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When we look back through the history of our game, many rivalries that come to mind have one thing in common: variety.

The contrast in game styles from rivalries such as Borg-McEnroe, Evert-Navratilova, Sampras-Agassi all provided a variety in game styles, tactics, and personalities. The differing styles of the serve and volleyer up against the baseliner would create absorbing contests.

If we look at the modern game, Australia’s own world number one: Ash Barty was the epitome of variety. With the technical ability to hit all strokes, Ash had the tactical nous to be able to reach into the tool kit and inevitably would choose the right shot for the situation.

She used the slice backhand to great effect and could change the height and pace of the ball to disrupt her opponent’s rhythm, bring them forward with angles and drop shots whilst also being able to move forward and finish points at the net herself.

In the men’s game, current world number 1: Carlos Alcarez has used variety to rise through the rankings at such a rapid rate that he has just finished the season as the youngest ever year end number 1 in the men’s game.

He is unbelievably solid from the back of the court with a forehand that can dictate the point, has incredible touch, and feel which allows him to execute the drop shot which is one of his favourite shots and he also possesses the ability to finish the point at the net with solid volleys.

There are countless other examples of the players with variety also being the most entertaining to watch.

We always hear about the French flair when discussing players from that country, Ons Jabeur is a favourite on the WTA tour due to the variety in her game while Nick Kyrgios is a perennial fan favourite due to his variety, entertaining the masses with his shot making and waiting with anticipation of what might happen next.

Whilst these players are clearly extremely talented and very good at what they do, the question is “how did they learn to play this way”? Are these skills that have been taught to them from an early age? Have they witnessed other players using these shots? Or have they evolved through learning and experiences both good and bad and adapted the elements that suited them to their own game?

If you go to many junior tournaments, you will look across the row of courts and see almost identical matches on all courts. Boys and girls who hit the ball extremely hard, are excellent hitters but who have a real sameness to their game are often beaten towards the pointy end of the tournament by the player who has the variety in their game.

They can change heights, hit different spin, volley, drop shot, lob or whatever is required to break down their opponent.

I believe that as coaches we should be teaching all elements of the game to our students for them to be able produce the right shot at the right time and can change tactics as required and have plan a, b and c during matches.

When constructing lesson plans how much time do we spend on variations such as drop shots, lobs, change of pace, slices in comparison to hitting groundstrokes, rallying, and serving.

By adding variety to coaching sessions it will help give our students the skills to execute the different shots under the pressure of match play and give them confidence that they can call on the different skills at their disposal to problem solve when they are out there on their own. It also creates fun, interesting and dynamic training sessions for both the student and the coach because as they say: variety is the spice of life!


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