The tennis player’s dilemma: play it safe or break it?

Tennis players must constantly make tactical decisions about the best way to win a point. It starts with where the serve is positioned and how hard it is to hit, but once the race begins, the question often becomes whether the player should shoot at the lines or hit the ball hard to a safer target with a greater margin of error.

Picking the right is especially vital in a close match when the stakes are high and the opponent is one of the best in the world, as they will be in laver cup.

Players and analysts say the best tactical approach requires a combination of both approaches.

It depends on your strengths, your opponent and the situation in the match,” said Patrick McEnroe, Team World deputy captain. “That’s what makes it so much fun in this event. Every game is against the top players, and you have to weigh all three of those things.”

This is not so simple. Everyone who watched Carlos Alcaraz In the US Open Knowing that the new King of Sports (who never participated in the Laver Cup) will run, run, run in endless pools, but also gladly break at any time and from anywhere on the court; Great players like Casper Ruud of Team Europe and Francis Tiafoe of Team World have tried to match him for hours and failed.

When Tiafoe got a ball in the middle of the field, he might have thought, ‘I should hit the ball near the line’ than he would, for example, Fabio FogniniWhich is ranked 55, McEnroe said.

Elite players like Roger Federer and Andy Murray in their prime may have fired defensive backhands against a powerful shot — not weak but defensive, with the intent to neutralize it — but McEnroe said the US Open showdown between Alcaraz and Yannick Sener Two players appeared “taking very aggressive shots and going from toe to toe, point by point.”

However, all too often, the big moments in big matches against top opponents require an adjustment. Tennis is a game of trust, said Jamie Arias, Tennis Channel Analyst. Players like Novak Djokovic or Serena Williams in their prime would pin the lines in the big moments simply because they thought they were going to win and therefore played more relaxed.

By contrast, he refers to his 1983 US Open quarter-final victory over Yannick Noahwho won the French Open that year. When Noah lost 5-6 in the fifth set, double-faulted at 15-30 and lost his first serve on match point, Arias, who had not broken in more than two sets, saw an opportunity.

“I know 100 percent he’ll make a safe serve, and I’ll be able to run and hit a forehand,” remembers Arias, who was 19 at the time. “In a normal match, I would have been confident and would win. But I had never been to the semi-finals of the major, and I wanted it so badly.”

So Arias decided to play it safe and hit hard in the middle, giving himself a margin for error. “I was so worried that I hit the ball in front,” he said. Had he shot on the sidelines, the ball would have gone out, but because he played it safe, the foul “ended up being an angle winner”.

The right approach is often determined by the player’s gaze. “Young players sometimes make a lot of points when they play with the best players, who always have a mental advantage. If you play [Rafael] Nadal or Djokovic or Federer You tend to think, ‘I have to do something extra,'” said Björn Borg, captain of Team Europe.

Borg advocates starting tougher matches by getting big points to safer places to “feel the match” before getting more ambitious; If a player starts losing streaks in the middle of a match, they must go back to their safer shots for a few matches to regain their rhythm and feel.

McEnroe said a player like Team World’s Diego Schwartzman knows he “has to play outside his comfort zone or he won’t stand a chance,” but that striving for perfection right away means “you can get out of the game early, so you don’t want to give your opponent a chance.” Lots of respect early on.”

But, as Arias said, it’s mentally difficult to go to the lines with groups going, especially in a tournament like the Laver Cup, “when you feel like all the opponents are better than you,” he said. “There’s extra tension at 5-5 or 6-6, so you might not make the shot.”

Arias played Andre Agassi late in his career, reaching 4-4, but Agassi was playing every point safe as Arias collapsed and realized he had no chance: “I couldn’t do that forever.” Arias lost the group and the match.

Rudd said life’s setbacks on the tennis tour were a factor, too. “I try to play my game against the top players,” but he added, “If I am hurting I will take more risks, while if I feel strong I will try to get rid of my opponent.”

A more agile and faster player can be patient and try to force mistakes. Alcaraz’s first open win came from five sets over Marin Cilic, who is fit but 14 years older than him and without Alcaraz’s superb pace. “I have no doubt that Cilic was trying to play more aggressively because of that,” McEnroe said.

Nick Kyrgioswho played in the first four Laver Cups, said he’d rather go for bankruptcy, especially in the bigger moments.

“I love low percentage tennis,” said Kyrgios, who fell with a dangerous forehand from a short distance to 30-0 at 4-4 in the fourth set from his second round win at this year’s US Open. “My strength on the tennis court is unpredictability. Why don’t I just go for it?”

But Arias noted that in the next round, against big-hitting young JJ Wolff, Kyrgios switched gears, hitting safer shots and letting Wolff make mistakes. “You can see the light in Nick’s head during the match,” he said.

Changing gears is easier said than done of course, especially in the middle of a match. “The change could make sense, but against higher-level players, all of those decisions get amplified,” McEnroe said.

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