Crunch Time

Justin G.
We have all been there… it is the critical time in the match vs. a top ranked opponent/team and THEY COME UP BIG. They make the critical shot at Crunch Time.

“That is a myth!”

But according to Justin Gimelstob, commentating from Indian Wells on Sunday, “That is a myth!”

He says that all players feel their nerves in big situations and the top players’ performance “just doesn’t degenerate as much as the average player does.” He feels they just keep their level of play closer to their previous level, while the rest of us choke more.

Could it be that Mr. Gimelstob is rationalizing why he lost some big matches to top players? Not that they could do something he couldn’t, but he just played worse?

I don’t think so. As one who has lost to MANY top players, I feel it is more of what they do than what I don’t. And I aspire to be more like them in Crunch Time.

What do you think?

5 thoughts on “Crunch Time

  1. the top players, at crunch time, hit that great shot because they have their backs against the wall, and they are no longer thinking of winning or losing. they’re just reacting. the time the top players get nervous is early in matches or early in tournaments. my opinion.

  2. This is a great topic, George, and I have talked about this with Justin and others frequently.

    One thing a good player does — regardless of level — is practice with a high grade of intensity. That establishes a level of engagement much different than many recreational players who do not practice with intensity — that is, players who don’t plan what they want to do in practice, players who talk often on changeovers, squander energy, etc. These are the players who think they will be able to raise their game under pressure. But it’s not about raising your game. It’s about building your game — all the time, not just in tournaments but in practice. Jimmy Connors once told me, “If you play every match like it’s the big match, then when the big match comes you’ll be ready.” And Billie Jean King: “Better players? All they do is choke ten percent less.” – so yes, better players perform well when it’s tight. and yes, all levels can come up with nifty shots under pressure in certain situations. But I see where Justin is going with this.

    P.S. — sure, often the better player plays that big point much better. but do they win it BIG? sometimes there’s a great shot. but as we all know, most times it’s the meat-and-potatoes that makes the difference. that better player doesn’t miss the first volley, puts away the overhead, gets that service return in play, first serve in, etc. competing under pressure has much more to do with air-tight tennis than spectacular shotmaking. and that to me is where engaged practice makes all the difference. not just practice sets, not just drills, but purposeful, skill-building practice.

    Joel – on that last point, i agree whole heartily… the top players give away very few “gifts” in crunch time! geo.

  3. I agree with jomac in that it’s in the beginning that it’s easier to be nervous. I think all top players still just play one point at a time. Sure, they may come up with a great shot at a crucial time, but they would hit that same shot under the exact same circumstance at any other time in the match as well. There’s no way to say to yourself, it’s now really an important point in the match so I’m going to make a spectacular shot now:). One point at a time, figuring in what has been done previously in the match is always the best way to win a point. You may decide as the ball is coming over the net and the opponent is approaching, that the last two times you’ve gone down the line and now you’ll go cross court, or you may have even decided after the last time that you were going to go cross court on the next one or you may be 1 ft closer to the ball and now can go cross court, or any number of other factors that decide what you will do in a certain situation, crucial or not. My thoughts, random as they may be:).

    Fred – it is that “i will now do something different” on the critical point that helps distinguish the top players. tks geo

  4. Good one George.

    I believe the top players aren’t afraid of taking a hair more time to get the next point started. When I’ve played my best against the top players, I tell myself between points to slow it down, take your time, and simply do not rush this moment …

    Bottom line, there is no magic bullet here, but one thing for sure, if you rush trying to get to the finish line, the chances go way up that you’ll make just enough unforced errors to give the thing away …


    Brent … Thanks. Geo

  5. you should read chuck kriese’s take on the subject in his book “Total TennisTraining”. he speaks of the role of each player, and the pressure on each. it’s really quite insightful.

    Joe – tks. geo

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