see* the "included ins" that we were accustomed to.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mahboob Khan
1. Serve and volleyer (this also includes chip and charge, and Attacking Style of Play).

But this really doesn't describe the (very common) player who ... when Serving, plays S&V ... but when Receiving, plays Baseline.

Quote:

3. Aggressive Baseliner (like Agassi who can pound the balls from the baseline and put any ball away for winner that lands short either in the mid-court, in the right zone, or in the left zone).

4. Defensive Baseliner: Who simply returns the ball via a topspin; does not go for winners, no approach shots, no net).
There are too many variations on the Baseline game today. These, which served us so well in the '70s, are inadequate.

But as stated in my OP -- reasonable minds can differ. I'm not insisting everyone conform to my classifications.

- KK

supersmash 12-05-2005 10:58 PM

KK, you're my hero.

FiveO 12-06-2005 03:41 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by dmastous
Chip and Charger examples; Paul Annacone & Pam Shriver. Neither had much a baseline game, so they came in on everything.
Serve/Volley; there are many in this catagory, Becker (though he fancied him self a basline basher at times and it go him in trouble) & Tim Mayotte are two more.

Good examples on Annacone and Shriver.

Quote:

Originally Posted by dmastous
I would use Micheal Chang as a baseline retriever, but wanted to be more a counter puncher. Miloslav Mecir was also a retriever.

Mecir is another. I would add Amanda Coetzer.

Quote:

Originally Posted by dmastous
Were would you catagorize Kimiko Date? She was something of a retriever, but hit flat pinpoint winners that constantly surprized her opponents.

Personally I would categorize Date as a counter-puncher.

FiveO 12-06-2005 05:13 AM

I would opt to breakdown Attacking or Offensive vs. Defensive baseliners and then add the subs under those headings. I also think the sub-category, Heavy Topspin Baseliner needs to be added and perhaps to each. I feel that a Borg and now Nadal hit the ball so uniquely that it deserves its own label. While generally recognized as a devout defensive hitting-style, Borg and Nadal, raise it to a different level and in doing so present such a dilemna for opponents that it morphs into another attacking baseline sub-category. I recall Borg opponent's describing the experience of playing against his high bounding shots from the baseline as "feeling like I was combing my hair for two hours". I see Nadal presenting a very similar problem for the current crop. I also view this quasi-offensive baseline style as so different than the pure ball-striker (Agassi, Davenport) and big fh attackers (Lendl, Graf) that it qualifies as it's own thing.


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