Getting the Yips

Have you ever played a “big match” where your game just went to pieces?  A reader highlights an example he watched in a pro tennis match with disastrous results.

Yikes, the Yips ..

“George, (before the Covid crisis) we were watching a women’s match being played in Acapulco.  A US woman (Volynets) was playing a Mexican women (Zarazua).  Volynets was ahead a set and a break.  She lost the break and it got to her serving at 5-6.  She got a serious case of the yips on her serve.

“She double faulted the last three points of her service game.  At least one of the serves bounced about 4 feet before it got to the net.  In her first service game of the third set, she double faulted 4 times (I don’t think she got any second serves in play) to lose the game.  One of the serves landed somewhere in stands.  I couldn’t watch anymore, but she lost the final set 6-0.

“The point being that even the pros can get the yips.  Neither of the players was highly ranked, but still ….. “

Rick Schultz

My Lost Forehand

Many years ago, I was playing a singles tournament up in New Hampshire and my forehand “went away.”  For whatever reason, I couldn’t get more than one baseline forehand in a row back in play … they either went in the net or sailed long.

It was frustrating; but I remember my solution was to revert to a total serve/volley game, where I charged to the net on every single point.  I honestly cannot remember the final outcome of the match (mental block?); but I remember that solution to the problem.

I believe that same concept holds true on the serve – or any other “lost stroke” … change that losing game.  Or another solution, which I frequently say to a struggling doubles partner, “keep on swinging, they will start to go in.”

Has that happened to you and what solution do YOU believe in?

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5 thoughts on “Getting the Yips

  1. Big match yips – early in my attempts to be competitive in the National age group open-level tournaments (45 grass as I recall), I was fortunate enough to have an excellent partner, much more accomplished than me. We were playing against a former US Open doubles winner and his partner. I served and volleyed the first point and the medium return came back right to me, easy right? My racquet made contact with the ball about 4 inches from my chest and the ball went one foot before hitting the ground. Absolute maximum yip from being so excited about the event, excellent partner, storied opponent – excruciatingly humiliating! Fortunately, after seeing the aghast grimace of my partner, I went into my emergency self-defense method and took 3 deep breathes before serving the next point. We won the match!

    Winder, great recovery! george

  2. A few years ago in a tournament final with my doubles partner Willy I developed a horrible case of the yips in the 3rd set. A bad case of concrete elbow set in and I couldn’t get a serve in. Fortunately, I didn’t need to hold serve to win the match. I’ve since learned a trick that when you feel tense about serving, take a few breaths before the ball toss and shake your arm and wrist to make sure it’s loose. This has really helped to cut down on my double faults.

    andy, i try to use “CPR” before every serve … Calming breath, Picture the serve going to your spot, and Relax you shoulder. thanks, george

  3. I think that if you’ve played enough tennis in your life, you WILL get the yips at one point or another…I sure have….and the advice about one or two calming breaths is really good. Scoot

  4. Excellent post George and excellent comments by Andy and Winder about beating the concrete elbow serving yips. I even had occasion to practice this last night in a “fun” doubles match at my club with some friends.

    Long story short (and I have written about this before), when I had my “mini stroke” last year, they found evidence of a prior “silent stroke” in the right quadrant of my brain that controls left side motor skills. The doctors could not estimate exactly when the silent stroke had occurred, but the neurologist theorized that it had been rather recent for a number of reasons. On hearing this, I mentioned that I had developed a case of the “yips” on my service toss not more than a year earlier, and the neurologist thought that might be a manifestation of the very slight damage that I suffered from the silent stroke.

    Anyway, the relevance of this is that, for some time now, my service toss has not been what it used to be — as it used to be fairly steady and at least not a liability if not an asset. But lately, and continuing to this day, I am prone to getting a bad case of the yips with my toss. And once this happens, it just spreads to every facet of my serve to the point that I often get the proverbial concrete elbow with the serving arm as well.

    So, realizing this was happening again in yesterday’s fun doubles match, I reverted to doing some things that I had learned at tennis camp at Newks long ago — I think mostly from Roy Emerson. Specifically, I slowed down my delivery and especially preparation for the serve. I took some long breaths before even commencing the toss, mostly while I was slowing bouncing the ball before serving. I focused on tossing from my shoulder and also holding the ball in my fingertips instead of the palm of my left hand. I moved my serving hand more toward the butt end of my racquet grip. I purposely loosened the tightness of my grip while I almost took my pinky finger off the grip entirely. And I shook my hand and arm mainly from the wrist just before tossing and swinging to promote a relaxed and loose delivery on the serve.

    Lo and behold, everything worked like a charm. I suddenly started serving much better. I started getting a high percentage of first serves in, also with pace and spin (in my case mainly kick). I stopped needing to drop my toss. And overall, the yips just went away for the remainder of the match.

    All in all, this also elevated my level of play for all of my other shots during the match as well. My partner and I won easily.

    I would not say that my particular problem with the yips is fully cured — since it has a base in damage to my brain from a silent stroke I am just going to have to deal with it — but these techniques DO work in helping to keep the yips under control, I have found.

    Marty, i have been told that i would get a more consistent toss by using my palm and NOT my fingers. Strange. thanks, george

  5. A favorite topic of mine. I can yip with the best of them in any game that I’ve played. I think science is way behind on getting this figured out. My own observations are that they always seem to be related to wrist flexion – generally when one tries to “time” same, rather than just let it happen. A big part of what ran me out of golf – both with putting and with chipping/pitching. Actually totally cured the putting version by going to the “claw” grip many years later. Wrist is turned 90° so there is no flexion. Was going through the tossing yips before the wrist surgery. The palm and finger thing with *no* fingertips was working pretty well. As part of my recent therapy time, I fiddled some more with the toss. Oddly, stumbled across relaxing my grip on the *racquet* before tossing, and the yips seemed to magically go away. 🙂 Needs further testing. Tension is just natural with me, and I can’t remember the last time I didn’t take a big, deep, affected-sounding breath before a serve in a tournament match. 🙂

    Kevin, one theory is that the small muscles are more likely to malfunction than the bigger muscles. thanks, george

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