The game of tennis is ultimately so complex, which makes it amazingly addictive. Not only do we need a proper technique and decent fitness level in order to compete and win matches, but we also need a “tennis mind”. It’s interesting that tennis players of all levels, from club gurus to pros, will share a similar story. The one about how the matches are won. They say that in tennis, it’s all in the head. Winning or losing – it is all up to us, the outcome that is determined in our mind. This does feel a bit far-fetched but winning against an opponent who is playing at the similar level of tennis as we are, or who plays a level above is just plain hard. Those are always tough matches which require those 101% from us, they require our best game and more. In those matches every shot and every point counts, and the outcome of those can make a difference between winning and loosing.
Let’s check out some of the tennis game mental aspects, that will help us improve our game and win more matches:
Don’t give up
This is a problem we see so often in recreational tennis. Heck, we see it on the tour as well with the example of Bernard Tomic who just gave up and played the match point with his racquet facing the wrong way. Inevitably, some of us will give up the whole match, just because the set didn’t start so well for us. This is a huge mind barrier and we must never give up so easily. Just remember how hard it was for you to finish the set when you were 5:2 ahead of your opponent in some of your earlier matches, we’ve all been there. Why make it easy for your opponent to win? The outcome of a match in recreational tennis is so often determined by the first two or three games in the first set. Don’t be the one that gives up, rather make it hard for your opponent by fighting for each and every point. Losing a match in which you gave your best to stay in the match is much more satisfying in the end of the day, especially once the initial frustration wears off.
Winning tough matches means that you need to think about your strategy. It’s not advisable to play tennis on auto-pilot, as that often leads to wrong decisions in crucial points of the match. The warm-up at the very beginning of the tennis match is the perfect time to start thinking about the strategy. Hit different kinds of shots and see how your opponent reacts. The idea is to exploit his weaknesses and force him to always play the shots he is not comfortable with. Every tennis player has a weak spot. Once you’ve found it, exploit it to your benefit! You should also be prepared to change your strategy mid-match, in case it’s no longer working.
Winning a tough match means that you are not only required to win on the court, but also to beat your opponent mentally. Some opponents are mentally stronger than others. Then we have opponents who do certain things that may annoy us, small things like grunting, gestures after winning a point, etc. In recreational tennis we have a lot of “mind games” during changeovers when players get a chance to chit-chat. Be strong and do not let these things get the best of you. Try not to get hooked as some opponents might just be looking for ways to put you off-balance mentally that way, especially if they are having a hard time beating you on the court.
Tennis matches against skilled opponents always drag a dose of competitiveness. Make it healthy and remain fair. Don’t cheat on the line calls and respect your opponent. Simple gestures like raising a hand or saying sorry when the ball hits the net and just barely lands on the opponent’s side of the court can go a long way towards making the match a more pleasant experience for both of the players.
We all know how frustrating it can be to make the silliest of unforced errors. Still, we should always remain positive in the tough matches, as much as humanly possible of course. Positivity goes a long way, and this mental aspect will surely have an effect on our game on court. Remember, each and every point is a new opportunity for you to change the outcome of the match, no matter what the current score is!
How many times did you make a silly error just because you didn’t try hard enough? For example, you had a bad ball toss for a serve on a windy day, and yet you still decided to try to hit the ball, even though you knew it was going to end up hitting the net for sure. Focus is crucial, and we need to be prepared for each and every shot. Get ready for the return of serve, step into the ground shots and follow all the technique tips your tennis instructors have given you. Yes, you do need to perform all the necessary technique mechanics for each and every shot, in order to make it a successful one.
Build your points from grounds up and be patient. Usually the player who is more patient on the court, wins tough matches. Since you know that you’ll need to work hard to win the match, why not give it your best shot to remain patient in the long rallies. Don’t make rash decisions, rather wait for your opportunity to attack at just the right moment. This way of thinking will help you reduce unforced errors. Another benefit is that your opponent might start losing patience, so he or she will start making more errors.
Have you noticed that the player who is constantly yelling or cursing on the court is the one that is loosing? On the other hand, the player who is winning is all cool and relaxed. Even pros have outbursts on the courts, but discipline is mandatory if you’re looking to win close matches. If you start acting out on the court, not only will you look silly to bystanders, but you’ll also effectively diminish other winning factors such as your focus, patience and positivity. You know what that means, right? You’ll probably end up losing the match.
We could say that confidence comes as a sum of all the factors we mentioned above. Confidence comes from making good decisions, hitting great shots and winning matches. Be prepared to work hard to gain confidence and don’t get discouraged along the way. If you regularly practice playing tennis or take lessons, than you are bound to start winning matches over time and consequently boost your confidence. Just look at the ATP Tour pros, and Rafael Nadal especially. He surely has an amazing technique, fitness level and mindset. It’s just that the game of tennis is a rollercoaster ride for everyone, and losing confidence is often much easier than gaining it. The key is never to give up, rather get inspired by those ups and downs to work harder than ever on your game.
Which mental aspects are in your opinion the most important for a tennis player? Share your tips in the comments.