Championship match, six-all in the third set tiebreaker. Bill and John had been battling in the hot Florida sun for nearly three hours and the title would come down to a final few points.
On the 13th point, John missed his first serve and Bill moved in to attack the second. John's serve landed short in the service box and Bill moved in to drive the ball down the line and attack the net. Good plan but unfortunately Bill mis-hit his shot and the ball landed on the service line about chest height--a perfect sitter for John. Bill was caught in no-mans land as John moved forward, with a big smile on his face, ready to rip the sitter for an easy winner.
As John prepared to unleash his big backhand, Bill suddenly took two steps forward and lunged to his left, perfectly intercepting John's shot and volleying it into the open court for a winner. John stood with his hands on his hips and a look of utter disbelief on his face. "Lucky guess," he muttered under his breath as he walked back toward the baseline.
7-6, championship point. Bill hit a 3/4 pace serve into John's body and charged the net. John hit a nice down the line return of serve and Bill volleyed cross-court to John's forehand. John sprinted across the court, preparing to hit his passing shot but at the last second, instead of the passing shot, he executed a beautiful topspin lob.
The crowd gasped. No one watching the match expected the lob at such a tense moment, no one that is except Bill, who was waiting three feet behind the service line to easily put away the overhead for the match.
A few seconds later, while shaking hands, John said to Bill "I thought I had you those last two points but you seemed to know exactly where I was going to hit the ball." Bill couldn't resist smiling as he walked off the court and thought to himself, "I did!"
Both Bill and John had prepared for the match with a great deal of intensity but Bill did one thing that John overlooked, which ended up being the difference----he had scouted John before they had stepped on the court.
While other players at the tournament had spent their time between matches reading, listening to their walkmans, or playing backgammon, Bill had been watching the players who he felt he would most likely face in his future matches. While watching each player, he tried to pick up little pieces of information about their games that might help him during their future match.
For example, when scouting John, Bill learned that when a match got tight, John almost always hit his backhand passing shots cross-court and loved to hit a running topspin lob off of his forehand.
When the third set tiebreaker reached six all and John had that easy backhand sitter, Bill remembered his tendency, and just before John made contact with the ball, lunged to cover the cross-court shot. Sure enough, John stayed true to form, and Bill had an easy put away. On the very next point, when John was moving to hit his forehand passing shot, Bill immediately retreated to the service line, anticipating a topspin lob because he had seen John hit that particular shot under pressure probably a dozen times in his previous matches. He was right again and those two little pieces of information that Bill had picked up while scouting John had won him the match.
If you're truly serious about your tennis, it is in your best interest to begin to put together scouting reports on players that you have played or that you are likely to come up against in the future. These scouting reports can be kept in a spiral, or better yet, three-ring notebook and should contain any information you feel is relevant and that could be useful to you.
For example, are they right or left-handed? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What is their style of play? Do they like to attack the net, or are they content to try to out-steady their opponents from the baseline? How do they react under pressure? What is their favorite shot? Everyone has one.
If you can watch the player for an extended period of time, try to pick up any tendencies that they may have. When matches get tight, players usually hit the shots that they are most comfortable with and if you can pick these tendencies up, you'll have a real advantage on the big points.
If you don't have the opportunity to actually watch a particular player on the court, ask the other players. Tennis players are usually very generous when it comes to talking about other player's style of play and it's amazing what little tidbits you can pick up. For example, before one match I played many years ago, a friend of mine told me that my opponent often starts out a match on a real hot streak but that the longer the match goes, the more erratic he becomes.
We took the court and I was down five love in approximately ten minutes. My opponent hit the ball a ton and did not miss. During the changeover, I thought about what my friend had told me and went back onto the court determined to lengthen the points and the games.
I just kept getting the ball back any way that I could and, lo and behold, my friend was right. My opponent missed a few shots, then he missed a few more and he became increasingly more frustrated. I ended up winning the match 6-0 in the third, yet without that little piece of information, I most probably would have gotten angry and frustrated when I was down 5-0 and might very well have packed it in.
So begin to put together a scouting notebook as part of your tournament preparation. Get as much information on as many of your likely opponents as possible. I used to know a player who started his scouting book when he was 11, was still playing tournaments in his 60's, and had profiles of over 500 players at his disposal.
After you play a match, revise your report. Write down the name of the tournament and the date. Note the surface and the score. Also comment on: why did you win, why did they win? Was your pre-match report accurate or did you pick up something during your match that you overlooked while you were scouting? Then, if you come up against that same opponent in the future, you can go into the match a little better prepared, and when those big points come up, perhaps you will know where your opponents are going to hit the ball before THEY do!!!