If you're facing a strong serve-and-volley player, for example, they'll spend most of their time trying to snuff out the point by rushing into the net. But if you're wily enough to keep the point alive with controlled strokes that have them rushing around the court, you might be able to grind them down and then fire an unreachable power shot at the point when they're all out of puff – something you'll easily be able to identify simply through observing their increasingly laboured movements and anguished grunts.
With this in mind, you may instinctively try to create your own tennis legend who can cope with all eventualities. You'll most likely fail dismally, however, because the career mode's stringent level-20 cap makes it impossible to be exceptional in more than a few areas. If, like me, you foolishly try to create the ultimate all-rounder tennis powerhouse anyway, you'll probably just end up being fairly unremarkable and get taken apart by Nadal, Federer or Roddick as soon as you step onto the Grand Slam circuit.
Still, part of the fun is failure through experience, and the fact it's possible to fast-track your career progress to a series of truncated matches makes it easier to experiment with various types of tennis pro. Eventually you might settle on a specific player best suited to your playing style and have the confidence to take him or her onto the shark-ridden waters of online competition.
Top Spin is a notably more enjoyable online experience than it used to be. As well as giving you the usual option of engaging in friendly (unranked) player matches, the two distinct types of ranked competition should keep everyone happy. On the one hand you'll want to see how your own creation fares against the competition, but you'll also want to gauge your skills using the top real-life players, past and present.
Cunningly, the ranking system isn't just a means of proving your worth, but how good the real player is overall, and a cumulative leaderboard reflects the overall online performances of specific pros. It's a bit throwaway, admittedly, but at least it gives you something else to shoot for than just your own personal glory.
One minor disappointment is the standard of the game's player creator. Having lavished so much attention on many aspects of the game, the limitations here single it out as a bit of an apologetic afterthought, whether it actually was or not. It's also strange that the career mode focuses player evolution solely on abilities, so you don't earn money, and therefore any equipment and accessories are merely unlocked upon meeting certain objectives. Even when the game dishes out potentially superior items, the effect is merely cosmetic, and renders most of what's available to you rather redundant.
It also comes as a slight disappointment that Top Spin doesn't flesh out its career mode with extra curricular activities such as training games, injury management or public appearances. Any of these things would have added colour to what is an otherwise fairly relentless onslaught of pure tennis. Some will prefer it this way, but those of us who crave a touch more variety are out of luck.
Another notable addition, though, is stereoscopic 3D support. Like most 3D titles released to date, it's certainly a pleasant novelty to enjoy that sensation of extra depth, but it's debatable whether you'll want to sit there for extended periods. Apart from anything else, reducing the frame rate by half is too much of a compromise on the game's delightful fluidity to endure for long. Still, it feels churlish to complain when you don't have to use it.
Still, most of what Top Spin 4 has to offer is built on solid foundations. By putting accessibility and instant enjoyment at the forefront, 2K Czech has cast all the old frustrations aside at a stroke, and the fact the developer has eased passage into the game without sacrificing any of its depth is also remarkable. It feels as though a balance has been struck, which should suit players of all skill levels. Whether it will be enough to fend off the impending Virtua Tennis 4 is another matter, but for now it's safe to say the ball is back in SEGA's court.