Recently, I was watching one of the ladies quarterfinal games of the 2017 US Open Tournament. Tennis is one of my favourite sports to watch; it is full of strategies, determination, skill and a range of emotions…. one ball stroke after another. This years’ tournament had been trilling to watch with many unexpected twists and turns in the results.

The two ladies in this quarterfinal match were a good fit. It was difficult to predict a winner. Each player had won one set and they were head-to-head on the third and final set.

As the game continued, one of the commentators asked her co-commentator whether either player had a weakness that could be exploited by the other. Such game plans are common in all sports. It may be a poor defence in a football team, a weak back-hand for a tennis player, a sprinter being slow getting off the starting blocks, etc. Players always aim to capitalise on their opponents’ weaknesses.

The commentators discussed this subjects for a few minutes and concluded that neither of the players had so far displayed any obvious weaknesses which could be exploited. Their conclusion was that each player should keep playing to their own strengths rather than adjusting their game to explore their opponents’ weakness.

Generally, sportsman an women adopt a range of strategies:

Strategy 1: Exploit a known weakness in the opponent.

For instance, if a tennis player has a weak back-hand their opponent will try to play the ball in a way that forces them to play a back-hand. It is often said that Federer’s back-hand play is somewhat weak. Good players exploit this weakness and as a result, players such as Nadal has a slightly better winning record when playing Federer.

Strategy 2: Prevent the opponent from playing to their strengths.

If a player has a strong point, avoid giving them the opportunity to play to their strengths. Players like Nadal are strong behind the baseline. He is able to react and return almost every ball played into the second half of the court. Opponents like Djokovic exploit this by coming to the net and playing short balls, thereby preventing Nadal from playing to his strength.

Strategy 3: Play to one owns strengths.

Here, a player is hardly considering their opponents’ strengths or weaknesses. They simply focus on what they excel at. Players with big serves and “aces” such as Serena Williams spend a lot of time honing their strengths. 

These strategies can also be applied in business. We must be aware of our competitors strengths and weaknesses and use both to our advantage.

But this isn’t enough to run a successful business. Businesses must always play to their own strengths rather than always adjusting their game plan to gain an advantage against the competitor.

The strengths of a business can be defines in its Unique Selling Point (USP) - the point of differentiation between one’s products and that of the competition. For example, a business may use a technologically advanced manufacturing process which results in products that are more durable and at a lower cost compared to similar products from competitors. This is its strength and the business must continuously improve these USP in order to always remain ahead of its competitors.

Businesses with a clear USP can constantly serve "an ACE" - that winning shot that is almost impossible for competitors to respond to. This is the top winning strategy for businesses.


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