Counter punching tennis is a style of play that, as its name would suggest, is mostly defense-oriented. Simply put, the counter puncher sets the goal of returning each and every shot that is played to him, otherwise known as percentage play. Thus, instead of power, the counter puncher relies heavily on the consistency of his shot, which, in turn, requires great patience for counter punching to be used effectively.
Furthermore, the counter puncher, because he aims to return each and every shot played to him, needs to be fast. Speed will allow him to reach any ball that is returned to him, whether it be a powerful groundstroke or a deceptive drop shot. This consistent and grueling type of play is designed to frustrate the opponent, causing him to go for more and more on each shot, until a costly error is made, resulting in a point for the counter puncher.
The consistency needed for a counter puncher to attain success requires mastery of two particularly defensive types of shots: deep groundstrokes that are not necessarily strong (because consistency, not aggressiveness is the goal) and deep lobs, which are necessary to return powerful strokes that the opponent is likely to attempt to end points.
Why is Counter Punching Tennis Still Surviving to This Day?
Power is the name of the game in today's tennis. The harder that a player can hit, the more success he is likely to attain. And these days, with new racquet and nutrient technology developing better equipment and more powerful players, the strength with which groundstrokes are hit can be shocking.
Reality has it, however, that not all players are gifted with the genetic gifts, including muscle size and height, to hit as powerfully as needed to be a successful power hitter. When this is the case, such a weaker player attempting to beat the aggressive baseliner at his own game of power hitting predictably ends in failure. Attempting to match power with power when the opponent is obviously much stronger is obviously a losing strategy. It is for such weaker players that counterpunching is the most viable playing style.
Tennis Players Using Counter Punching Tennis
Perhaps the best way to talk about and understand the counter punching style of play is looking at the players who have attained success by employing counter punching as their main means of survival.
In the 80's and the early 90's, many of the top female players were counter punchers. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, for instance, was a notorious counter puncher who could hit a wicked mix of lobs and underspins for as long as it took until her opponents made errors. She employed very little power when compared to some of her contemporaries like Lindsay Davenport and Mary Pierce, and yet, she could be considered to have had a more successful career than these power hitters. Arantxa won four Grand Slam singles titles in total, three of them at the French Open and one at the US Open.
Today, however, in the age of monster female power hitters like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, it is practically impossible for counter punchers to reach the very top of the women's game. At present, the highest ranked counter punchers are Agnieszka Radwanska (#3), Sara Errani (#6) and former Nr.1 player Caroline Wozniacki (#9), pretty impressive rankings, but neither have won a Grand Slam tournament.
The same can be said of the men's game. It has been quite a long time since a male counter puncher has been #1, Thomas Muster reaching the top in 1996. Today, David Ferrer, currently #4, is the highest ranked counter puncher, and the only one in the top 10. However, same as the counter punchers on the women's side, he has yet to win a Grand Slam title.
It can thus be observed that while it is possible to make a career out of the counter punching tennis style, it is highly unlikely that doing so will make a player among the best in the game. However, if a player simply doesn't have the talent of hitting as hard as the other players can, being a counter punching specialist is the best option available.
How to Beat a Counter Punching Tennis Player
Obviously, tremendous power will get the better of the counter puncher, but this is difficult to do since the counter puncher is usually maddeningly consistent. He will unbelievably be able to retrieve shots that would seem like sure winners against other players, and this could result in frustration for opponents, in turn, causing several unforced errors.
The key, however, is still to remain aggressive, but to temper such aggressiveness with patience. To beat a counter puncher, a player must wait for the right opportunity to hit a powerful groundstroke or to attack the net. This way, an attacking style of play will not result in as many unforced errors as the counter puncher would like an opponent to commit.
Also, moving the counter puncher forward and backward, instead of left to right, is a good idea. The counter puncher is used to moving side to side to retrieve balls, but hitting short isn't as risky with counter punchers because they usually don't have as much power to hit an outright winner against a short return.