In other articles in this series, I have talked about some of the ways in which over-40s can get the most out of their tennis, and how they can use their skills to compete well against much younger players. In this article I will talk about the key strategies for men playing against other seniors. These ideas will be crucial if you want to reach a good ranking in your age group. So, what are the best strategies for men’s senior tennis?
A lot will depend on your age and that of the people you are playing against. Women’s tennis tends to require a different set of tactics, so that merits a separate article. Here, I will consider the different requirements of playing in men’s age groups ranging from over-40s to over-80s.
Strategies for over-40s
The first thing to understand in relation to this age-group is that the youngest players will not have lost a lot of their physical capabilities in comparison with when they were in their prime. Roger Federer turns 40 in 2021, and there is no reason to doubt his belief that he can still compete with the best, especially on faster court surfaces. The great server Ivo Karlovic is still battling away on the ATP tour at the age of 42.
Clearly, if over-40s can still play at the top level you cannot rely on the best amateurs lacking a significant amount of strength, stamina or flexibility. This means that your first priority if you want to make an impact in this age group must be to get your conditioning right. You will need to do an extensive amount of on and off-court training to ensure that you are at least as well conditioned as your rivals. Other articles in this series will cover the kind of fitness training you might focus on, but strength, speed and core strength will all be critical, along with flexibility and agility.
At this time of life it can be hard to find the time to train as thoroughly as you should, as work and family commitments can get in the way. This can hold some players back, but the very best will be the ones who have found a way to make time to do the necessary fitness work.
Assuming that you are fit enough to play at ITF Seniors level, you can begin to think about the kind of strategies to employ in matches. For the reasons described above, over-40s tennis is not a great deal different from that played by younger players. Your specific strengths, and those of your opponent, will determine your tactics.
If you are extremely fit and very consistent, you will be able to base your strategy on this, making sure that there are plenty of long rallies and using accurate ball placement to ensure that your opponent’s conditioning is tested to the full.
On the other hand, if you are a big hitter who tends to be slightly less mobile than average, you will need to serve and return accurately to give you a chance of taking charge of the points.
If you can dictate the points using quality shots it will not matter how fast your opponent is, because they will generally be on the defensive.
There are of course many other combinations of styles which suggest the use of different strategies, but the key is that over-40s tennis, at a high level, is little different from that played by younger age groups. If an opponent looks poorly conditioned, you can take advantage of this by making them work hard, but, if not, it is simply a case of finding the right tactics to defeat their playing style.
Tennis Strategies for Seniors over 40s
- If you are still fit and consistent, test your opponent with long rallies and use accurate ball placement.
- If you are a bit hitter and less mobile than average, try to serve and return accurately.
- Test your opponent’s conditioning.
Effective Styles For Over 50s
As you reach your fifties, you will become aware of certain physical changes. If you keep training appropriately, you will generally feel the same as you did in your twenties. At times, however, you will be reminded that your body is not quite what it was. In particular, you will need to work harder to maintain flexibility, and will take longer to warm up. Your strength will diminish slightly, and your speed will reduce. None of these effects will be dramatic, and by working hard you can minimise them, but they will be common throughout the players you compete with.
Again, therefore, if you want to succeed in this age-group, it is vital to focus on your conditioning. If you do not, you will be allowing others to create a physical advantage that you simply will not be able to counteract over the duration of a tournament. If you can manage to train a little bit harder than your rivals, this can give you a crucial psychological advantage.
The great decathlete of the 1980s, Daley Thompson, would always train on Christmas Day, when he knew his rivals would be resting, to give himself the feeling that he was gaining a small but vital benefit. At a lower level, the same can apply to a tennis player in the over-50s. If you believe you are doing a little more physical work than the majority of others, you will feel more confident going into a sequence of tough matches.
On court, you will still have the capacity to play frequently, so there is plenty of opportunity for you to work on your game. Do not be afraid to develop your technique and use appropriate practice drills. Only a small number of players in this age group do this, and they reap the benefits when they compete. It is not sufficient to simply play a couple of practice sets if you want to improve. One qualification is that you should listen to your body. If you are suffering from a minor injury, rest it and get it treated. In this age group you will be more prone to minor issues than you have been before, and you must avoid aggravating them.
Tactically, the over-50s is the first age group where you will really be aware of a slight slowing down of your opponents. Nonetheless, the best players still tend to be prodigiously fit, so simply making them run is not enough. If you are able to hit hard and accurately, their diminished speed will hamper them, so making the ‘first strike’ in a rally is crucial. In other words, work hard on your serves and returns to give you the opportunity to take charge of points early on.
In the over-50s, players are still physically capable of playing a hard-working defensive game, but they will not be able to sustain this for long into the future. If this is your natural style, you should consider developing a more assertive style that will stand the test of time. Practice drills and practice matches should be focused on a controlled yet aggressive game style. If you are building more positivity into a previously cautious style, your results will definitely deteriorate for a time as you adjust to your new tactical plan. Nonetheless, this will only be temporary, and if you put enough work in you will develop a way of playing that works for the rest of your tennis life. Keep in mind that controlled aggression is the aim: just wildly swinging will not bring you good results at ITF Seniors level.
Tennis Strategies for Seniors over 50s
- Practice drills should be focused on a controlled yet aggressive style.
- Look to make the first strike in rallies.
- Work hard on serves and returns.
Moving Up To The Over-60s
The effects of ageing will become slightly more pronounced as you move into the over-60s age group. You will become less flexible and slower, with diminished muscle strength, and these changes will become increasingly apparent even among the better tennis players. The loss of speed is difficult to combat, although regular gentle speed work could mitigate it to some extent. Maintaining weight training at a sensible level will minimise the loss of strength, and working on your flexibility is highly recommended. Core strength and balance are also vital, so activities like yoga and tai chi can be extremely helpful. Once you are in this age band the physical intensity of your training may need to be reduced slightly, but conditioning is as vital as ever.
On-court practice can still be relatively frequent, but the physical intensity may need to be slightly reduced in comparison to younger players. Nonetheless, you should continue to take the opportunity to develop your skills, and focus on developing efficient shots which will be effective without putting your body under too much stress, as well as playing practice sets.
The tennis played by the best over-60s players is still of a high standard, but their loss of strength and flexibility means that the pace tends to be lower than in younger age groups. If you are in this age category and want to continue competing at a high level for many more years, there is little option but to adopt an aggressive style. This is not about raw power, but rather accurate placement and making attacking choices. Simply getting the ball back should rarely be your preference: you should be looking to use varied tactics, approaching the net when possible. The objective should be to keep your opponent off balance and on the move. Lobs and drop shots can also be effective if played at the right times.
Tennis Strategies for Seniors over 60s
- Focus on accurate placement and making attacking choices.
- Approach the net when you get the chance.
- Use lobs and drop shots when possible.
- Keep your opponent off balance and on the move.
The changes that affected you in the over-60s will have taken more significant effect by the time you reach 70. This does not, however, mean that you should concentrate less on training. If you want to play well, you must do everything in your power to maintain flexibility and core strength, while continuing to work with some light weights. Your training will look very different from what you were doing when you were 40, but it is no less important.
On-court hitting will also need to be lighter than in younger age-groups, but it is crucial to keep practising in a way which allows you to improve. Think about the way you want your shots to develop and practice them.
Tactically, the aggressive game style you will have been working on will start to come into its own. Opponents will be slower and less flexible than ever, so taking the early initiative in rallies is vital, as you can keep your opponent off balance and prevent them from making telling shots. Use the net when you get the chance. The drop shot begins to be more useful in this age category, as players are losing their speed. Be ruthless and make your opponents feel every year of their age.
Tennis Strategies for Seniors over 70s
Similar to senior over 60s, but drop shots will be even more effective.
How To Dominate In The Over 80s
If you are still able to compete at a good standard by the time you reach this age category then you have clearly looked after yourself well. You must continue to do so if you want to extend your tennis career. Aim for flexibility and mobility, but keep using some light weights in order to maintain some muscle tone. Your training will necessarily be lighter than it was when you were younger, but you must remain disciplined, not allowing yourself to ease up too far. If you are unsure how best to train, consult a fitness trainer who has experience of working with older people.
On court, keep your hitting sessions light. High intensity drills will no longer be for you, but it is important, as with every age group, to make your practice thoughtful. You should not fall into the trap of assuming that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’: you can still improve your shots and the way you apply them.
Tactically, both players in an over-80s match will normally want to keep the rallies short. Accurate serves and returns may give you the chance to volley, even if your opponent can retrieve the first ball. You will, however, not be as quick as you were, so it will benefit you to have practised playing your first volley from further back in the court than you would once have done. A good first volley can lead to an opportunity to move further forward and finish the point with a second volley.
In general, you will want to make your opponent move as much as possible. The drop shot is a major weapon in this age group, and you should spend a lot of time practising it. Some over-80s matches feature a very large number of drop shots, and being able to play these well and follow up with a good lob if necessary is vital. One other point to bear in mind is that while players’ brains are generally as sharp as ever, their eyesight and hearing might be beginning to deteriorate. This means that their line-calling may become questionable, and there may be scoring disagreements. These things are unavoidable, but it is important to remain focused and not allow them to distract you.
Tennis Strategies for Seniors over 80s
- Focus on accurate serve and return and look for chances to volley.
- Practice playing first volley from further back in the court.
- After first volley, move further forward and finish with second volley.
- Use drop shots and follow up with a good lob.
The appropriate strategies for men’s senior tennis vary according to age. In the over-40s you should be able to adopt a very similar approach to that which you used when you were younger. As you get older, you need to make sure you adopt an efficient, assertive style in order to test your opponent’s physical capabilities. Whatever your preferred approach, you need to move away from energetically scrambling towards taking the initiative if longevity is your aim. By the time you reach the over-80s, the drop shot becomes a major weapon. If you put in the work in the gym and on the practice court, you will be able to compete at a good standard for several decades. You will enjoy the competitions and hopefully, as a side-effect, enjoy a long and healthy life.