To play like tennis champions Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova the average gamer would have to practice day and night. Thankfully with Top Spin 3, 2K's latest installment of the highly rated tennis franchise, gamers can take the court as their favorite stars without the demanding schedule and early morning practice routines. But, as you'll soon discover within seconds of playing your first set, even living the fantasy of controlling some of tennis' best comes with a price.
Top Spin 3 will be both acclaimed and ridiculed for its realistic gameplay and for those willing to take the time to master the game, practice will be a mandatory task. The following will go over the more basic lessons to help you play like a champion and avoid embarrassment online and against friends. What I plan to cover will not be found in "tennis school" or the game manual. This is about strategy and pushing you to the peak of your game.
Though this may not be the first lesson pro tennis players were taught en route to star-status careers, it will be the first thing gamers will have to perfect if they hope to gain an advantage over their opponent.
As the manual or tutorial mode will teach you, serving can be performed with either the right-analog stick or the face buttons. Each of the three usable face buttons serves its own purpose and have noticeable differences when compared to the right-analog stick.
The main difference is risk versus reward. You can usually pull off faster serves with the right-analog stick, but you might mistime the swing and bounce a ball off your head. Wit the face buttons you'll always hit the ball, but maybe with less velocity. As a point of reference, Andy Roddick has one of the strongest serves in the game, and will touch the 140 mark with near ease when using the right-analog stick.
The simple mindset is that velocity will win you aces and games. This is true for the most part but we need to consider the opponent and his or her ability to adjust to your serving style. In time, a 140 mph serve will slow down as a player learns to time his or her return to effectively nullify your opening strategy. Instead, servers should plan on their shots being returned, rather than assuming there will be an ace. From there you should be thinking of the typical return on a serve and your attack. Thinking two, three steps ahead can help you prevent opponents from breaking point. Considering an alternate strategy in case an opponent chooses a different return can also better prepare you, helping you to avoid losing the advantage in a game.
One thing to consider is mixing the use of the stick and face buttons. The changes in speed will keep your opponent guessing and will more than likely result in a greater amount of aces. An opponent whose timing is off is an opponent that leaves himself open for a mistake that you can take advantage of.
Changing velocity is only one factor in gaining an advantage on serves. You have an entire quadrant of space to serve into. Use the entire space and keep your opponent moving. If the opponent has no idea where you'll go next then it might become easier to fire a hard serve right at them before they can react in time.
Another thing to keep in mind is double faults. You get two tries to land a serve within the rules of the game. Don't be afraid to take a difficult and risky serve on your first attempt. Reach for the lines, try to squeeze a slice shot so that it moves away from your opponent. The worst that can happen is you affect the percentage of landing your first serve. A low percentage means very little and if you fail to blow your first serve by your opponent because you faulted, then just use a face button on the second attempt and do not try anything too fancy.
So now that you know this you may be wondering how to break point. There is no simple answer, but perfecting your timing and being a good guesser will help keep you in the game.
The most important factor is placement. After your opponent lands a good serve you not only want to react in time but you also want to return the ball to a neutral part of the court. So basically borrow from the offensive strategy of winning a game on your serve, since a good opponent is planning ahead and looking to take advantage of any openings they can get. The reason breaking a point is so difficult is because on a serve your only reaction is to simply return the ball. The server has an advantage as he is putting you on the defensive. You need to neutralize this advantage immediately.
Always, if time allows, return a serve to a spot your opponent is not and then quickly find the best path to the deep center of the court. If you have placed your return correctly then you should find your opponent on the move which will immediately put him on the defensive.
At this point do not be afraid to rally for a short bit as you plan an attack. A rally is probably tennis' way of saying no one is at the advantage. But act quickly, or at least before your opponent, because a lack of advantage will not last long and a game can and will change with a single shot.
Baseline to baseline
The standard attack in tennis games is to have your opponent run from side to side until you find an opening to punch a shot through for a point.
What you'll find is that balls off the racket have been slowed down considerably to model more true-to-life speeds. This obviously means a new learning curve and adjustment period.
The primary thing to keep in mind is that Top Spin, like real tennis, is very psychological and places a bigger importance on timing and balance than on skill and ability. I'm not saying the latter are not important but they will mostly make life easier, while the former is absolutely necessary if you want even an inkling of a chance at winning.
Keeping this in mind, you should always attack your opponent by trying to keep him or her off balance, and negatively alter his or her balance.
When playing it is not unusual to find yourself in long rallies. It becomes routine to hit the ball side to side and you end up finding yourself in a conundrum of sorts. Instead of falling into this habit, keep your opponent off balance by occasionally striking a shot into the same position as your previous shot. What you may discover early on is that your opponent, so designed psychologically to move left to right and back in succession, will run away from the ball believing that you would force them to cover the open court.
Obviously such a strategy will only work for so long and this is why it's very important to mix your returns to keep your opponent guessing.
Shot strength and shot type can also help keep your opponent off balance. Many players get into the habit of trying to hit shots at full strength or returning shots of the same type. That only allows your opponent to judge the speed and placement of your shots within a given game or set. A simple strategy when facing a player that has grown comfortable with your shots is to alter your shot selection routinely.
One such scenario is an opponent that has committed to playing deep because your game calls for such a defense. It wouldn't hurt to alter your opponent's timing by simply dropping a shot in front of the net or slowing down your return. When using this approach I have found that antsy players will release their swing too early or give up good position to rush a shot near the net.
The rest is up to you. You could lob a shot over their head in such a case or return the shot right back at them before they could react.
An important lesson in tennis is that hitting a shot right back at an opponent poses a larger threat and more difficulty for a return than pushing them to their left and right. While moving a player left to right is important in gaining a competitive edge, a poorly placed shot will also open up the opportunity of a stronger return. Shots placed in front of an opponent will likely garner weaker returns as a player is not able to fully extend. And if a player finds the time to readjust their bodies so they can extend on a return shot, they almost always give up position to do so and that should give you an advantage when returning their shot.
Of course, all offenses have a defense and in this case your defense is a solution that stays true to the central philosophy of the sport. I have already mentioned that keeping an opponent off balance or altering their timing will leave them in poor position, so it goes without saying that you want to do your very best at holding position when defending against a player.
The ideal position on the court is the middle, unless by chance you've studied an opponent and can safely assume where he or she will attack next. Holding a central position on the court allows you to evenly distribute your weight toward both sides of the court. Even better positioning would have you allowing yourself enough time to adjust so that you can return a shot with your stronger hand, whether it be the fore or back.
If you are controlling a less speedy player then it might do you well to lean slightly toward your weak side to compensate for any lack of time for adjustment. You also might want to avoid getting into long side-to-side rallies if your player is not quick enough to recover from shots deep on the baseline. Playing to your strengths will make pulling off your strategy easier.
No matter how you use the information provided in this article I think the most important thing anyone should get out of this is to practice. Practice at the "school." Practice with your friends. Practice in career mode. Just keep practicing and in time you'll pick up on the gameplay and adapt to its system. Then, when you've got the basics down you can worry about mastering those risk shots.
This article was written by Carlos Hernandez for Operation Sports. Operation Sports is the Internet's leading sports video games resource.