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David W. Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
Have you ever noticed that there are some players who seem to win more than their fair share of matches? You know the players; those who seem nonchalant even if they fall behind in a match only to watch their opponent eventually crumble? Among the pros, there are many whom we can associate with this seemingly fearless mind set: Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Chris Evert, Tracy Austin, Monica Seles, Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver just to name a few.
Fear is perhaps the most powerful emotion that can affect us on a tennis court. Fear of losing, fear of winning, fear of looking bad, and fear of the unknown can all affect our on-court performance. Most athletes know that they perform at their best when they are loose, focused, and aggressive. Fear can sabotage these three key mental and physical elements and make a person tense, distracted, and apprehensive.
Fellow writer and excellent professional, Jeff Greenwald, expressed this concept of fear in his program, “Fearless Tennis”:
Everyone talks about self-talk, that it needs to be positive and upbeat. Sure, that can help. But, more powerful yet, is the ability to come on the court truly ready to play fearless tennis. I believe every one of us, somewhere in our lives, has been a fighter, has toughed it out through a difficult situation, or maybe we just want to be tough. The trick is, on the court, not to be victimized by the first thought that may come into your head: “Oh, god, he’s ranked, or seeded, or misses nothing in the warm-up. I’m going to get creamed!” Go down that train track and you know where you’re going to get off: at the Big “L” stop; embarrassed and angry at yourself. Instead, let the second thought surface: “Wait a minute. I can do this. I belong here. I’m just going to go out and enjoy the hell out of it.” Amazing how you can play when you feel that way.
How can we take this information and apply it in such a way that we can indeed play “fearless” tennis?
Using your own “Crystal Ball"
If you owned a magic crystal ball, one that purveyed the future with perfect accuracy, and you gazed into it before any given match, how would you play that match if the crystal ball pronounced you the winner? You know you are going to win. Would you be apprehensive? Would you panic if you fell behind? Would you over-think about winning if you were ahead?
The answer I believe would be “NO” to all of these. Why? Because you already knew you were going to win! So why let any emotions control you or your game. You would actually be free to enjoy each point, enjoy the sensation of hitting the ball—not to win or lose—but to create opportunities that are the essence of “Playing Tennis.” And, for anyone who has played tennis for any period of time, there is nothing better than going out and playing a great match (win or lose!) and feel like you played your best tennis ever. We call this level of performance “Playing in the Zone.”
Oftentimes, when we play someone head and shoulders better than us we go out and play some of our best tennis while losing to this far superior player. What allowed us to play well? Most recognize correctly that “we had nothing to lose.” In a real sense, we are playing in the “zone” within our current playing abilities. When we have nothing to lose, we again are not concerned with winning or losing. In a sense, we have seen our crystal ball’s message again: “You’re going to lose!” But, instead of hitting to avoid losing, (which we already know we are); we are hitting to succeed in individual points. No different than playing a match where we know we will win, we are anticipating each point as an opportunity to enjoy, shine, and/or have a great rally.
Obviously, we don’t own a real crystal ball. But, if we could learn to play as if we did—and as if we knew the outcome, we could create this mind set of playing in the zone…even if we fell behind or were playing someone superior to us.
When you play tennis against a player you know you can beat, you seldom press; you often play at a slower, more relaxed pace; if you lose a point, or even a game, there is no panic because you know you are going to win.
We need to approach all of our matches with this same mind set Because the alternative seldom produces our best tennis! In watching a lot of junior players, you often see them ride the roller-coaster of emotions: From fist-pumping when they win an important point to racquet-throwing outbursts or tantrums when they start losing. Even in more complacent players, you can read the emotions in their faces: from disinterest to despair, from anxious to annoyed, the eyes are often the window into a player’s mind.
What can we expect?
Obviously, we can’t expect to win every match. This would be both unrealistic. However, if we keep in our mind we have “already won the match," even if we are way behind, you give yourself at least an opportunity to make a comeback…one that would be nearly impossible should you fall into the more debilitating, emotionally-driven reactions that we often see in competitive tennis. By maintaining a calm, relaxed emotional state, you create the opportunity for success when facing a down-turn in any given match. Your opponent may start to freak out when you demonstrate this calm mind set You simply look at your opponent and say to yourself, “I’ve already won!”
What if I’m winning?
This mind set helps when you are ahead as well. Too many players get a lead then start to play “not to lose.” The result is they change the very game that got them the lead! When you play as if you already know you’re going to win, you don’t end up getting too excited about winning a particular point, game, or even set! On the contrary, by maintaining a calm, confident attitude, you simply maintain your style and level of play even when you are ahead.
Like Sampras before him, Federer exudes so much confidence on the court, many of his matches are won in the locker room.
Watch Mr. Federer
Roger Federer is a modern day classic practitioner of this mind set Ever notice that he doesn’t let a lot of emotion out during his competitive matches? Does that mean he keeps it all inside? No. There is a difference between maintaining a calm, cool composure, and trying to subdue emotional outbursts. The difference is, when you play as if you know your going to win, there is no build up of emotions. They are essentially non-existent. Yet, with that said, we all know that emotions seem to have a mind of their own. That is why you need to play as if you already know your going to win; because if you do, winning and losing individual points become meaningless to the outcome of the match.
Roger Federer seems to express his motion of accomplishment at the conclusion of any match. Borg would do the same. Chris Evert was called the Ice Queen because she seemed to look at you with an icy stare, never afraid to look her opponent in the eye, and her eyes spoke for her: “I am going to win.”
Of course we all have different personalities and we need to recognize them and channel the id and ego into productive means. Jimmy Connors was a fiery competitor, but this was his normal level of intensity. As a champion, Jimmy also walked and reacted to adversity and conflict with the trot of a champion-to-be. John McEnroe also had an air about him that seemed to transmit his confidence even though he was prone to outbursts and emotional tirades a time or two!
One of our prolific writers here at TennisOne, Scott Ford, in his series on “Playing in the Zone” employs one of the best practice exercises in terms of playing in the moment. Combining his “Hitting Window” (and his many other teaching tools for better mental tennis), with a pre-match mental state of imagining that you have seen your future, (and it is always a “successful” future!), you can begin to experience this aspect of playing tennis as well as you are capable of without letting outside influences and emotions dictate the outcome of each point.
Next time you go to a tournament, watch the competitors and see if you can pick out the players who come ready to win. The next time you play a match see if you too can find a confident mind set, one that is based on the assumption that you already know you’re going to win…and one that will allow you to play your best tennis!
(Click link to purchase Dave Smith's Book Tennis Mastery, at tenniswarehouse.com.)
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
Hitting Off the Back Foot
Years ago, if you took a lesson, you were probably taught to keep your feet on the ground then step in and transfer your weight to your front. More recently, if you took a lesson, your pro might let you come off the ground a bit as long as you shifted your weight to the front foot. But is it necessary to step in or transfer your weight forward? When might you hit off the back foot or even step backwards? Is it sound to have negative weight transfer? Doug Eng answers these and other questions about hitting off the back foot.
Understanding the Game of Tennis
About 30 years ago W. Timothy Gallwey came out with a best selling tennis book called “Inner Tennis.” In it he spent most of the book talking about mind-body relationships. A key concept in the book was that the mind needs to stop controlling the body so much. The problem with this mentality is that the underlying assumption is, thinking on the tennis court is bad. Steve Beier believes the average tennis player does not think enough on the court. This is because many players don’t understand the game of tennis very well.
One of the keys to the ideal mental performance state lies in understanding the simple concept of "having fun!" However, it is not so easy to have fun, especially for high performance players in competition. The ability to have fun stems from a certain outlook of life and this outlook may come somewhat naturally to some, but for others can only arise through the understanding that comes from a deep awareness of what is real and unreal. Happy Bhalla
Crosscourt with Matt Cronin with Brad Falkner
Topic today; the Acura Classic. Tennis is an extremely popular sport in San Diego and the Acura Classic has been consistently supported with sell-out sessions; the fans love it, the players love it, the media love it, and even the tournament officials like coming here, so what went wrong? Tennis pundit Matt Cronin and Bard Falkner of the Tennis Channel discuss the demise of this Sony Ericsson WTA tournament.
The Etcheberry Experience DVD
For more than twenty years Pat Etcheberry has been providing athletes from around the world with the winning edge. We call this the Etcheberry Experience, and players with an Etcheberry experience have hoisted Championship Trophies at over one hundred major championships, including 28 Australian Opens, 18 Wimbledons, 22 UP Opens, 22 French Opens and 15 Olympic medals.
And now it's your turn! This is your chance to experience the same drills, exercises and words of tennis wisdom that Pat gave to Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Jim Courier, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and others, that helped launch them on their incredible careers. For the first time, Pat Etcheberry shares his training secrets in a series of DVDs for players of all ages, their coaches, and trainers.
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