Movement skills and anticipation are inseparable, and they are both critical components to maximizing your tactical abilities. Anticipation is essential during match play because of the great demand on player movement and the minimal time available for adjustment. If you anticipate well, you will get to the ball quicker, neutralize and defend better, and be able to more effectively execute your patterns of play. This will give you far more tactical options and will enable you to apply more tactical pressure on your opponent. Good anticipation skills are one of the primary reasons why the pros make the game look so easy and why they rarely seem surprised by what happens on the court. Anticipation will help you move more effectively and efficiently; you will hit the ball cleaner, be more consistent, and have fewer injuries.
Anticipation is one of the most misunderstood terms in the game of tennis. Two common misperceptions prevail. The first misperception is that anticipation can be applied only when a player knows exactly where an opponent is going to hit the ball and exactly what type of shot it will be. The second is that the only way to develop anticipation skills is through years of experience. Though both ideas are true to a certain extent, they represent a very small part of a much larger equation.
Anticipation can be broken down into two parts: total anticipation and partial anticipation. Total anticipation is when you know exactly what type of shot is coming and where it is going. How many times do you think that happens? Not very often. Partial anticipation is by far more common. It is the process of figuring out what your opponent cannot or will not do in each situation. A good player does this on virtually every point. Why is anticipation so important? Because if you can mentally eliminate several options that your opponent has on a given shot, it can improve your response times. (Response time is the time it takes you to react plus the time it takes you to move to the ball: reaction time + movement time = response time.) You will get to the ball much quicker, giving you more options on your shot. You also will move more freely to the ball because you will feel less stress. That freedom of movement allows you to do more with your shots. The better you anticipate, the better mover you will be.
Experience is a great teacher of anticipation. However, most players don’t understand that you can train to anticipate better and cut the learning curve. It’s not complicated to do. In fact, you already do this most of the time on the court, but you’re simply not aware of it. By recognizing the things that will improve your anticipation, you can be more focused and directed to learn quicker.