At any level of tennis competition, you'll fare best if you focus on having fun and improving your game, not on whether you win. Part of improving is learning how to win, but you should be happier about losing a match in which you played well against a better opponent than winning a match in which you played poorly.
The essence of your strategy early in your tennis development should be to win with consistency. At every level below advanced, players miss the vast majority of attempts at hitting a winner. If you get lots of balls back, giving an opponent more chances to make a mistake, he'll usually make that mistake and hand you the point. Most players run out of patience after a certain number of shots within a point. The more patient player has the advantage.
At the more advanced levels, a strategy centered on consistency requires good foot speed, but at the beginner level, your opponents won't get many hard shots in, so the balls you actually need to chase will usually be moving pretty slowly. You can win with consistency well into the intermediate level even if speed isn't one of your strengths. Approaching the advanced level, a slower player has to learn a more aggressive style, but we'll address that when we get there.
For beginners through early intermediates, here are five key tactical tips for winning matches:
- Hit groundstrokes high to hit deep. Unless you hit hard, aiming your forehands and backhands between three and eight feet above the net will almost guarantee that you'll get the ball in, and it will also help you keep the ball deep. Very deep balls can often draw an error from an inexperienced opponent, and depth in general will limit your opponent's options. You'll want to hit some short balls on purpose, but your standard shot should be deep.
- Hit second serves high to hit deep. Aim your second serves two to five feet above the net for reliability and depth. The pros do this too, but they use heavy topspin that allows them to add quite a bit more pace than you'll be able to. If you know you have a reliable second serve, you can experiment more with an aggressive first serve and probably earn a few easy points. Until you start learning to spin your first serve, not too many hard ones will go in, but experimenting will help you judge how much speed to attempt.
- Pull your opponent forward, then hit past her. This is one of the easiest and most reliable tactics you can use. Hitting a short ball to an advanced player is extremely dangerous, because she'll usually reply with a winner, but beginners will most often just hit the ball right back to you. Beginners get caught in "No Person's (formerly No Man's) Land," the area between the baseline and service line, all the time. When you see your opponent there, just aim the ball to either side of her and several feet deeper than she is standing, and you'll almost certainly win the point.
- Recover your court position quickly. This is your defense against tip #3 and a lot of other difficult situations. Unless you're attacking at the net, which isn't easy as a beginner, you should get back to a spot somewhat diagonally opposite your opponent and roughly three feet behind your baseline after each ball you hit.
- Use full swings. Full swings don't have to be fast swings. It's tempting to poke at the ball as a way to keep from hitting too hard, but you'll find that a fuller swing is far more reliable, and it will be much better for your arm and your rate of improvement. If you want to take some speed off your shot, just slow down your full swing.