The tennis mind game is a key part of becoming a better tennis player. Even recreational tennis players can learn important secrets of the tennis mind game.
You may be wondering how the tennis mind game works, since the mental part of tennis is not physically seen.
You may be surprised to know that the tennis mind game is in play during every tennis match, regardless of the skill level or tournament. Ever since Vic Braden popularized the whole idea of a tennis mind game, more and more players of all rank have bought into the notion that a player’s mental outlook is key to him competing as he should.
In fact, the tennis mind game has been crucial since the sport’s invention. There are many reasons why this is true, but here are some of the most prominent in the opinion of this tournament player:
Tennis is a technique sport, not purely a physical sport where brute strength can carry the day. As a technique sport, certain strokes have to first be learned well or practiced with consistency. When a given point drags on and you know that the first person to err will lose, your strokes can get a hitch in them and destroy your good technique.
As a result, you will often miss-hit a ball or not hit it with enough power. Confidence is absolutely crucial in any technique sport because it allows you to relax and let your muscle memory take over.
The Tennis Mind Game is About Intimidation
Another key to the tennis mind game is intimidation. Any player who can project that he is more confident in his abilities is more likely to win. This can be done even during warm-ups before a match, no matter how casual.
When you miss a ball, you hardly react. When you crush one into a corner, you act as if that is normal. When your warm-up serve whistles down the center line, you don’t even crack a smile. Your opponent begins to say, “Man, he’s good,” and you are well on your way to getting a good jump on that first set.
Emotions in the Tennis Mind Game
Emotions can also play into the tennis mind game. It’s important to project cool in most cases, but some players perform better when they are more emotionally engaged in a match. That’s a nice way of saying that some players play a whole lot better when they are angry. I am one of those players. I find it helpful to look for reasons to become angry if I am in a tight match.
That could be an opponent’s remark, a questionable line call or a spectator’s reaction. I have used all of these to fuel a stirring comeback, winning more than few matches as a result of getting angry and finding another gear.
Controlling Your Anger: Another Key of the Mental Game of Tennis
That said, getting angry at oneself is not a good component in your personal mental game of tennis. Any coach worth his salt will tell you that your body language communicates a lot to an opponent.
When you slouch your shoulders in disappointment, your opponent has an inverse reaction—sheer delight in the fact that you are visibly discouraged.
Many players are quite hard on themselves, but once you give yourself an occasional scolding, be sure to forget your mistake and move on.
A player who spends an entire match in self-loathing will soon discover that the match has concluded, he has lost and he has had absolutely no fun in the process. If you can’t enjoy playing the great game of tennis, then you need to either give up the sport or adjust your attitude.
Understanding Point Situations as Part of the Tennis Mind Game
Another huge part of the mental game of tennis is to understand what points and games are more important than others.
This takes practice, but the comprehension of which points and games loom larger than others will quickly become apparent to the mentally engaged player. For instance, the first service has proven to be a vital point again and again and again, no matter what player or era or tournament is surveyed. Getting that first serve in is tremendously important for many reasons—it puts your opponent on his heels, it ensures a good rhythm for you, and it can get you quick and easy points.
Other huge points include what occurs at 30-all, the 7th point in a tiebreaker, the risk you should take at 40-15, etc.
Sometimes, no matter what the game score is, a point can be enlarged in importance. For example, your opponent has won three straight games and appears to be on a huge roll. The very first point of that next game is essential to win, to prove both to yourself and to your opponent that you are still alive and well and that you are going to compete with all of your heart and soul until the match is completed.
Tennis Mind Game: Controlling the Big Points in Tennis
Similarly, different games in the course of a set or match carry extra weight. I have found that the 5th game of any set is critical to win, no matter what the score.
Likewise, when you are leading 6-5, the next game, even without a tiebreaker being used, is fundamental to victory.
You need to wrap up the set at your first opportunity. And, drawing from my earlier example, if your opponent has won several games consecutively, the next game bears greater import than usual. You absolutely must break your opponent’s momentum and put up a fight, one that he might not expect. All points and all games are not at all equal. Understanding that is key to the mental game of tennis.
Be Aware of Your Opponent’s Weaknesses
A final part of the tennis mind game is being fully aware of your opponent. You need to watch him in warm-ups, watch him as he drinks his water, watch him as he serves, as he volleys, as he hits a forehand, as he shuffles across the court, etc. You need to keep your eyes on him to discover weaknesses, detect mental breakdowns and to be aware of even minor injuries on which you can capitalize. This might sound heartless, but it is not; it is simply playing the mental game of tennis in a wise way.
If you don’t care about winning, then why do you keep score? Watching your opponent can give you the edge you need. You’ll know when to hit to his backhand, when to make him move, what strokes are hardest for him to hit because of a balky elbow. All of this knowledge can give you the slim edge you need to emerge triumphant.
Winning the Tennis Mind Game
The tennis mind game is not a new invention or publishing trend. It’s been around since the first adversaries squared off on grass with wooden racquets. Those first two gentlemen, as polite as they could be, both wanted to win, desperately, and they projected confidence while thinking throughout the match to gain even the smallest advantage. The mental game of tennis has not changed much since.
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