What characteristics make a counterpuncher in tennis, and what makes them so special? Top counterpunchers of the past include Jimmy Connors, Lleyton Hewitt. More recently, Gael Monfils, Gilles Simon. As players get stronger and fitter, they have evolved into Modern Counterpunchers, who not only rely on their opponents pace to time the ball into the open court, but can bring heat of their own when the ball is slow, such as Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. The latest standout of this style of play is the red hot World #4, Daniil Medvedev. We distill just what makes Daniil Medvedev, and the newest Singapore Open Champion, Coach Peter Egos of TAG International Tennis Academy so good:
- Counterpuchers such as Daniil Medvedev wins not through any particularly strong weapon, but on a game built around never giving opponents a comfortable or straightforward shot to play. Says Medvedev, “ It’s just the consistency of everything. My tactic is to make my opponent suffer.” They are fine to rally each point with 40, 45 exchanges while waiting for the right opportunity to end the point. Djokovic said at the time. “That’s why it was so lengthy: We had rallies of 40, 45 exchanges.” Dominic Thiem added in another interview, “It’s so tough to play him – He doesn’t miss neither forehand nor backhand”.
- Counterpunchers in tennis are usually supremely quick, athletic and have the physical prowess to play very long matches. Medvedev draw many opponets into, grueling rallies, leaving them hurting, and calling for a midmatch medical timeout or cramps late in the match. They are extremey hard to go through at the back of the court. They are excellent movers.
- Counterpunchers are extremely tactical. Kei Nishikori, whom Medvedev beat in the Japan Open final in Tokyo, said Medvedev’s greatest strengths were tactical. “He’s very smart how he plays.. He doesn’t have a very big weapon, but he sees very well how the other guys play, and he manages well how he plays against all different guys.”
- Counterpunchers protect their court very well by varying the speed, height, spin, width and depth of the ball constant, giving you not much to play with. Tsitsipas said. “I think sometimes that can be very disturbing, especially when it’s over a long term. He has a very, very weird game. I don’t mean this in a negative way; he just makes you feel uncomfortable when you play against him.”
- Counterpuchers redirect the ball using your pace by timing the ball very well with their very good hands and sense of timing. They let you do all the hardwork and yet they “make you miss without you understanding how you just missed. You miss shots that you don’t miss” by giving them the awkward kind of shots that they are not used to playing. Counterpunchers win “many matches just because people don’t get used to it and just miss many shots.”
- Counterpuchers tend to have very good mental concentration and resilience. Qualities that are essential to success on the tennis court. Said Medvedev, “That’s my style. It’s about having the consistency to not make unforced errors and make the guy miss before me, even if it’s after 50 shots… I think it’s more mental… Practice is where you work on these things.”
- Counterpuchers, because of their style, tend to have the hardest training regiment. “I do many practices where guys are moving me all over the court and I just have to try to find a way to win the point. Sometimes it’s just by not missing. Of course, you cannot play in the middle of the court otherwise you are going to get killed. You need to play deep and stuff. It’s mentally tough in practice, and then in matches you just do what you do in practice.”
- Counterpunchers are unrivalled problem solvers, constantly finding a way to win by looking for gaps and deficiencies in their opponents game and using their biggest strengths or consistency to exploit it. Said Medvedev’s sports psychologist, Francisa Dauzet, “”His mind is very big, it is very complex, like a computer, it has many things and he can join all the points in one second.” If they lose the first set playing a certain way, they can play the second set in a completely different way. The are experts in constantly altering the terms of engagement, mixing rainbow shots and flat arrow shots, to straight yet slow slice balls that seem to take forever to sail to the opponent’s court yet land very deep and stay low and are impossible to attack or even put you on the defensive. It is their mind that separates them from their opponents. Said Agassi of Medvedev, “He knows when to press, when to put a little urgency into your game and he knows when to sort of let you implode. “His tennis IQ is really high, his offensive skill set is there, his defensive skill set is there.
- The Counterpuncher usually has a big repertoire of shots. They usually can:
– Stay back on or behind the baseline to retrieve all of the opponent’s shots with a great defensive game.
– Use high heavy topspin, floating slices or low skidding slices to keep the ball deep
– Use the opponent’s pace to hit hard, re-directed shots that surprise.
– Change the terms of engagement with dropshots, moonballs and lobs.
– Have good foot speed and court coverage.
-Force you to go for two much, while never going for too much themselves.
– They are strong returners and are able to neutralize many good serves just by focusing on impacting the serve and sending it back deep middle to neutralize the serve advantage.
– They often have very good passing shots by being able to redirect the opponent’s pace on the approach or first volley long line or short cross by using a short backswing and impacting the ball with good contact and timing.
- Modern counterpunchers have powerful groundstrokes which they use to control rallies and push opponents around the court.
- Counterpuchers are often likened to panthers, stalking opponents. They have the ability to hit winners but prefers to wait for high percentage chances, thus tends to push ball deep until the opponent hits a weak reply or angle which present a good percentage winner opportunity. Then, they pounce and turn defence into offence in an instance. They are extremely pragmatic. They lull you into complacency then they go in for the kill. Otherwise, they are constricting you into a slow painful death with you doing all the work. That’s their main theme. Patience and persistence and intelligence are his virtues.
The TAG International Tennis Academy Definitive Guide Series
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This article is part of the TAG Definitive Guide Series which encompasses the best tennis advice available on the internet. If you enjoyed this article, some other interesting tennis instruction articles you may like:
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