Three practical ways to be mentally stronger in a match
Are you training world champion? Are you intolerant of frustration? Or are you putting too much pressure on yourself as a top favorite? Our tennis insider Marco Kühn can help you!
by Marco Kühn
last edit: Apr 12, 2021, 12:37 pm
While the frame of your racket breaks, your opponent pushes himself on the other side of the net with a loud "Come on!" The match is over. After your quick 3-1 lead, you play every third ball out of bounds. The playing field seems smaller than a chess board. You wonder which dark forces are influencing your basic strokes. You can't have forgotten the sport within twelve minutes, can you ?!
Does this scene sound familiar to you? Then read on.
# 1 The drama of comparison
I want to tell you the story of Steffen. He's at LK 14, plays a technically clean tennis, is physically fitter than some triathletes and is the "I feel good, that's why I'll play well" type.
As a well-known training world champion, he effortlessly shoots his colleague Fritz off the pitch in a training game. Fritz rarely wins a set. Often the game ends 6: 1 and 6: 2. The record at the club championships, however, leads Fritz. In the last six years he has beaten Steffen three times in two contested sets in three clashes.
Club host Didi asked Steffen at the bar over a beer what was going on in the match against Fritz. Steffen replied with a drooping head and evasive look: "Boah ey, everything works wonderfully in training. When I play against Fritz for fun here, the balls come like clockwork. But Didi, as soon as it comes to the sausage, somehow puts one on me Blockade. I have no idea what's going on! ".
Is Steffen possessed by a "club championship demon" in the match? No, an exorcist is not necessary. Steffen goes to the court with the wrong expectations. He expects that he will swing through the match as easily as in training. His mindset is: "I played top in the last training session, that's why I'll play top tomorrow in the match". On the court, his expectations collide with reality.
One possible way to act mentally stronger in a match: Don't compare your training performance with your performance in the match. If you absolutely need a comparison, then compare training and training as well as match and match.
A poor start to the match after training hard two days earlier can worsen your mental health for an entire match. Be prepared for it.
# 2 Accept the dynamics of a match
Jürgen is 43 years young, learned tennis from scratch as a child and now, after 20 years of study and family break, is back to the racket.
For two years he has been working on the baseline to get the old shape that he once brought to the court. And it works. The ranking rises parallel to the forehand winners, whom he chases his opponents in rows on short balls in championship and tournament games.
But there is one thing that keeps him from getting even better results: his nerves. Jürgen would like to pound himself in the shin with the bat if he makes two easy mistakes in a row. Even great points from the opponent feel to Jürgen as if they had pulled his pants down in front of the audience. If Jürgen had his way, then he would play concentrated "in the flow" from the first to the last point.
Jürgen has the wrong mindset. He doesn't want to accept that every match has ups and downs - and mistakes are part of it. He hides the fact that he and his opponent will have fluctuations in the game. In his head he wants to evade this law. This inner attitude creates frustration that he cannot classify for himself.
Another possible way to act mentally stronger in a match: Accept the dynamics of a match. Work on your tolerance for frustration.
# 3 Never lift your opponent on a pedestal
Franziska is 24 years young, is at LK 6 and is known in her club and far beyond for her uncompromising baseline game. There is hardly a ball that she hits more than four centimeters over the edge of the net. Unless she plays a praise or one of her dreaded kick serves.
Franzi plays her best tennis against better rated players. In the last two years she has completely surpassed herself three times. This allowed her sensational victories at important tournaments.
But there is something that Franzi has "head problems" with. She calls it complex, also to downplay it for herself. Whenever she enters the court as a big favorite, something kicks in in her head. She is more nervous, insecure and has the feeling that she can only lose. It gets really bad when the weaker opponent then plays even better than expected.
Here we experience a psychological tennis phenomenon. Whenever we play against a supposed outsider and he hits a few good punches, we heave this underdog onto a podium. We only see the strengths of the opponent while we talk about ourselves weak. In the worst case, this mixture leads to the underdog playing beyond its possibilities, while our favorites hardly bring a controlled ball between the T- and baseline.
In the course of the match it will then hardly be possible to kick the underdog off his podium again. You get lost in your own, mostly negative thoughts. A process arises that can no longer be stopped.
To prevent this process from gaining momentum, it is important to draw the opponent. Many players paint an overpowering super player with two forehand and a rate of 100 percent on the first serve. It is more realistic and, above all, more effective to paint a picture with strengths and weaknesses. How can you put this into practice on the court? Ask your opponent questions.
Here are a few examples of questions you can ask your opponent
1) Are you good at playing on the run? Tip: To do this, play consciously with less speed, but a little more precision right-left
2) Can you move forward well? Tip: Consciously sprinkle a short slice and check how your opponent behaves
3) Can you answer slow balls as well as fast balls? Tip: It is always easier to make a fast ball from your opponent even faster than to accelerate a slow ball
4) Do you recognize stop balls in the approach? Tip: Play my stop, which was already in the newspaper yesterday, and check whether your opponent starts early - or not.
With these questions it is possible for you to draw a realistic picture of your opponent.
What can you take with you?
You always play two games. The match during rallies and one between rallies. For you, this means that, just as in the game during the rallies, you also have strengths, weaknesses and huge potentials in the game between the rallies.
Analyze your game between rallies and train it with the three ways you learned in this article.
You can find more from our tennis insider here!