Handling Those Big Match Occasions
There are 3 golden rules to playing tough matches. The first is to ensure you always make a good start.
Two - ensure you are not intimidated and that you focus throughout the match.
Three - ensure you take every opportunity when it comes along by remaining mentally strong and competitive throughout even the toughest matches.
In big matches remember that your opponent is always just as nervous as you are, and possibly even more so - so don't worry about your nerves because a) they are natural, and b) they will go away with the longer you play.
So knowing that you are probably going to be nervous when you are beginning the match, it is absolutely crucial to play a particularly consistent and intelligent brand of tennis in the first game or two that will help you to get over your nerves, while at the same time also giving your opponent's nerves maximum opportunity to de-rail their game in the early stages.
The way to do this is virtually make no errors whatsoever in the early games of the match (or as little as possible).
While still playing positive tennis - keep the ball going and play yourself into the match, as this will also allow your opponent to have more chances to make errors and get upset with themselves - which can be their undoing as the match wears on.
Once you have the first few games under your belt, you can relax and go for more shots and increase the tempo as the match progresses.
They used to say this about the great Ivan Lendl in the 80's - that his opponents would get to two-games-all with him in the first set and feeling like they were doing well, and they were surprised that Lendl wasn't hitting the ball as hard as he was renowned for.
Thirty minutes later they were walking off the court dazed, having lost 6-2 6-0 - as Lendl, after initially warming his game up "through the gears" in the first four games as he always did, then stepped it up and played the enormously aggressive, controlled power game he was well known to play.
So the first rule is - don't try and peak too early. Instead, warm your game up through the gears and play yourself into the match.
Secondly, focus only on the ball - not on your opponent, their reputation, the score, or the crowd. All you are ever playing is a ball that is down your end of the court - always remember that you are not playing an opponent, you are playing a ball!
This helps a lot of players overcome the intimidation factor when they suddenly realize that the reputation of their opponent actually means nothing - as it is still only a ball you need to deal with, not your opponent.
This is why your focus on the ball is highly important - because that is your opponent.
Last of all, always hang tough and never give up, no matter how hard it may get - as you simply never know just what is going on in your opponent's mind.
They might be worried about a niggling injury you don't know about, may be getting hot or tired, or not feeling as confident as you think they are, or even worrying about something or someone off the court, etc etc.
You just don't know what's going on in their head - they may be about to roll over and hand you the match, and you may not even know it.
Opportunities tend to strike very quickly so you must be mentally alert, eager, and ready to seize them whenever they arrive. This is what separates the great players from the good players - they always take their opportunities.
These three golden rules will ensure you will always make a strong, solid and consistent start to all your matches, and that you remain focused and immersed in the match all the way through (and no longer worried about reputations).
They will ensure that you remain tough and fiercely competitive right until you shake hands as a winner at the end of the match. This is a formula for success - try it and see how it works in your game.
"The Mind controls the body, and the Mind is Unlimited"
The best of success, Craig Townsend
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