The all-court playing style is truly the ideal style of tennis to play. It involves a general mastery of the three other tennis playing styles: serve and volley, aggressive baselining, and counterpunching. With such a set of skills, the all-court player is very difficult to beat since he can hit all sorts of shots from anywhere on the court, and as a result, can keep the opponent guessing on what shot is going to be played to him next.
Furthermore, the all-court player is able to take advantage of an opponent's weaknesses. If he is up against a counterpuncher, he can attack the net aggressively. If his opponent is a serve and volleyer, he stays at the baseline and hits consistent groundstrokes or timely lobs. Against the baseliner, he varies his shots and forces the opponent to play defensively. In other words, the all-court player can do it all.
Thus, in theory, the all-court player cannot be beaten, except by a better all-court player. However, the reality is that there are no perfect all-court players. Every player, including the all-court player, will have a particular strength and weakness. But the all-court player is so named because he has at least a sufficient grasp of the three playing styles, enabling him to intelligently adjust his playing style to counteract an opponent's best weapons and highlight the adversary's weaknesses.
Why aren't there very many all-court players today?
Because the all-court style of playing tennis is so effective, it is reasonable to expect that all tennis players would choose it to be their playing style. However, the unfortunate reality is that not everyone has the talent that it takes to be an all-court player. Some players, for whatever reason, can't volley very well. Others can't develop the power shot that it takes to be consistently aggressive at the baseline. Then there are those who lack the speed to be an effective counterpuncher.
These weaknesses force players to resort to mastering whatever it is they do best and becoming one of the three other kinds of players even when the all-court style of play is theoretically the ideal. Taking this into consideration, why is it then that the top tennis players are not exclusively all-court players? How can a counterpuncher like David Ferrer consistently be among the top players in the world while other all-court players cannot be counted among the tennis elite?
The answer lies in the fact that some non-all-court players have mastered their strengths to the point of being so good at their playing style that they can overcome the all-court player's sufficiency in the three other playing styles. For instance, counterpuncher Rafael Nadal has twice as many wins as losses against all-courter Roger Federer because Nadal retrieves the ball so well that he is able to neutralize the general mastery with which Federer plays.
Tennis Players Using This Strategy
As mentioned, Roger Federer is among the best examples of an all-court player. He hits magnificent groundstrokes, moves and retrieves balls with ease, and can serve and volley with the best of them. Arguably the best player to have ever played the sport of tennis, Federer currently holds the record for the most number of weeks spent as the #1 player in the world, among a multitude of other records that will possibly never be overcome by any other currently active tennis player.
On the women's side, surprise 2011 Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova is also an all-court player. She won the grand slam title through her consistently powerful serve and her sound fundamentals in the other aspects of her game -- characteristic of the classic all-court player. Unfortunately, she has not performed as well since accomplishing her amazing feat.
How to Beat the All-Court Player
As already mentioned, beating the all-court player involves mastering one's style of play to the point that through it, he can overcome the all-court player's general mastery. If a player is a serve and volleyer, for instance, he should be able to serve and volley so consistently and aggressively that the all-court player cannot string together enough points to win.
Furthermore, despite the all-court player's all-around skillfulness, one of his skills will still be considered the weakest and can be taken advantage of. It is thus important that when going up against an all-court player, one is aware of what the opponent's weakness is and expose this weakness to the greatest extent possible.