The Six Playing Styles Described

Rafaboy

Semi-Pro
i dont care whatever style they have. when that ball comes back to them at 75 mph, they better do something with it, because the next one comes back to them at 85, if i can help it!
 
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

Very nice.
 
A

Academykid01

Guest
What type of style would you say someone like alex de minaur plays like?
 

Ice-Borg

Rookie
I saw de Minaur play in person. That kid can outright fly. He rivals Nadal in court coverage. He definitely has the speed to be a retreiver if he wants to be. But from what I remember he had very good strokes as well.
 

Fairhit

Hall of Fame
Very entertaining post! Only thing I'd disagree with is that I think there are pushers at all levels.
I disagree, the essense of the pusher is that they retrieve everything AND lack any offensive weapons so they rely on getting everything back, you can see that in rec levels but 5.0 and higher they have weapons to attack their adversaries they don't just rely on throwing back everything.
 

Ice-Borg

Rookie
I disagree, the essense of the pusher is that they retrieve everything AND lack any offensive weapons so they rely on getting everything back, you can see that in rec levels but 5.0 and higher they have weapons to attack their adversaries they don't just rely on throwing back everything.

I'd call that a retriever. A pusher retrieves, but he is capable of playing solid consistent strokes to keep the ball in. He also plays smart. He can execute a lot of different shots but not amazingly or extremely well. I'm thinking of Brad Gilbert and Andy Murray (early on) type pro tennis. Of course the pro pusher will be of a much higher caliber than the rec pusher, but they still use the same concepts and style and strategy.
 

sneezeey

New User
To me there are only 4 styles

S&V
All Court
Aggressive purely baseline player (almost never comes to net even behind a huge serve or groundstroke)
Pusher
I'd call that a retriever. A pusher retrieves, but he is capable of playing solid consistent strokes to keep the ball in. He also plays smart. He can execute a lot of different shots but not amazingly or extremely well. I'm thinking of Brad Gilbert and Andy Murray (early on) type pro tennis. Of course the pro pusher will be of a much higher caliber than the rec pusher, but they still use the same concepts and style and strategy.
What type of style would you say someone like alex de minaur plays like?

I'd argue that the defensive baseliner encompasses the 'pusher', but is a different style than the counterpuncher.

The defensive baseliner lives and dies by the baseline and wins points primarily by wearing down the opponent, like a Gilles Simon. Different calibres of defensive baseline play allow different amounts of offensive potency — ranging from the pure pusher (completely / largely unable to hit unreturnable shots) to Simon himself, who is perfectly capable of becoming the aggressor in a point.

On the other hand I'd argue the counterpuncher still forces opponents into errors but looks actively for the 'punch' part, differing only from the all-court player in that the all-courter takes the initiative to decide how to do the 'hurting', while the counterpuncher is more of a problem-solver. Many counterpunchers are hardly restricted to the baseline, and are often happy to move away from the baseline to best capitalise on where they've moved their opponent to. Case in point, Murray or de Minaur, both of whom can trade groundstrokes 5 metres behind the baseline or right on top of it; both of whom head to net routinely when their opponent is stranded; both of whom excel at drop shots, passing shots and lobs.
 

Powderwombat

Semi-Pro
All the pushers I've seen are pretty bad. Once you reach a certain level you can't be a pusher anymore. These are guys with garbage strokes who tap the ball over.

People who call Murray a pusher are kidding themselves. He's more a defensive baseliner, but he doesn't push the ball. I mean all these guys hit winners when presented. Are you calling them pushers because they're not trying to hit winners from a metre behind the baseline every shot? That's just smart tennis isn't it.
 

myke232

Semi-Pro
I never really understood Pusher. It's a negative term, but if someone can get the ball back consistently and not make errors, and win the points and hence the match then they are decent enough to at least be better than their opponent. But if they are just floating the ball back and not doing anything with it, a decent player will punish them and beat them rather easily... so they wouldn't have success against a good player.
 

Bender

G.O.A.T.
All the pushers I've seen are pretty bad. Once you reach a certain level you can't be a pusher anymore. These are guys with garbage strokes who tap the ball over.

People who call Murray a pusher are kidding themselves. He's more a defensive baseliner, but he doesn't push the ball. I mean all these guys hit winners when presented. Are you calling them pushers because they're not trying to hit winners from a metre behind the baseline every shot? That's just smart tennis isn't it.
"Pushing" is a term that is loaded with spite at the amateur level to describe players who expose you to the inconvenient truth that you do not, in fact, play like Roger Federer.

To lump all forms of defensive players under the label "pusher" just shows contempt for tennis as a whole, because last I checked tennis is an athletic sport that is all about running around and keeping the ball in play for longer than the guy across the net from you can.

"Pushing" can be a non-derogatory term if and only if it's used to describe those snowshoe racquet wielding old dudes who bunt balls over until everyone else dies of boredom or from UEs, but when someone seriously thinks that's the same style of play as ones played by Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Simon, et al then they're only really just kidding themselves.
 

McGradey

Hall of Fame
My March tennis funk continued last night, smoked by a counterpuncher.

I'm in a transition phase of working on being more consistent on every stroke, but playing the counterpuncher just brings out my worst tendencies to overhit. I need to be more patient, I haven't lost my rag on the court like this since I was a teenager.

I had some success with the short angled FH, and bringing him forwards. But my lobs and BH passing shots need work to execute this strategy more consistently. What I can see for sure is that trying to hit the counter puncher off the court is suicide unless you happen to also be having a day where you can't miss.

**Post-lockdown June edit**

I've played all three of my counter-punching nemeses in the last fortnight. I won 2/3 matches. Still can't figure out how I beat the last one, who really is more of an all court player who completely neturalises my serve and never makes a mistake. I take solace in the fact that he's basically a nightmare for every single person I've ever seen him play against.
 
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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

My question is, can I develop my game from just a run of the mill base liner into a counter puncher who is more effective. I do try to look for opportunities in to make approach shots and come to net, but I'm
still not too comfortable coming to net unless I'm absolutely sure I get a great spproach. Even then I am still not too comfortable up there.
 
I also wish that I could be in all Court player like Federer , but I can't think that quickly when I'm Trading groundstrokes. I guess it's just a matter of practice and developing strategies on the Fly.
 
My March tennis funk continued last night, smoked by a counterpuncher.

I'm in a transition phase of working on being more consistent on every stroke, but playing the counterpuncher just brings out my worst tendencies to overhit. I need to be more patient, I haven't lost my rag on the court like this since I was a teenager.

I had some success with the short angled FH, and bringing him forwards. But my lobs and BH passing shots need work to execute this strategy more consistently. What I can see for sure is that trying to hit the counter puncher off the court is suicide unless you happen to also be having a day where you can't miss.

**Post-lockdown June edit**

I've played all three of my counter-punching nemeses in the last fortnight. I won 2/3 matches. Still can't figure out how I beat the last one, who really is more of an all court player who completely neturalises my serve and never makes a mistake. I take solace in the fact that he's basically a nightmare for every single person I've ever seen him play against.
What is your play style?
 
Baseliner, heavy topspin, big first serve

Working on becoming more of an attacking player—stepping inside the baseline more often, and working in some serve and volley variation
Same here, but my serve is not the best - it's just average. I'm trying to be more aggressive too - coming to net and pressuring opponents. I'm searching for a better racquet which should help. Also I bought a ball machine and am considering some private lessons once the snow melts. :cautious:
 

4-string

Professional
Interesting read. There seems to be a clear majority of so called aggressive baseliners, sign of the times I’m sure.

I always step in to the court myself, and search the net to end the point as quickly as possible. Now I only need my technical skills to match my mindset.
 

BeRadical

New User
The OPs style breakdow is informative, complete, and easy to understand. I also share the opinion that the term "pusher" is taken to an extreme as being negative towards defensive styles of play. I consider myself a counterpuncher that is not afraid to simplify and keep the ball in play for a game or two to see what an offensive opponent as to offer. I think there is plenty of room for probing and should considered more at lower levels of club play. You will never know until you try to find a weakness or strength to tempt into an UE.
 
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a10best

Hall of Fame
So frustrating. I play better against 4.5 full stroke players than a 4.0 soft-baller/retriever. The pusher's returns and rally balls land just beyond the service line or in the box and "currently" I am not putting them away consistently.
I have to work on that in practice.
 

PURETENNISsense

Professional
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
Thanks USTA we love what you do for US tennis. Especially juniors.... the no 3rd set format has been absolutely amazing in promoting success and endurance for 18U preparing to go to college.
 

Vicious49

Legend
Can someone tell me what my play style is? Below is a clip of some of the more interesting rallies from last night. It took 3.5 hours in this awful weather so by the end we are gassed and just trying to get balls over. When we got done at 10:30pm it was 90 degrees and 70% humidity. I'm the one with the loopy FH not wearing the baseball cap. You can see the progression of my shirt changes as the match goes along - blue, teal/mint, white, red. Watching myself I think I do a good job of getting balls deep in to the corners and I do well on approach shots. If I could improve on finishing at the net I could shorten a lot of pints.

 

eah123

Professional
Can someone tell me what my play style is? Below is a clip of some of the more interesting rallies from last night. It took 3.5 hours in this awful weather so by the end we are gassed and just trying to get balls over. When we got done at 10:30pm it was 90 degrees and 70% humidity. I'm the one with the loopy FH not wearing the baseball cap. You can see the progression of my shirt changes as the match goes along - blue, teal/mint, white, red. Watching myself I think I do a good job of getting balls deep in to the corners and I do well on approach shots. If I could improve on finishing at the net I could shorten a lot of pints.


I would classify your style as "pusher". No real weapons. Most points won by getting the ball over the net without any specific goal and your opponent making an unforced error.
 

Vicious49

Legend
I would classify your style as "pusher". No real weapons. Most points won by getting the ball over the net without any specific goal and your opponent making an unforced error.

I appreciate the reply but are judging me against a 4.5+ level? At that level my shots don't have the speed so probably am a pusher. I'd dispute that classification. At the 3.5-4.0 that's not a pusher because I've played against them quite often.

There is a specific goal with some of those passing and approach shots or even the baseline shots or returns that are being hit in to the corners. Sure you're usually hitting it deep to try to setup other shots. I don't think every shot needs to be a winner. And at my level, even when you setup a good shot you don't always make the right decision or have the correct footwork or technique to put it away. And at lower levels it's consistency that you want so of course you want your opponent to make an UE.
 
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eah123

Professional
I appreciate the reply but are judging me against a 4.5+ level? At that level my shots don't have the speed so probably am a pusher. I'd dispute that classification. At the 3.5-4.0 that's not a pusher because I've played against them quite often.

There is a specific goal with some of those passing and approach shots or even the baseline shots or returns that are being hit in to the corners. Sure you're usually hitting it deep to try to setup other shots. I don't think every shot needs to be a winner. And at my level, even when you setup a good shot you don't always make the right decision or have the correct footwork or technique to put it away. And at lower levels it's consistency that you want so of course you want your opponent to make an UE.

Just to be clear here, I wasn't using the term pusher in a negative way. At your level, consistency is the most important thing, and the pusher style is a winning one. I think we just have to be honest with ourselves about what style we are actually playing, even though we might be trying to play another style (like offensive-baseliner, baseline counterpuncher, net rusher or all-courter). In order to be able to play these styles, whether it's a big forehand, volley/net skills, or multiple weapons in the case of all-court style. Good luck with your game!
 

Vicious49

Legend
Just to be clear here, I wasn't using the term pusher in a negative way. At your level, consistency is the most important thing, and the pusher style is a winning one. I think we just have to be honest with ourselves about what style we are actually playing, even though we might be trying to play another style (like offensive-baseliner, baseline counterpuncher, net rusher or all-courter). In order to be able to play these styles, whether it's a big forehand, volley/net skills, or multiple weapons in the case of all-court style. Good luck with your game!

Ah, gotcha. I wouldn't classify myself as a pusher but maybe you're right. I really do wonder what we would classify the guys I play against whom I think are pushers.
 

Leen

Rookie
Ah, gotcha. I wouldn't classify myself as a pusher but maybe you're right. I really do wonder what we would classify the guys I play against whom I think are pushers.
Don't get caught up with labels. Honestly people always throw out the term pusher especially if they loose because you played more consistent or defensive.

Looks good to me your playstyle. Dynamic enough. I honestly thought Eah123 was referring to the green shirt baseball cap guy as the pusher.
 
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