5 Types of Tennis Players (Explained) 

Tennis is a sport for everyone regardless of age or size. People of every demographic play tennis around the world, so it’s not surprising that many playing styles exist. 

Different styles of play make the game more intriguing for spectators. Contests featuring different styles can be thrilling, but all players have the same objective: to win the match. 

As an aspiring player, you need to establish a playing style too. The list below covers the 5 types of tennis players that you are most likely to see in the singles game. 

1. Serve & Volleyer 

This playing style is not as common today as it used to be. The strategy of serving and volleying involves serving fast (and accurately) and then moving towards the net to attempt and hit a volley off the opponent’s return.

If a “serve and volleyer” fails to ace their opponent, they will try to hit a clean winner with their subsequent volley. 

Naturally, players with this style aim to finish points quickly and win their service games as soon as possible. If they are successful, they will put pressure on the other player’s serve by minimizing their opponent’s chances to break. 

Serve and volleying is most effective on fast surfaces such as grass or certain hard courts. Slower clay courts give the receiver more time to return offensive serves or volleys. 

Pros 

  • Efficiency: Players who serve and volley successfully can finish their games sooner and preserve energy for later in the match. 
  • Psychology: Defending against a serve and volleyer can be frustrating because you feel like your chances to break serve are rare. 
  • Delicate touch: When serving and volleying, you must be comfortable at the net. Having a good volley gives you more scoring options during rallies. 
  • Aggression: Serve and volley players dictate points and play tennis on their own terms rather than relying on mistakes. Hence, this is a reliable and popular strategy when perfected. 

Cons 

  • Reliance on serve: As per the name, a big part of this strategy is serving ― something that disappears when a player receives. Consequently, a serve and volley player is less reliable from the baseline. 
  • Not effective on all services: As we mentioned before, this style does not work well on slower surfaces. Therefore, serve and volley players have limited success on clay.
  • Less reliable nowadays: Some commentators note that slower courts and more advanced rackets make this strategy less viable in the modern game. 

Famous Serve & Volleyers 

  • Pete Sampras 
  • John McEnroe 
  • Stefan Edberg 

2. Offensive (Aggressive) Baseliner 

Offensive baseliners are common in modern tennis plus very consistent. Their game revolves around dictating opponents from the baseline with deep and accurate shots. By moving their opponents side-to-side, an offensive baseliner creates openings for winners. 

Aggressive baseliners must have excellent forehands and backhands to regularly hit winners from or behind the baseline. With such deep shots, players using this strategy can push their opponents back and then hit short drop shots to win points. 

Offensive baseliners can have success on all surfaces, though slower clay courts somewhat limit the effectiveness of their aggressive play. 

Pros 

  • Reliability: Once an aggressive baseliner gets into a rally, their strong forehand and backhand will always give them a fighting chance. 
  • Depth and width: An offensive baseliner’s powerful strokes can tire other players out by moving them all around the court, both laterally and by drawing them to the net. 
  • Holds and breaks of serve: A player with this style can defend their serve with consistent groundstrokes while forcing their opponents to work hard and avoid being broken. 

Cons 

  • High error rate: Aggressive baseliners often try to hit down the line winners or drop-shots. These are error-prone shots. 
  • Fatigue: Hitting hard from the baseline over many hours is grueling. This can take its toll on a player during a match and throughout a tournament. 
  • Less comfortable at the net: Because the baseline is their preferred location to operate from, they may be weaker at the net. If they have to volley, they usually try to end the point quickly. 

Famous Offensive Baseliners 

  • Serena Williams 
  • Maria Sharapova
  • Novak Djokovic 
  • Rafael Nadal 

3. Defensive Baseliner (Counterpuncher) 

Unlike an offensive baseliner who mostly takes the initiative and is proactive in rallies, defensive baseliners are reactive players. They aim to retrieve as many balls as possible to frustrate and tire their opponents in the hope of drawing an error. 

Counterpunchers tend to be fast players with good footwork, especially side-to-side. They can hit accurate shots with heavy topspin to put their opponents on the back foot, making it hard for them to hit winners. 

A defensive baseliner is normally good at scoring by hitting passing shots or lobs in response to the other player’s offense. Overall, they neutralize attacking players by regularly forcing long rallies.

Unsurprisingly, good counterpunchers are good clay-court players ― the slower surface makes hitting winners even harder. However, this strategy can work on all court types. 

Pros 

  • Consistent: Of all tennis styles, a counterpuncher is probably least likely to hit unforced errors, which is very important for long-term success. 
  • Neutralizing: This style can be effective against players who are strong on serve. Counterpunchers can survive and triumph in rallies that other players would lose.
  • Fitness: Defensive baseliners are some of the fittest players around, which means they will be stronger later in a tournament. 

Cons 

  • Reliant on opponents: As opposed to an aggressive baseliner or a serve and volleyer, this strategy revolves around the opponent making errors. When opponents make few errors, a defensive baseliner is less successful. 
  • Inefficiency: Counterpunchers often need long rallies to win points rather than saving energy by keeping them short. 
  • Less entertaining: Defensive baseliners hit fewer winners than players with other styles. Tennis fans can find this boring. 

Famous Defensive Baseliners 

  • Andy Murray 
  • Daniil Medvedev
  • David Ferrer 
  • Caroline Wozniacki

4. All-Rounder 

An all-rounder or all-court player is comfortable in all locations of the court and has no obvious weaknesses in their game. You can think of their strategy as a mixture of the three styles listed above. 

The best all-rounders have good footwork, speed, the ability to hit winners, plus a fine touch at the net. Hence, it is difficult to have a game plan for these players.

Conversely, a skilled all-court player has many options in their arsenal if a match isn’t going to plan. If they are losing the match from the baseline, they can adopt serve and volley tactics instead (without dropping their level). 

Thanks to their versatility, all-court players feel at home on all court surfaces. 

Pros 

  • No visible weakness: Beating a solid all-rounder is challenging due to their game having no obvious holes. 
  • Multiple ways of winning: Depending on who they are playing, an all-court player can rely on different aspects of their game to maximize their chances of victory.
  • Everyone appreciates this style: A good all-rounder offers something to every tennis fan with their varied style of play. 

Cons 

  • No big weapons: With a diverse style of play, you may be good at everything but great at nothing. Therefore, well-rounded players sometimes lack outstanding shots. 
  • It takes time to perfect: Mastering the other playing styles is tricky. Mastering a style that combines all three is even more challenging. It takes a while to reach a high level with this strategy, so you won’t see many juniors using it. 

Famous All-Rounders 

  • Roger Federer 
  • Boris Becker 
  • Martina Hingis 

5. Trick Player 

This, in itself, is not a complete style, rather it is a mode of play that athletes sometimes adopt during matches. Trick players incorporate trick shots into their game.

These can include behind-the-back shots, no-look shots, tweeners, underarm serves, jump smashes, reverse smashes, and other unconventional shots that are not typically taught. 

Playing these shots can be a very clever tactic because they can disrupt an opponent’s rhythm. Trick shots are also very entertaining for crowds. When a player uses them, they can win lots of

support from the stands, which makes a difference in a close match. Masters of trick shots are some of the most popular and entertaining competitors on tour. 

Trick players primarily play with another style (e.g. baseline or serve and volley) but can use these tactics when their regular strategy is not working. 

Pros 

  • Unpredictable: Everyone expects a baseline rally with fast serving and perhaps some volleying. Behind-the-back shots or underarm serves are unexpected and can catch other players off guard. 
  • Entertaining: Trick shots are extraordinary when executed well. They are a refreshing change from standard strokes that everyone loves to see. 

Cons 

  • Inconsistent: Though entertaining, trick shots are very difficult to pull off. This means you cannot rely on them regularly for easy points. 
  • Variety: With trick shots, you have to vary them a lot, otherwise your opponent will start to read them. 

Famous Trick Players 

  • Gael Monfils 
  • Dustin Brown 
  • Mansour Bahrami

Fred Simonsson

I'm Fred, the guy behind TennisPredict. Apart from writing here, I play tennis on a semi-professional level and coach upcoming talents.

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