Sure, sometimes we are facing an opponent who has far superior tennis skills and the match is a forgone conclusion; but more often, we are close in skills to our opponent … and close in score. So, why does the slightly superior player usually win?
Thinking back to my recent loss to #5 seed Joe Adams last week at Longboat Key, in my opinion, it is a combination of what YOU do and what THEY do. Here are some examples:
You didn’t have a match strategy – Both you and your opponents have strengths and weaknesses (big forehand, great drop shot, strong legs, etc.). The objective is to play your strength against his weakness. If you don’t, you don’t have any advantage. He does.
You go for too much on critical points – In my first set, with Adams serving at 4-3, 15-40, I had a second serve return on my forehand … I went BIG for a cross court winner and hit the top of the tape (and went on to lose the game). I should have played with Controlled Aggression and hit a forcing shot. And when Joe Bachman’s underdog opponent was up a break in the first set, he just “gifted” the set to Bachman with a series of unforced errors, going for too much.
You do too little on big points – This is just the opposite. Rather than going for too much on your serve, your return, your groundstroke, or your volley, you just don’t do enough with it. Your opponent makes a nice shot to win the point; but if you replay it in your mind, you will probably find that you gave him the opportunity with your weak shot.
They don’t miss shots on big points – Think how YOU feel when playing a lesser opponent… YOU have confidence and you usually make the shots on the big points. Well, in this case, THEY have the confidence that they will make the shot … and they do.
They recognize patterns – All through the match, they are categorizing what you are doing in certain situations. And then, when the big points late in the match come up, they either take advantage of your pattern or change their pattern … or both. My opponent was serving 4-3 in the second set and i had SIX break points while receiving in the ad court. He got SIX first serves in … two were hard winners down the middle (he had not done that all match); and four were deep to my backhand and he came in behind each of them to hit a winning or offensive volley (which he had not been doing all match).
You CAN beat the slightly better player. But to do that, you have to minimize your mental and physical mistakes and do what they do.
What have you found happens on the big points in your matches?