The Matchplan Dilemma

A match plan? Is good! But what if it doesn't work? A chaos plan helps.

by Marco Kühn
last edit: Oct 19, 2022, 05:57 pm

Carlos Alcaraz wants to serve for Spain this week
© Getty Images
Carlos Alcaráz

When a six-year-old plays with Lego, we can learn a lot about tennis. Step by step he puts the blocks together and on top of each other. Some days he spends more than an hour tinkering with the wing of a spaceship. Then, in the midst of his concentrated work, he discovers a mistake. A block was stupidly placed wrong. The wing of the spaceship does not fit.

What is the six year old doing? Does he freak out, scream and give up? no way. He corrects the mistake, reassembles all the building blocks with stoic calm and learns from his mistake. That's what a Plan B in the match plan is in tennis.

What is a match plan?

If you don't just want to sit stubbornly in the hotel on holiday in Mallorca, but also want to visit Rafael Nadal's academy, you can grab a rental car. Beforehand, the address is googled in order to then enter it in the navigation system. The task of the navigation system is to bring us to the Rafa as comfortably, quickly and reliably as possible.

The match plan has a similar task to the navigation system.

Your match plan is the system that is supposed to navigate you - ideally successfully - through a match. Your match plan can contain a wide variety of topics:

* Make few mistakes, move well
* Attack opponent's backhand
* attack short balls
* serve good odds on first serve

Quite a lot, isn't it?! ;-) Let's go through an example together. Novak Djokovic has a pretty clearly defined match plan against Rafael Nadal. One that, by the way, the almost forgotten Fernando Gonzalez was the first player to do against Rafa at the Australian Open in 2007.

The match plan looks roughly as follows:

* Play quickly into Rafa's forehand
* Take Rafa's high spin balls early, often on the backhand
* use the backhand mainly longline, standing in the field or on the baseline
* Like to play in the middle to steal Rafa's angles

This is the "Djoker Navi". In the next step, we look at why a match plan is important and what kind of plan can be even more important for you.

Why is a match plan important for your game?

Without a well-functioning navigation device, we would hardly find Rafa's academy. It would take us much longer, use more fuel and arrive at the academy frustrated. Even on the court we would be overwhelmed with the countless challenges that a match entails. How do we want to build the points? Where should the first shots in the rally be placed? What strategy do we follow on serve? Which ones on the return? We would tackle all of these areas haphazardly.

A match plan gives you a rough guide on how to behave in the jungle of a match. However, your match plan becomes a dilemma if you only play according to this plan. How can this become a dilemma?

Let's take this thought a step further. A match plan can only cover your sphere of influence. You can't set a plan for your opponent's game. You have no control over your opponent. Nor on the external circumstances of the match, such as weather, place, spectators. Your match plan can only determine what you alone do on the court. Unfortunately, no match plan in the world can take into account all the ups and downs, crazy emotions and form of your opponent. As a result, many club players feel frustrated and empty when their match plan isn't igniting or has burned out.

We like to say that we need a plan B and, ideally, a plan C. But that would make the whole story too complicated. It would be better if we had a flexible match plan. A chaos plan.

How a chaos plan can be critical to success

The term "chaos plan" alone takes a little pressure off our skins, doesn't it? He doesn't sound that perfectionist. We perform at our worst when our heads are full of thoughts, doubts, and fears (about the outcome of the match). In the match we think more than we play. A chaos plan can provide relaxation in the match. When we're at the adventure park with our kids and the first attraction makes us yawn in boredom, there are tons of other cool attractions to have up our sleeves. A chaos plan works with our emotions in a similar way. We've always hidden something in the tactical cabinet over the course of a match.

In the next step, let's see how you can create a chaos plan.

How can you create your chaos plan?

We're playing a little Lego now too. To do this, we grab the match plan from Djoker and use it to create a chaos plan. We fit a few building blocks together. Anyway, I'm sure Nole has this chaos plan in mind by nature. The great champions stand out from the other strong players because of their emotional control. They can react more hard-nosed to the dramaturgy of a match. Even if they end up eating a little grass from the Wimbledon lawn. However, they do not do this during the match.

We come to the Djoker chaos plan against Rafa. I wrote the "chaos" in brackets:

* Play quickly into Rafa's forehand (Chaos: Too many mistakes, then play with more spin and go more length!)
* Take Rafa's high spin balls early, often on the backhand
* use the backhand mainly longline, standing in the field or on the baseline (chaos: hardly any timing, many mistakes, then throw in a slice in the middle)
* Like to play in the middle to steal Rafa's angles

The match plan should not be turned completely upside down. If we stay with our navigation example, then we can say: We are building a few extra routes into our navigation system, which is supposed to take us to the Rafa Academy. If unexpectedly a construction site blocks the way. A match always consists of unpredictable turns. There will always be times when you play incredibly strong and ten minutes later you don't know how to hold the racquet. A flexible match plan, a chaos plan, takes these previously unforeseeable phases into account.

You can turn your match plan into a chaos plan if you expand one or two points with questions. How do you want to react mentally and tactically if point A of your match plan doesn't work? With this simple extension you build the natural chaos of a match into your match plan.

Carlos Alcaraz's chaos plan

Our current number 1 in the world, Carlos "Carlitos" Alcaraz, has the narrowest match schedule of all players. He is the prime example of keeping your own game as simple as possible. His match plan consists of merciless attack. He wants to play so aggressively that he moves almost every short ball from the opponent to the net. Carlos could also dig everything three meters behind the baseline. He could only crank everything into the opponent's backhand with half-up spin. He could do so many things, but play it as simply as possible.

But the Spaniard also has a chaos plan.

On days, and every tennis player experiences them, some forehands just fly two centimeters wide. We can swear and ask the tennis god for an explanation - it doesn't change anything. Despite his young age, Alacaraz has already managed to be so emotionally mature on the pitch that he quickly recognizes these days. Instead of trying to play those hard forehands on the line like a little boy, he now plays more calmly. In his chaos plan it is noted to play with a little more height and spin, to throw in stops if the power tennis is not 100%.


We keep the conclusion short at this point, like the stops from Alcaraz.

We learned that a match plan is important, but a chaos plan can be critical to success. In addition, we learned that a chaos plan is a flexible match plan that is expanded with questions.

The most important information: A tennis match can never be completely planned. But you can think about how you want to behave if things are going against you.

Have fun creating your chaos plan.

You can find more from the tennis insider here!

by Marco Kühn

Oct 20, 2022, 09:51 am
last edit: Oct 19, 2022, 05:57 pm