No two tennis players have exactly the same game, but most of the opponents you're likely to face can be placed into one of several major categories. Learning to adapt your strategy to a wide variety of opponents is one of the keys to becoming a tough competitor. If you succeed at becoming this adaptable, you'll enter an elite minority--those players who can be any one of the major player types as the situation demands.
The Dinker, a.k.a. Pusher, a.k.a. Human Backboard: The dinker almost never hits hard, but gets everything back. "Dinker" is a somewhat misleading name, because one would normally think of a dink shot as something short and soft. The best among this breed can keep most shots deep, lob effectively, and aim fairly well. Dinkers drive a lot of opponents crazy, because they win by getting you to make all of the mistakes. (It's a lot more frustrating to make a mistake than to have an opponent hit a brilliant shot that no one could have gotten.)
- Attack at the net. Even the quickest players, who can run down almost anything you hit from your baseline, won't be able to run down an aggressive volley or overhead. Tennis is largely a matter of time, and by being at net, you cut in half both the time between your opponent's hit and yours and the time he has to react to your shot.
- Get him to cough up a short ball. This might not be easy, but experiment. One tactic very likely to work is making the ball bounce above his shoulders on the backhand side. Most players can't hit deep off these shots effectively.
- Be patient. He can't hurt you with his shots, so wait for the right ball before going for a winner or attempting an approach shot.
- Pull him to net with a drop shot or good, low short ball. If he's not much good at hitting an aggressive response, you'll have an easy opportunity to pass him.
The Moon-Baller: Once a major contingent on the pro tours, especially on the women's side, the moon-baller is like a more skilled and specialized human backboard. She won't hit hard, but she will hit high, deep, and with strong topspin. If you're not used to this kind of shot, it can be tough to handle, and she can keep hitting it all day long.
- Attack at net, but be ready to hit a lot of overheads and to chase a lot of balls back toward your baseline. You'll need to come in on a better approach shot than you would against an ordinary dinker.
- Try some sneak volleys. Start trading moonballs back and forth; then, when you've hit a nice deep, high one, sneak in toward the net and take the next ball in the air. It's hard for your opponent to see what you're doing while watching a deep, high ball, so she might not see you until you're about to pound the smash or swinging topspin volley.
- Learn to hit on the rise. Moonballs are toughest if you let them bounce way above your comfort zone. By hitting them on the rise, you'll take them at a more comfortable height, your ball will come back at your opponent earlier, and the ball will bounce off your strings harder, giving your shot more power with less effort. The timing required to do this is tough, though.
- Pull her to net. She won't be able to hit a moon ball off your drop shot or low, short ball, so she'll probably feed you an approach shot you can handle with ease.