Tennis is the ultimate mind game. Two players can be neck-and-neck until the first set tiebreaker – yet whoever wins it will most often run out an easy second set, 6-1!
You see this score so often in the pro game, and I’m sure you see it in your own tournaments too.
So what’s the difference between the two players after the first set? Purely mental attitude. Doubt creeps into one player’s mind (and game) while confidence sweeps through the other – and these thoughts are the difference between almost every winner and loser.
As soon as doubt creeps into your game, it’s basically all over – you must refuse to let doubt enter your mind during a match. Even small worries and irritations (eg. a bad line call), if dwelled upon, can become a tidal wave of doubt that renders your game powerless.
This reinforces the fact that matches are decided by a very fine line of confidence, and also doubt. Former Australian Davis Cup captain John Fitzgerald once said:
“You have no idea how close a player is to losing the match when they have match point”.
Close to losing a match when you have a match point? How can that be?
Well, when you think about it – this is quite true. If you are playing a tough match, and you finally reach your first match point, it certainly doesn’t mean that you are overflowing with confidence, right? (and certainly not on the second, third, fourth or fifth match point either, for that matter!).
So remember this whenever you are down in a match (or even down match point) – the match is not over. You can still easily turn an entire match around – even just by winning two or three points in a row, you can change the momentum of a match.
So it makes sense that if your opponent can be close to losing at match point, then the flip-side of this means that you can actually be close to winning – when you are nowhere near match point!
Basically, this tip is designed to illustrate to you that matches are actually decided by your thoughts, not shots – thoughts of confidence, and thoughts of doubt.
If you can manage to keep your thoughts free of doubt, it means that you are giving yourself the best possible chance to win the match (even from way behind in the third set), and it also allows your opponent to be the one who experiences the doubt instead.
You might be surprised just how fragile your opponent’s confidence levels truly are – yes, even if they are leading the match. All it takes is a very slight shift of momentum, and the entire match can swing around the other way. They have no idea when or if you will stage burst of great tennis, and so this means they will never feel 100% secure until they have shaken hands and are off the court.
So if you are a player who absolutely refuses to ever give up – regardless of the score, and if you are willing to hang in there for an eternity – you will be rewarded with a bunch of match victories that you never expected.
With some particular types of opponents, all of their confidence is purely displayed on the outside – and they have very little confidence on the inside, where it really counts. These are the players who may try and intimidate you with their game or even their behavior – before the match, during the hitup, and in the early stages of the match.
With players like this, it actually doesn’t matter if you cannot get the early break against them – often all you have to do is stay with them (by continuing to hold serve) and make sure they do not get too far ahead (as these players are often great front-runners).
If you can manage to do this, and stay with them (score-wise) – finally when crunch-time arrives (eg. 5 all, or 6 all), the doubts will most often hit them – and sure enough, these players often crumple like a pack of cards. And when it happens, it’s not pretty – they’ll make a bunch of errors, double-faults, etc – and as soon as their racquet begins to fly, you know you have them!
So remind yourself that your attitude is one of your most potent secret weapons, not just your game. Your attitude can win you a ton of matches that you never expected to win – yes, even against better players who are superior shotmakers. So keep your confidence strong, refuse to let the doubts in, and watch the victories roll in!
“The Mind controls the body, and the Mind is Unlimited”
The best of success, Craig Townsend