Sizing Up the Opponent

After a match a few years back, my partner and I asked our coach for his feedback. I don’t remember the match or much of what our coach said. All I remember is his final question: Why’d you keep hitting to the lefty’s forehand?

My partner and I exchanged looks. There was a lefty?

I’d love to say that was the last time that ever happened to me, but I’d be lying. Usually I’m not clueless for the entire match, but it can take a few games before I notice a key piece of information.

We’re supposed to use the pre-match warm-up to size up our opponents, sussing out their strengths and weaknesses. But I’m often too busy hiding my own weaknesses to remember to check out theirs. My post-warm-up discussions with my partner sometimes end up sounding like this:

“So, what’d you notice? Anything?”

“Ummm…she was good. What about you?”

“Yeah…I didn’t notice anything in particular…”

Obviously I need a more systematic approach.

So I did some brainstorming about what I ought to be looking for during the warm-up. And in order to remember it–this is the fun part–I came up with an acronym: FLUBS! Here’s how it breaks down:

F is for Friends. This one applies only to doubles matches. I try to get a sense of how well the opponents know each other. Are they chatty? Are they wearing matching outfits? Or are they discussing which side they like to play on? If I sense they haven’t played together much, I want to exploit this by hitting down the middle or lobbing down the line, creating confusion about whose ball it is.

L is for Lefty. It’s hard to stay away from an opponent’s ferocious forehand if you don’t know where it is.

U is for Unforced Errors. Is my opponent making mistakes? Maybe she’s nervous or having trouble adjusting to the court surface. In doubles, my partner and I should hit more to her. In singles, I’d focus on just being a backboard, letting her donate the errors. Eventually this player will steady herself, but I should capitalize on her erratic play while it lasts.

B is for Backhand. At my level, most players have a weaker backhand, but not all do. If I can’t tell, I want to remember to hit some balls directly at the opponent. Which side does she take the ball with? That’s her favorite side. Even if she doesn’t have a true “weak” side, I’d rather not feed her her favorite shot.

S is for Speed. How well does she move up to a shorter ball? Does she let a ball bounce twice? Does she let some balls go? How does she react to a deeper shot with topspin? By mixing up my shots, I might discover a vulnerability.

So that’s it–my FLUBS system. But, to be honest, FLUBS stinks as an acronym. To be truly great, an acronym has to pass a three-prong test:

1. It needs to be pronounceable as a word, like NATO.
2. It needs to already be a word, unlike NATO.
3. The word needs to have some relevance to the subject at hand.

FLUBS is a word, but it has nothing to do with scoping out your opponent. (Come to think of it, SCOPE could make a stellar acronym.)

Plus, do I really want to be thinking about flubbing when I’m starting my match?

I know someone out there can do better than this, so let’s hold a contest. Come up with your own checklist for sizing up your opponent and make it into a memorable acronym.

The person who coins the best acronym gets bragging rights and a new can of tennis balls. That’s right. Professional tennis balls.

Deadline is Sunday, May 6 at 9 p.m. Start brainstorming!

16 thoughts on “Sizing Up the Opponent

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  1. OK, here’s my acronym: SHAPE

    Serve: It all starts here, so I try to pay attention to both servers to understand speed, spin, placement, and consistency. (There’s another acronym game in there, I think)

    Height: The height of the players often determines my strategy, as a tall player will be more difficult to lob over and often more difficult to pass down the alley. Their weakness: they’re higher from the ground so low shots are often more effective against them. (NOTE: This H could also stand for Handedness)

    Athleticism: This also guides my strategy, as I may not lob as much for a fast runner who can get to everything, or I might choose chip shots for a player who’s slower on her feet. Note that athleticism isn’t necessarily an advantage: some women have learned brilliantly how to compensate for slowing down with laser-precise placement.

    Partnership: As you said, I like to watch my opponents interact with each other and see how comfortable they are with each other, whether they seem nervous, whether one is the boss, etc.

    Errors: I try to pay close attention to where they have trouble during the warm-up, as this often indicates a vulnerability. Do they have a preference for backhand vs. forehand, can they control their groundstrokes, how consistent are they, etc.

    To be honest, I like FLUBS better than SHAPE. I suppose I could make an argument that by paying attention in warm-up I’m SHAPING my approach to the match, but it mostly just popped out of the words I wanted to use, and FLUBS is more fun.

    Thanks for posing this question! It was fun and got me thinking about what I actually pay attention to in warm up!


  2. Ooh, I like it! Especially the height aspect. I hadn’t thought about that. And the serve, too–especially the spin. Excellent acronym!! 🎾👍

  3. CHARGE:

    C: Chums: are they chums, experienced in playing together?
    H: Handedness, lefty? but also one or two handed forehand and/or backhand?
    A: Aggressiveness: I like to know how hard they hit, if they charge the net, or go for the tough shot.
    R: Running: Do they run for every shot? Do they get there?
    G: Gaps: What seems to be missing, if anything, in either players’ game?
    E: Extras: One player has a great backhand volley, or a strong overhead, or short angle shot, or serve to the middle, or lob, or….

  4. Charge!! That’s energizing–certainly better than Flubs! Love “gaps” and “aggressiveness.”

    Good one 🎾🎾

  5. I’m posting this entry for Mary G. It’s a good one! I love the “confidence” part–so true how an opponent’s demeanor can get in one’s head!


    S: Serve…. Does my opponent serve to my forehand or backhand, is it short or long, does she double fault a lot?

    C: Confidence… this messes with my brain a lot of the time… does my opponent seen sure of herself, her game, her outfit…. learn to ignore this and you
    will play better.

    O: Overhead… is my lob going to be effective or does my opponent move back well enough to put away the shot with a successful overhead.

    R: Rally… does my opponent rally well and perhaps will outlast me? Should I end the rally with a winner? Does she become impatient before me?

    E: Energy…. does my opponent have a lot of energy to outlast me, outrun me, get to the drop shot that I love executing?

    SCORE… my acronym for sizing up my opponent. I had fun doing this and hope to put this into practice during my next match warmup.

  6. S: smile, this isn’t Wimbledon, after all.
    P: peer at your opponent ‘s racquet which tells you where the ball is going!
    L: look at the ball when hitting. Keeps your head down through the shot.
    I: intellect. When I bring this it keeps me from saying or doing stupid things on the court.
    T: target. The coach says you must have one.
    The word is for SPLIT step which you must do before hitting your target. Two important things for which I often don’t have time!

  7. P: Polish up how I am approaching the ball and the net
    R: Reach out to my partner and see if they want to serve first
    O: Organize the warm up like you’re taking a bath. Relax and work the kinks out.
    S: Serve it like you mean it, and just have fun!

  8. Susan and Nancy, you both talk about smiling, relaxing and having fun. Great idea–you can’t play your best when you’re stressed out! 😅

  9. Pingback: Little Yellow Ball
  10. So I don’t have an acronym to submit but love all the ones and yours ! So incredibly helpful, I am still learning and developing my court vision. I will try out these strategies at warm/up!!

  11. These are all so good! Deb, I think you might just have to give out more than one can of tennis balls!

  12. Awesome acronyms. So creative. Nancy and Susan are talking more about their approach to the game than sizing up the opponent. But those are important aspects to remember when warming up, too. So who won?!

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