John McEnroe is a multiple time Grand Slam Champion and a tennis icon. His tennis mantra is, “Don’t Beat Yourself!” To most casual observers, he was an overly aggressive player who just “went for it” all the time. And it was his talent that allowed him to “get away with it”.
But that could not be further from the truth! He was not all about hitting winners and taking risks. John rarely, if ever, hit a shot he did not think he could make eight or nine times out of 10. He had an aggressive style of play, being a serve and volleyer, but his aggressive play was based on his superb athletic ability, his mastery of the physics and geometry of the game, and his incredibly-high tennis IQ. John had all of the shots and knew when and how to use them. Good news is that John’s mantra can be applied to every game style and tactical plan.
The four basic game styles in tennis today are:
►Serve and Volleyer (very rare)
Since John was the quintessential serve and volleyer, and given that there are only two or three serve and volleyers left on planet earth, we will now discuss the other three game styles.
►An Aggressive Baseliner uses her/his groundstrokes to dictate and control play. Aggressive baseliners are most comfortable at the baseline and rarely risk coming to net unless an easy opportunity presents itself. These players are capable of hitting winners from almost anywhere on the court, but are generally most successful hitting high-percentage shots in combinations, where the series of shots, or the shot patterns, do the damage. Novak Djokovic leads the pack in this style of play.
►Counter-punchers make their livings by playing airtight defense and are usually the players that follow John’s mantra the most. By being extremely consistent, and generally risk averse, these players can be frustrating to play and very hard to beat. They tend to get to everything and miss very little. This might seem like the ultimate game style, but since most of these players do not possess dangerous weapons, or at least not more than one such weapon, they are not able to hurt their opponents consistently, and highly-skilled players with more weapons can generally beat them. Andy Murray is an excellent example of a highly skilled counter-puncher who is very successful with this game style.
►All-Court Players are those that are comfortable with almost all shots and tactics. Since these players have such an extensive variety of shots, they have the highest number of shots they can make eight or nine times out of 10. One could argue that if John played in today’s era, he would be an all-court player and would not be beating himself very often. Of today’s players, Roger Federer is a prime example of an all-court player, and most consider him the greatest male player ever.
As you can see, “Don’t beat yourself!” is a perfect mantra for any tennis player, regardless of age, level, or style of play. John’s mantra is a great blueprint for making better decisions on tactics and better shot selections.
This mantra, for sure, can be a major aid in your capacity to make smart decisions and choices on the court. When you think about it, “Don’t beat yourself!” is just good common sense.
Lawrence Kleger is co-director of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy. He is recognized as one of the top developmental coaches in the United States. He has trained more ranked juniors than anyone in the history of the USTA Eastern Section. His students have won numerous National and Regional Championships, and 20 USTA Eastern Year-End Sportsmanship Awards