I hate losing in tennis – or anything, for that matter. In tennis, I’ve taken countless lessons and drills. I’ve studied strategies and tactics from coaches, pros, and top players. And I’ve learned the rules (and keep ’em handy!) So if I lose to a player that I know I can – and should – beat, that is beyond frustrating!
Speaking of which… Did you have the chance to watch the Coco Gauff vs. Jelena Ostapenko match? If so, you’re probably thinking the same thing I am. Coco Gauff’s loss to Jelena Ostapenko should not have happened.
OK… Let me start by saying that this article is NOT about “fat-shaming” Jelena. Yes, she has put on quite a bit of weight recently, and yes, the extra weight does affect her performance, though she played very well. Still, I don’t think she was unbeatable.
From the start, I noticed that Jelena is a heavy hitter. She smacks the ball hard and, for the most part, pretty flat. And occasionally, she’ll change things up with a slice or drop shot. She also uses tons of spin on both her first and second serves.
That said, she quickly becomes somewhat predictable.However, if you plan (and execute) your shots well, you can force her to give you the shots you want.
What Coco did…
Coco played defense for much of the match. She frequently hit the ball right back to Jelena, only making her take a couple of steps to have to hit it on either side. When Coco tried to change directions (usually on a defense shot), the ball would be loopy and soft and oftentimes short, giving Jelena plenty of time to get it and put it away.
Unfortunately, Coco also would get into (and usually lose) forehand rallies with Jelena, which is Jelena’s weapon of choice. Jelena not only hits her forehand with power, and she can change direction and hit drop shots with it, too.
When serving, Coco often opted for going down the T, which is a great spot to go when your opponent doesn’t move very quickly; it takes away the angles, too. Coco also capitalized on some brilliant passing shots when Jelena was brought in to net.
When Coco had to come in to net, she was very comfortable and did well. That’s the doubles training paying off 🙂
What I would have done…
On my serve to the deuce court, I would have used my slice serve out wide, and then kept hitting deep from corner to corner. This would tire Jelena out more quickly and make her shots less effective as the match went on.
On the ad side, serving hard and flat down the T would be key, as Jelena struggled to return those because she was so far out wide, guarding her backhand. When she did return those, she often chopped at it, producing high-sitting floaters. These are perfect to follow in and angle off the court, or stay back and power down my line. Using my kicker on a serve out wide on the ad side is a good option as well. The ball will kick up high with lots of spin, and she’ll have to return it with a high backhand (above the shoulder). Awkwaaard!
When Jelena served out wide on the deuce side, if I couldn’t get to it for a solid return, I would slice it deep – NOT high because she would kill it. Slice it deep to the opposite corner and follow it in to the service line. There I would have the option of cutting off a passing shot with a volley or a lob with an overhead.
In rallies, when the ball goes back and forth up the middle, I would have taken a forehand and ripped it hard and flat down her backhand line to the corner, similar to the way Coco did when returning serve. In Coco’s match, it was rare that Jelena got it back.
Also, I would have tried a few times to bring her in to net with a drop shot and following it in. The ball would stay low when it bounced. When Jelena runs in to get it, she would have to get under the ball and hit it up, which would probably result in my passing shot winner. 💥🎾
Since Jelena has a 2-handed backhand (and a lot of “chest area” to cover on the backswing), I would have hit my groundstrokes hard, deep, and flat (and often) to her backhand, especially when she is standing at the center mark of the baseline. When Jelena has to hustle for that type of backhand, she usually uses just her right hand and returns a high slice floater, which can then be put away either cross-court or down the line.
I would have also implemented more slice on my deep shots – forehand and backhand. I’m not talking about the floaty, slow slice, but the low, deep slice. That would keep the ball low so it wouldn’t bounce up into her comfort zone.
Of course, I win every match from my sofa because I have a bird’s eye view of the entire match. I also have absolutely zero pressure to win, I’m not drag-ass tired, and it’s not 110 degrees F. But I can still recognize an opponent’s strengths and try to craft points so that she doesn’t have the opportunity to use them – at least as often.
Figure out your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and compare them to your own. If you want to win and not just “play,” disarm their weapons and play to your strengths. And when the match is over, write down some notes for future reference because you’ll probably play them again at some point. Do this for every match, and you’ll be able to walk onto the court with the confidence that no matter who your opponents are, you will figure out how to take them down first!
In the meantime, here are some highlights from the match, demonstrating most of what I’ve mentioned in the article. Enjoy!