Serving at 5-4

(I am sure someone will comment)

We have all been there … serving at 5-4 for just the set or the whole match; and we blow it!  Why?  What should we do differently in that situation to change the outcome?

Some Key Factors

In my opinion, there are several things we should and should not do …

  • Don’t think about the results. Too many times, we walk to the service line and think, “If I win this game, then …” … “I will finally beat this big-time player, who I have never beaten” … “I will move into the finals for the first time” … “My team will win” … etc.
  • Think about the process. Instead of looking ahead, remind yourself of what you did right to get to where you were now.  Think of the strategy or strokes that have been working for you.

  • Get your first serve in.  Maybe it shouldn’t, but winning that first point plays a huge psychological role for both you and your opponent.  So, going for too big of a first serve and missing, suddenly gives your opponent thoughts about crushing that softer second serve you are about to offer up.
  • Focus on the next point.  And all throughout that game, just focus on the next point.  Don’t worry that you missed a shot; or that the score is now 15-30 … just focus on getting that ball back in play with controlled aggression and in a good location to make your opponent make the big shot.

What do you think/do when serving for the set or the match?

P.S. Thanks to Willy Hoffman’s friend Debbie, I was able to get on a tennis court for just the second time in three weeks for an excellent 1.5 hour workout of cross court doubles!  Time to start reopening.

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11 thoughts on “Serving at 5-4

  1. I agree George, the first point is critical for both players – sow the seeds of doubt !
    Keep the margin of error as low as possible, (continue to) hit to your opponent’s weaker side, usually the backhand. Stronger players than me will advance to the net if they can especially trying to build on a penetrating shot to the corner, I prefer to wait it out even if it takes all day – no cheap giveaways !
    Glad to hear you’re back on the court even once – I’m just hitting against the wall every day, hundreds of ground strokes, racket back early, lots of slice !

    Howard, great to hear from you. Any end in sight in Britain? george

  2. I think it was Brad Gilbert in “Winning Ugly” said if you can win the first 2 points your odds of winning the game sky rocket! (something like 80% chance) For me in these situations, it’s back to the here & now by just focusing on the ball itself!….. and breathe!

    Jim, winning the first two points should “almost” guarantee a win! thanks, george

  3. When serving to close out the match, I’m usually tempted to close it out in a BIG way. Great time to try for those aces, or try a serve & volley for the first time in 2 weeks, or that perfect little drop shot he’ll never get to, or – oh yeah – try that topspin lob over his left shoulder into the sun. That crap NEVER works. I’ve finally discovered the obvious – I need to just keep doing whatever it was that got me to this point, only more so. Whatever weakness he has that I’ve uncovered in the last hour and a half, I just keep pounding that same weakness over and over. If he’s going to beat me, it’s going to be with the worst shot he’s got.

    Terry, right on! There is one variation on that theme though… i was playing a top seeded player in a tournament who had been serving to my backhand in the ad court, which i generally sliced cross court. When it came to “crunch time,” he was suddenly standing at the net easily volleying away my slice cross court return. He had stored that play away until he needed it. thanks, george

  4. HA! Your right hip is too open — should be somewhat back at this point …

    Paul, you want to know who else told me that? John Newcombe! thanks, george

  5. Good subject, I think it’s what makes tennis such a challenge. In order to stay in the process, I sometimes try and distract my mind from thinking too much. As I approach the service line, after think about my tactic, I somtimes like to count how many different shades of green I can see. You’d be surprised how many there are! It’s weird, but helps me to relax. I mean, heck, I’ve practiced my serve a million times and it works if I don’t overthink it.

    Mike, yea, there are those who say “tell yourself you are losing”… but that never works for me. thanks, george

  6. Hi George . Look forward to your discussions more than ever. I am also feeling good today as I had a good 2 hour hit on a nice synthetic grass court at a friends house who lives about a mile from me . We are still on lock down and police are everywhere but it was the most enjoyable hit I have had in a longtime . On your topic I have found it is best not to overthink the situation. When I was younger and winning was the main point of the exercise I would go into play safe mode . First serve in and make no mistakes. Now in seniors tennis the process for me is as important as the result so I like to come off court feeling I tried to win the match rather than I tried not to lose the match .

    Bryan, i have had the same evolution as you! Much more important to me now to: get good exercise, play my best tennis, and have FUN with friends. thanks, george

  7. Hi George,
    I believe the goal for serving out a set or a match should be focusing on percentage tennis. Forget the score. Think about the next point, feeling good and doing your best. Take your time, be positive, concentrate and visualize where you want to serve. Always maintain a positive attitude. To be a winner, you’ve got to feel like a winner. Be safe, be well.

    Glenn, i agree… you should take your time, take a deep breath, and visualize where you want to be. thanks, george

  8. Hi George,
    Take a deep breath, get your first serve in, steady with percentages, and have a plan. It was a pleasure to see you play singles with Willy. I was so impressed with your game!! Thank you for all you do for the tennis here in southwest Florida!!
    Debbie Lauer :)))))

    Debbie, you are the Hostess with the Mostess! Thanks for giving me a chance to play at least once a week. George

  9. Hi George,
    I believe the goal for serving out a set or a match should be focusing on percentage tennis. Take your time, stay focused, form a mental picture where you want your serve to land .Avoid thinking about the score or outcome. Breathing out when you hit the ball will help you stay relaxed. Stay positive. The bottom line is that you must play your game and believe that it will be good enough. Be safe, be well.

  10. Hey George, at this point in my geezertennis career, it is key to be having fun. So, serving at 5-4 is way more fun than being down in the set. Enjoying the opportunity to dispatch my friend/opponent allows me to run the best chemicals: dopamine, seratonin, endorphins vs stress chemicals: epinephrine, norepinephrine, adrenaline. Re: execution, I remind myself to stay low, apply my best footwork, and have no mercy. Winning, not just pressure, is a privilege. Gratitude just to be out there competing also helps.

    Dan, but i think taking drugs at that stage would be illegal! 🙂 george

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