How should players ideally deal with the mental side of tennis? [Archive] - MensTennisForums.com

How should players ideally deal with the mental side of tennis?

krystlel
12-07-2008, 09:18 AM
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?

Action Jackson
12-07-2008, 09:51 AM
You have covered this in depth, not sure what can be added.

At big points, when a lower ranked player is playing a superstar in a big tournament. There will be one chance and they have to take it, if they don't then they are more likely to lose.

Mike Russell playing Guga at RG 2001 is the perfect example. On match point Guga hits the line on the 23rd shot of the rally and Russell couldn't get the ball back into play, the chance was gone.

They also don't play the ball on its merits and think about the score and the person they are playing, instead of just looking at the ball.

Bilbo
12-07-2008, 10:08 AM
if you are german i think it's impossible to deal with it

FedFan_2007
12-07-2008, 12:02 PM
Sadly nothing can help Roger overcome his mental block against Nadal. It's a permanent affliction.

leng jai
12-07-2008, 12:21 PM
All players should read MTF religiously. That will put them in a good mental state.

Bernard Black
12-07-2008, 09:12 PM
I have to commend you on your thorough opening post but it's the off-season and not likely to get many responses. Make a note to bump it again in a couple of months when someone chokes their way out of Australia.

Bobby
12-08-2008, 05:37 AM
Sadly nothing can help Roger overcome his mental block against Nadal. It's a permanent affliction.

Is everything always about Federer?

Action Jackson
12-08-2008, 05:43 AM
Is everything always about Federer?

You didn't expect anything else.

krystlel
12-09-2008, 12:03 PM
I'm just realizing now how the whole piece is overloaded with thoughts, like as if it sounds like a brainstorming of ideas, rather than a structured article. Which was partly intentional but with the wrong result.

Now that I have waited a couple of days, I'll post my opinion on the matter.

In the end, the mental side of tennis is a very simple issue, or at least ideally it should be kept simple. Even though there are some methods that might be better in theory, most importantly, the player has to believe in it to work, and they have to feel comfortable with it. I don't think it's any good trying to get a player too far away from their comfort zone. Probably little changes is as far as you'd go.

It seems like the mental side of tennis is a lot about confidence and belief, which can change drastically throughout a player's career. Confidence and belief can extend to many things, like the confidence to try to add variety in your game, or make major changes to your technique, then implement it in an actual match situation. I always admired Justine Henin's guts to tinker with her service motion constantly like that. But on the other hand, confidence and belief almost stems completely from your own results and things that have happened previously, like whether you were able to close out matches successfully recently or whether you choked a couple away. Some of it is really just a realistic estimation of your own abilities, with maybe only a 20% increase or decrease, depending on whether you're an optimistic or pessimistic person. If your second serve keeps getting attacked, then obviously you're going to believe that it's a big weakness. The big variable is what you think your potential is, not how good you are, and that belief has just as much to do with what other people think, rather than themselves, specifically those closest to the players.

Then there is the issue of playing big matches (like Grand Slam semi-finals), which seems to be a completely different issue altogether, quite simply because you don't get that many opportunities to get over that hurdle and maybe it is the one thing that you can really say is dependent on your natural mental ability or belief. You get some players that get better at it with experience, others that get better with it as they start to become better players and win more while others remain equally poor with each experience. I'd say that this sort of choking is not necessarily about not believing in your abilities as a player, but having some sort of fear or doubts about whether they can finish off the match. Even a slight hesitation or overthinking about the match would be enough to do it. I'm sure there are many players that have done so in the past, that know that how good they are as players.

At the lower level, players often go through slumps and long periods where they often lose consecutively in early rounds. It even happens often at a higher level for top 20 players, which shows just how common it is. It has to be hard to keep finding enjoyment in playing in times like that, when you're feeling down about your game. Imagine going for that like months, and still having nothing change, even after putting in all that work. It has to be discouraging, so it takes a lot of motivation and positive energy to get through that. Then add to that, the potential financial problems that could occur and questioning about whether they should continue playing tennis as a career.

As for how to approach a bad day at the office, I don't think it's possible for those players that take a more passive approach to just go for their shots like that. It's hard enough for them to just go for their shots a little bit more. Yet those that like to hit big shots, can probably temper their game a bit, but will they feel as positive about their game when doing that?

I find it extremely fascinating in tennis, how on-court, it is necessary to stay calm and not get overly critical of your own mistakes. You also have to not get too down on yourself when your opponent keeps attacking your weaknesses. But when the match is over, you have to care enough to want to learn from those mistakes/weaknesses.

krystlel
12-09-2008, 12:37 PM
I have to commend you on your thorough opening post but it's the off-season and not likely to get many responses. Make a note to bump it again in a couple of months when someone chokes their way out of Australia.
I think it would disappear off the first page pretty quickly as soon as the tennis starts, and the match result threads start.

I don't really know whether it's a topic that doesn't interest people or whether I answered all of my own questions making it difficult to make any comments. Hopefully people at least have been reading it. Regardless I wasn't going to just throw some questions in, without elaborating on them.

I probably won't be writing these sorts of articles, or I won't be posting them here in the future, anyway.

Vale
12-09-2008, 06:21 PM
I'm just realizing now how the whole piece is overloaded with thoughts, like as if it sounds like a brainstorming of ideas, rather than a structured article. Which was partly intentional but with the wrong result.

Now that I have waited a couple of days, I'll post my opinion on the matter.

In the end, the mental side of tennis is a very simple issue, or at least ideally it should be kept simple. Even though there are some methods that might be better in theory, most importantly, the player has to believe in it to work, and they have to feel comfortable with it. I don't think it's any good trying to get a player too far away from their comfort zone. Probably little changes is as far as you'd go.

It seems like the mental side of tennis is a lot about confidence and belief, which can change drastically throughout a player's career. Confidence and belief can extend to many things, like the confidence to try to add variety in your game, or make major changes to your technique, then implement it in an actual match situation. I always admired Justine Henin's guts to tinker with her service motion constantly like that. But on the other hand, confidence and belief almost stems completely from your own results and things that have happened previously, like whether you were able to close out matches successfully recently or whether you choked a couple away. Some of it is really just a realistic estimation of your own abilities, with maybe only a 20% increase or decrease, depending on whether you're an optimistic or pessimistic person. If your second serve keeps getting attacked, then obviously you're going to believe that it's a big weakness. The big variable is what you think your potential is, not how good you are, and that belief has just as much to do with what other people think, rather than themselves, specifically those closest to the players.

Then there is the issue of playing big matches (like Grand Slam semi-finals), which seems to be a completely different issue altogether, quite simply because you don't get that many opportunities to get over that hurdle and maybe it is the one thing that you can really say is dependent on your natural mental ability or belief. You get some players that get better at it with experience, others that get better with it as they start to become better players and win more while others remain equally poor with each experience. I'd say that this sort of choking is not necessarily about not believing in your abilities as a player, but having some sort of fear or doubts about whether they can finish off the match. Even a slight hesitation or overthinking about the match would be enough to do it. I'm sure there are many players that have done so in the past, that know that how good they are as players.

At the lower level, players often go through slumps and long periods where they often lose consecutively in early rounds. It even happens often at a higher level for top 20 players, which shows just how common it is. It has to be hard to keep finding enjoyment in playing in times like that, when you're feeling down about your game. Imagine going for that like months, and still having nothing change, even after putting in all that work. It has to be discouraging, so it takes a lot of motivation and positive energy to get through that. Then add to that, the potential financial problems that could occur and questioning about whether they should continue playing tennis as a career.

As for how to approach a bad day at the office, I don't think it's possible for those players that take a more passive approach to just go for their shots like that. It's hard enough for them to just go for their shots a little bit more. Yet those that like to hit big shots, can probably temper their game a bit, but will they feel as positive about their game when doing that?

I find it extremely fascinating in tennis, how on-court, it is necessary to stay calm and not get overly critical of your own mistakes. You also have to not get too down on yourself when your opponent keeps attacking your weaknesses. But when the match is over, you have to care enough to want to learn from those mistakes/weaknesses.

IMPRESSIVE!!!:worship: I don´t have anything to add as I agree 100%! I guess many of us feel the same, so you´ll have a short thread that has been read by many but commented on by very few...:)

Byrd
12-09-2008, 06:23 PM
Three simple words, grow some balls.

stebs
12-09-2008, 09:16 PM
Good posts krystlel and I agree there are different situations which require mental strength and different players rise to the different types. I think a lot of the time confidence comes from having already done something. It is the reason why some top players enjoy and find it easier to defend titles than win new ones and the reason a guy like Federer is able to produce his best tennis of the year in big matches for the most part.

Whilst it all comes under the heading of mental strength there are a lot of different aspects which aren't really that related in terms of the fact that a player doesn't have to be top at one to be top at another. For example, Djokovic has an extrairodinarily good record in TB's but isn't neccesarily considered the biggest fighter on tour. For Nadal it is vice-versa.

The thing is mental strength can only be looked at subjectively because it can't be quantified definitively. In the end different people do different things and even the same player can go into two massive points in similar situations totally differently depending on the mind frame at the time. These kind of decisions can change the outcome of a match completely like whether or not to go for a big second serve or to be the one to take the risk and hit down the line during a CC exchange.

It's what makes tennis great to watch at the tense moments and why I like it so much. In a lot of sports when the tension is high it is because something MIGHT happen. In tennis something has to give because a point HAS to be won or lost by someone.

krystlel
12-12-2008, 10:29 AM
I think Djokovic used to be a great fighter, especially around the time of the US Open 2007 where he dug out of some tough matches, but now his fighting abilities are very much dependent on his mood on the day.

The fascinating thing is that it is possible to choke away numerous points, but still battle back and win, which makes it interesting to watch. How well players recover from those lost opportunities, is arguably even more important than how they initially dealt with it. Obviously the worst thing to do would be to crumble completely and lose the rest of the match in a one-sided manner. More players play better from behind, rather than in front where there is much more at stake, and more to lose. This, of course is discounting matches where a player is losing badly and has lost belief which is a separate issue.