I finished my league match early last week then wandered over to another court to scout my next opponent. Instead of just watching the match, I charted it. I learned enough to develop a good game plan to use against this opponent when I play him next week. I also learned how bad some players are at keeping score but that’s another matter.

There are a few ways to chart a tennis match. For about $130 you can buy software for your Palm or other handheld PDA and mark the placement of each shot. At the end of the match, the software will spit out a mountain of statistics such as forehand return winners, winning percentage when serving wide, and one statistic that probably doesn’t get much above zero: backhand overhead winners.

Or you can fill out a sheet that ticks off various categories of shots such as this chart on Ron Waite’s Turbo Tennis page. At the end of the match, you just add up the number of tics and churn out some statistics.

But I like to look at a match point by point. I want to know how long the points are, I want to know how a player responds to pressure situations, I want to write notes if I see something I can use, and besides, I’m cheap. I have developed a chart that has a line for each point played. I use simple abbreviations such as UE for unforced error, BH for backhand, V for volley, and other obvious shorthand notations.

I recorded the last five games of my next opponent’s match. Here’s what the chart looks like:

Let’s look at the first game.

On the first line you can see that the server, Bugs (identities have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals :0), gets his first serve (F) in and hits it to the T in the service box. There are 5 strokes in the point and Bugs wins it by hitting a backhand (BH) winner (WI) to the ad court (AC). Watch these backhand winners, they’re going to pile up.

He loses the second point by hitting an unforced backhand error (UE BH) into the net (N).

He wins the third point because his opponent hits a forehand (FH) into the net.

He wins the fourt point by hitting a backhand dropshot (DS) winner off an approach (AP) shot.

Bugs wins the game bringing the score to 2-2 because his opponent hits a backhand error wide (W) to the ad court.

In the next game, Road Runner gets only 3 out of 4 of his first serves in and double faults (DF) while Bugs hits two winners and forces an error (FE) by hitting a forehand to the deuce court.

Bugs gets a break point (BP) with a backhand winner to the deuce court then gets the break (BR) by hitting a forehand winner wide to the ad court. Road Runner’s game score is now 2-3.

Make a deal with a teammate or bribe someone to get them to chart one of your matches. Surely someone owes you something.

Bugs drives everyone crazy because he can hardly move, he has a limp, and he’s older than I am. But he’s undefeated in our tier this year and nobody can figure out how to beat him. Everyone I ask suggests moving him around the court, side to side and back and forth. But if you look at this chart, you see that he not only covers the court well but he hits winners when pulled wide and also hits winners when pulled into the net. Not only that but six of his eight winners are backhand shots. He has a nasty inside out backhand slice that spins away from you.

Looking at all this information and my notes tells me three things:
1. Attack his serve. His first serve percentage is high but he has a straightforward and predictable serve. Once he gets moving he moves well but if I can hit sharply crosscourt or down the line off the return, I have a better chance of getting it past him. That’s how it is when you get older, you start slower but once you get going you’re o.k.
2. Keep the ball away from his backhand. Hit everything to the middle and let him make errors. Be prepared to be patient and get every ball back while waiting for an error.
3. If he’s drawn to the net, he likes to dropshot so move in when he gets a short ball.

Charting a match is just as useful for your own game. Maybe even more so. Make a deal with a teammate or bribe someone to get them to chart one of your matches. Surely someone owes you something. If I’d seen a chart of my own matches, I would have known how many points I was losing by coming to the net so often and I would have changed my game much sooner.

You can download blank tennis charts here as a PDF file. Try it and tell me how it goes. I’ll tell you how I manage against Bugs.

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