How to control your mind during a match; so it is an asset, not a liability.
George asked me to write about this topic for his blog. My name is Joel Drucker. I write about tennis for a living and live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
George and I met at the John Newcombe Fantasy Camp. We’ve played a couple of times too, and I will tell you that George is truly a player. By that I mean he is committed to improvement — not just a hacker content to be where he is (and, inevitably, decline).
So how do you control your mind during a match? First, you must plan for success — yes, to win, but more importantly, to compete with all proper intensity and therefore know whatever happened, you did all you could.
One wise idea: Play your practice matches as if you were in a tournament. Don’t talk to your opponent on changeovers. Don’t chit-chat between points. All business.
I’m very big on thinking about how to win — that is, forcing the other guy to play shots he doesn’t like so you can play shots you like. Think beforehand about your game plan. What are the shots and sequences that work best for you? Which do you want to minimize?
As the match gets underway, have faith in your plan. Keep paying attention. Are you losing points due to execution or a faulty concept? At the same time, minimize technical input. If a stroke’s not working, limit your self-critique to one or two simple pointers — swing through, turn your shoulders — but not much else.
The other big problem is getting ahead of oneself. How many times are we up a set and 2-1 and start to see the finish line? You must instead trick yourself into seeing things differently. It’s very hard, particularly against an opponent you know is capable of coming back.
This is where little rituals — bouncing the ball before you serve, taking your time between points, toweling on changeovers — can make a big difference.
It also helps to have go-to strategies for many situations. For example, if you’re returning and it’s break point and the guy’s not rushing the net, it’s a no-brainer that your return must have a lot of air on it — lots of net clearance and depth.
So as I look at this, one macro key to keeping your mind at ease is to continually problem-solve. Think of a match as a workmanlike process of putting one piece together after another. Row the boat a little bit each day, and ventually you’ll make it across the ocean.