Always a good debate this. Defining tactics and strategy.
This from David Epstein's new book Range - How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (a book by the way I recommend for all coaches, teachers and parents):
There is a saying that 'chess is 99 percent tactics.' Tactics are short combinations of moves that players use to get an immediate advantage on the board. When players study all those patterns, they are mastering tactics. Bigger-picture planning in chess - how to manage the little battles to win the war - is called strategy.
Same could be said in our sport of tennis. Tactics being those short combination of moves that players use to get an immediate advantage on the court:
- Serve out wide and cheat position to get a forehand on ball 3
- Approach line and volley cross
- Heavy deep ball followed by drop shot
- Cross-court 3/4 court angle followed by change of direction line
- change of pace/spin; hit two, slice one
The list could go on and on, but tactics in tennis must be part of a greater strategic narrative which must involve using one's own strengths against your opponent's weaknesses (and hiding one's own weaknesses!), combating a particular game-style and persona, whilst appreciating environment, court surface, score, and finally effectively controlling and exploiting space and time on a consistent basis.
Sometimes it might be helpful simply to ask whether my current tactics are aligned to an over-arching match strategy or am I just executing entrenched 'tactical plays'. Top players tend to be hugely successful adapters (even if the adaptions are small) so they avoid the same old patterns that may work against one opponent but not another. For example, how much has Roger Federer's record against Rafa improved since he started to drive more backhands down the line taking the ball earlier and hitting it harder to Rafa's backhand as opposed to the same of slice cross that, whilst effective against many other players, was feeding Rafa's insatiable forehand. A refined tactic sitting within a more clearly defined strategic aim.