Winning key points consistently is what separates the top players from the rest. In key points one needs to play the odds. The following ideas will improve your chances in these determinant situations.
Do not start the point unless you are physically and mentally ready.
Being ready physically, mentally and emotionally before you start the point should be a goal for every point but it is especially important on key points. Give the point the importance it deserves, and give yourself the best chance of winning it by being totally ready. Take your time, make sure you are absolutely prepared and go for it!
Eliminate any mistakes due to tension or not watching the ball.
Failure to track the ball into the racquet and/or tension, are the most common causes of mistakes during key points. Make sure you are always aware of these potential pitfalls. Keep reminding yourself to watch the ball all the way to contact and to swing smoothly throughout the match, but especially on key points.
Play your best shot as much as possible.
On key points, play the odds. Give yourself a better chance of winning the point by using your best shots. Do not let your ego get in the way. If you have a much stronger side, run around your weakness as much as possible and play your strength every chance you have. There are no extra points for hitting all shots, nor is there a penalty for always hitting the same shot. Be smart! Even if that spectacular looking “tweener” (between the legs shot) seems tempting, go for a high defensive lob on key points.
Play your best pattern.
Be clear how you want to play key points and play them in such as way as to increase your chances of winning. What type of point will give you a better chance? Do you prefer to be at the net or at the baseline? Would you rather pass or volley? Are you better off playing aggressively or consistently? Make sure you are very clear about this and execute accordingly. Understand what works for you and how you win most points. Use those strategies as much as the opponent allows you to do so.
Know exactly how you prefer to start the point and stick to it. Do not second-guess yourself.
When serving on key points: Are you better off going for an ace or making sure you get the first serve in? Will you serve to a weakness or to your favorite spot? Are you better off serving and volleying or staying back? And so on.
When returning on key points: Would you rather hit a forehand or a backhand off a second serve? Would you rather attack or play consistently? Make sure you know exactly what your best options are. Do not second-guess yourself.
Play against the opponent’s weakness.
Key points are not the time to try to surprise your opponent by playing to his strength. The only one surprised will be yourself when you see the ball go by. Attack the weakness!
Cover or counter the opponent’s favorite patterns.
This is where your ability to study your opponent during the match can pay off big-time. Key points are the ideal time to take advantage of everything that you have learned about your opponent during the match. Most players show specific tendencies, and they will seldom change them under pressure. For example:
Know what your opponent’s favorite serve is. If you have been aced three times wide, stand closer to the sideline. It is amazing to see how many players keep standing on the same spot after being aced constantly to the same side. Let the opponent know that you have identified what his favorite serve is, and that you are ready. Force him to think about it.
Use that “surprise” shot on key points. Change your pattern. For example: Suppose you have been attacking the opponent’s second serve with your inside out forehand the whole match. The time to go inside in is when “the money is on the table” at break point, not at 15 all. Another example would be to use a lob against an opponent who has been crowding the net or a down the line passing shot after a series of crosscourt passing shots.
In general do not let the opponent feel comfortable on key points. Be ready to cover his favorite shot and make him try to beat you with his weakest shot.