Nick Nemeroff

Watching Lukas Lacko take on Roger Federer in the Wimbledon second round on Wednesday, I was struck by what seemed to be Lacko’s unwillingness to adjust his tactics.

Seven games into the opening set, it was clear that Federer was entering a zone. Though Lacko kept the opening two sets somewhat tight, Federer rolled through this match with little resistance.

Lacko made no adjustments during the match, allowing Federer to dominate baseline rallies. Lacko failed to make any serious effort to disrupt Federer’s rhythm, nor did he attempt to show Federer different looks throughout the match.

One of my tennis coaches, when I was growing up, once told me that in order to trouble your opponents in the best possible way, it’s crucial to not focus on the shots YOU want to hit, but rather the shots THEY do not want to hit.

Throughout the rest of Wimbledon — as is the case during any tournament — it will be crucial for underdogs to keep this in mind when taking the court.

Below are several ways an underdog can trouble the opposition:

Technical Weaknesses

If you’re playing John Isner, it’s quite obvious that keeping him low works to your favor. At 6-10, Isner does not prefer to play super low balls. He has trouble getting down to the ball and cannot produce much once he does.

What if you do not prefer to hit underspin backhands?

The theory here would say you need to face your fear and attempt to exploit your opponent’s weakness. If you’re the underdog in a match, it’s usually unlikely that your strengths can rival the strengths of your opposition. But if you can instead go after your opponent’s weaknesses, even if it means using a shot you’re not as comfortable with, you should go ahead and do it.

Tactical Variety

Lacko is clearly a baseliner. Even though he was getting dominated from the baseline, Lacko went to the net just 10 times in Wednesday’s match.

Lacko, who may not be comfortable moving forward on a regular basis, has to at least try doing so. There’s no chance of him winning from the baseline, so what harm will it do for Lacko to attempt to get forward?

Federer is going to be in his comfort zone in baseline rallies; the only way to take him out of that comfort zone is to become hyper-aggressive from the baseline or to avoid the baseline and get to the net.

Exploiting the Surface

An excellent way for an underdog to win on grass is to serve and volley, This is the easiest and most effective surface to serve and volley on, since the ball stays low and reduces the returner’s reaction time.

A player may tell himself, “I’m not accustomed to serving and volleying.” What he also has to consider is that his opponent is not accustomed to facing someone who is serving and volleying on a regular basis.

Again, capitalizing on your opponent’s weaknesses can prove to be far more important for an underdog than capitalizing on personal strengths.

Source: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America

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