How should players ideally deal with the mental side of tennis?
This is a discussion thread. Yes, I wrote all of the following. Hopefully I can get some good contributions here.
How should players ideally deal with the mental side of tennis?
It is commonly thought that in order to succeed in tennis, your mental strength has to be exceedingly high. Tennis is a sport of one-on-one combat, one that continually asks questions of its competitors.
Is there a particular way in which players should go about overcoming these questions? Maybe we should be looking at how the best players dealt with the mental side of tennis, or maybe players should find the best solution for themselves. When James Blake says that he plays better when he goes after he shots, he’s setting up himself for that mindset so it works. But we generally like to criticise players for either being too passive, too aggressive, not showing belief, so surely there must be some ideal way that players should approach things, even if mentally they aren’t up to it to do so.
So in that case, how should players ideally deal with the following?
How to play big points
How should players approach big points, in order to find their best tennis when it is absolutely necessary? What should players do on big points? Should they try and hit their biggest serves and take their chances, or should they try and maximise the chance of getting a first serve in? Do you think players should try to raise their game under pressure? Is it better to aim big or high percentage? After all, a champion not only doesn’t wilt under pressure, but they relish the pressure. They buckle down, show just that extra bit of determination and simply refuse to lose. I think the very best of players, somehow refuse to give away points, when down in a match but whenever they have the opportunity to take the lead, they seize it by taking matters in their own hands, but without being overly adventurous.
Then there’s that saying of ‘sticking to a winning game’. Players should keep it simple, and play each and every single point the same, regardless of its magnitude. There are particular patterns of play that got them to this stage, so the obvious solution would be to keep implementing those. Stick to your strengths, or keep relentlessly attacking your opponent’s weakness, whatever it was you were doing earlier. But then there are change-up tactics that you can employ, taking the art of playing big points to a whole new level, following a predictable pattern to win points in a match, then taking them completely off-guard, by doing the exact opposite. We’ve all seen Nadal serve to the same spot, almost time and time again, then on break point, he swings it out the other way.
How to deal with a bad day
Every player has their bad days, but how that individual person deals with it, says a lot about their calibre. Every shot is misfiring badly, and there just isn’t any feel on the groundstrokes today. What is the best solution? Keep going for your shots, and keep a positive frame of mind, knowing that your shots will come sooner or later. Or should you temper your game and resort to a more controlled way of playing?
Some people believe that, by resorting to a safer approach, that they are in the process showing a loss of confidence. When Lleyton Hewitt and Marin Cilic start playing poorly, the racquet head speed starts to drop and shots start to get dumped into the net. Surely by doing that, the outcome will be the same more often than not, whereas if you take a riskier, more wild approach, the results can be more mixed. Although it must be said that both Hewitt and Cilic, simply cannot find enough confidence to be able to play loose tennis.
I’ve noticed a trend these days, where more and more players are playing matches on their own terms, where if they lose a match, they go down swinging and still go after their shots. Blake and Davydenko are examples of players that do this, and Federer has been known to be relatively stubborn as well. In some ways, it’s like hitting through your fears, to overcome them. Of course, it is possible to be somewhere in between, which seems to be the most effective solution. Keep a better balance, by bringing the margins in, while still maintaining the racquet head speed, and a proactive, aggressive mindset.
How to deal with playing against higher class opposition
What happens when players are playing against an opponent that is quite simply a class above them? Knowing that if playing your normal style of game isn’t just going to cut it and that you’re just going to get outplayed. So the obvious solution would be to start aiming closer to the lines, maybe inject more pace into each shot and play a more adventurous style of game to disrupt your opponent’s rhythm.
You can imagine the kind of impatience that would be involved in implementing a game like that. Constantly being on edge, trying to find the right balance. As soon as it doesn’t bring the success you would like, there’s the feeling that the match could turn into a beatdown quickly. If you’re looking to maintain a respectable scoreline, playing within yourself seems the way to go. Yet there is a feeling when players overplay, that it is also a defeatist approach, by self-destructing. Obviously it is a case of sensing which way is the best to go depending on how well your opponent is playing that day, and maintaining the right balance.
When players show a lack of belief, because of a match-up problem and/or poor record, is it safe to say that any lack of belief is merely caused by all of the problems they encounter trying to consistently win points against their opposition? So it’s not really a mental problem, but a problem that was caused by their difference in ability, at least match-up wise.
How much of tennis is mental, and how much is confidence?
We’ve seen that a player’s mental strength is significantly affected by their levels of confidence. Players tend to go through phases. Top players have their moments where they can be incredibly clutch, but might go through particular phases where they are lacking in confidence. Andy Roddick went through a phase of losing almost every single tie-break, then winning almost every single tie-break, in fact going through some sort of streak, and now he’s back to blowing opportunities again. Whenever players blow opportunities, often it become a habit, as players start to think about their previous matches more and more. But after feeling good about their game again and scoring some big wins again, all of that becomes history again, for some of them. So in that case, they should firmly focus on trying to find their best tennis again. Other players become emotionally scarred, and never seem to get over that hurdle.
So do you think that sports psychology is an effective solution? Sports psychology can teach you ways to deal with pressure situations, like how to manipulate your thoughts and stay positive. Seeing how many players use different approaches to make sure that they remain calm and ensure that they don’t rush points, there have to be some advantages in this. I’ve heard on the opposite end of the spectrum, that turning to sports psychology is admitting to a problem, hence placing more focus on it. So next time, that player finds themselves serving for the set in a match, they’re just going to think about it even more.
The kind of nerves that affect the end of sets and end of matches seem to be more easily fixable, because players are able to replicate that situation more often to be able to replace those bad memories with good ones. Whereas if players are struggling out closing out big matches, then the most effective method seems to be to learn how to deal with it better.
Is it a good thing to think highly of your abilities, or to see it as it is?
Some players seem to have a better ability to bounce back from poor matches, and poor sets of tennis, still showing that inner confidence to be able to play better. It is also necessary to show some sort of belief in your game to be able to challenge the top players. There are some players that seem to believe that their game can just come together at any moment. David Nalbandian specifically comes to mind, as a person with this sort of mindset. You can easily see the benefit in having this approach since the more confidence you have, the less chances of having previous matches affect your performance negatively in future matches.
But on the opposite side of the spectrum, if you think that your game can just come together like that, then surely the motivation to constantly improve your own weaknesses has to be diminished? What is better? To see your own weaknesses as major problems, and be willing to improve them, while easily getting down on yourself whenever your opponent attacks it, or to just believe in it outright? Is it possible to have both?
Last edited by krystlel; 12-07-2008 at 08:31 AM.