There are two options, in a conventional sense, when one is in the middle of a match and confronted with an inability to play one’s best tennis. One school of thought is to simply keep hitting regardless of where the ball is going and hope that it eventually starts going in. This is a long-term approach although most of its advocates desire short-term results. The other school of thought suggests making some kind of change so one does not simply beat oneself. The change can be a reduction in pace or a change in tactics. This is considered a short-term response and the argument goes that this can win you the battle, but hinder your opportunity to win the war.
For me, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. The first scenario of continuing to hit out has merit because you need to do that if you are going to reach your potential. I have told players before, visualize how you want to hit the ball a year or two from now and start hitting that way now. However, it is only wise to keep hitting out if you can be completely unaffected by the errors that enter your game. You need to be missing for the right reasons. If you are missing because you are hitting difficult shots that need time to develop that is one thing, but if you are missing because your mind is agitated and noisy that is another. In the first scenario, your body will be learning the physical skills necessary to hit the ball you want. However, in the second scenario, there is little benefit and the body will struggle to learn the necessary skills in such conditions. My experience is that very few players are unaffected by errors, consequently I think it is better to follow the following progression: consistency, direction, depth and power.
For example, let us take the example of a forehand. Let us assume your forehand is breaking down during a match. Follow the progression, do not slow your swing or try and change it in any significant way, but simply play percentage tennis. In other words, hit down the center or cross-court a lot more with a little more net clearance. Do that for a while and as you become more comfortable with yourself and more centered then start working the ball all around the court and go for down the line shots whenever the situation presents itself. Ultimately, the goal is to play ‘instinctive tennis’!
This same procedure can be applied to each and every aspect of the game including, serving, returns, volleys, overheads, etc.
The foundation of one’s game must be consistency. Beyond that, the better players will take every opportunity to attack and close out points or ‘pressure’ the opponent into errors.
My experience is that too many players, look to attack before that consistent base is firmly in place. Even at the highest levels of this game, players need to return to consistency from time to time in their practices because it is easy to move away from the unspectacular and be drawn to the flashy winners. In addition, the more consistent one’s foundation is, the more successful one will be when going for the big shots.
Consistency does not mean pushing the ball or being tentative in any way, but boldly driving the ball cross-court with spin, pace and depth. From this foundation, attacking, ‘first strike’ tennis can arise spontaneously and effortlessly and most importantly, without frustration and without beating oneself, which is at the root of ‘bad’ losses.