In my last article I wrote about the top ten things a tennis player should have in their tennis bag. Preparing your equipment is only part of a great players preparation however. I have found in my experience that the best players also prepare themselves mentally and strategically for their matches. They visualize their opponents, their style and movement and the approach they need to give themselves the best chance of winning.
To help with the preparation process great players scout their next opponents. You may already have a game plan for a familiar opponent but chances are that unless you are on the pro tour you will encounter numerous players throughout your career that you have never seen before. In these cases you can have a coach or parent give you a general idea of the players or you can ask a friend at the tournament. If none of this is possible for you then you will have to become proficient in picking apart weaknesses in your opponents game during the pre-match warm up.
For some players, managing their attitude and concentration during a match comes naturally. For the majority though, mental toughness is a muscle that must be exercised and developed over time and with much effort. Anger issues, concentration lapses and tanking have derailed the careers of countless highly talented juniors and even professional players. If you have these tendencies during competition it is important that you prepare your approach before these issues arise in the match. Okay so you get angry. Admit it. Don’t pretend it will fix itself next match. Have a plan for what you will do WHEN you get angry in your next match. There are numerous techniques you can use to defuse anger and re-channel it towards something positive. THE NEXT POINT!
- Fixing your strings
- Going to your towel
- switching your racquet to your non dominant hand (helps to prevent racket abuse!)
- Executing the stroke successfully in your mind
Gamesmanship and Cheating:
Believe it or not, some players will try to cheat you…ON PURPOSE! Obviously, unless linesman are calling the shots for you, you are going to be on the receiving end of some dodgy line calls. You need to plan for this too. Cheating and gamesmanship are used everyday on every surface, on every continent in the world. Why? because it works. The weak minded less resilient opponents are taken out of their game, lose focus and hand the momentum (and a lot of free points) to the cheater. Usually one point will not decide the match so don’t go blaming a lost match on a bad line call that happened in the first set. Going into your match prepared for a cheater/gamesman will allow you to deal with it and move on much faster. Stay in control of your emotions and your game. When an opponent obviously cuts a line on you, call a roaming official to umpire your match. I also recommend to my players that they know the rules of the game. If you know the rules, you can protect yourself to a degree against gamesmanship and identify when someone is trying to pull one over you.
*You can download the USTA rule book from the iBook app on your iPhone!
If you play tournaments seriously then you will no doubt be playing on a variety of surfaces in a variety of weather conditions. Each tournament is likely to be slightly different. Even in the U.S where the majority of tournaments are played on hard courts, the surface speed and bounces can be very different. I have played on some hard courts slower than molasses! To be truly prepared for your match you should schedule a practice time at the tournament facility. Sometimes this is difficult to do with a busy match schedule, but a committed player will make it work, even if it means getting up early. Find a practice partner, coach, friend and spend some time on the courts. It will help you visualize unfamiliar surroundings and adjust your game as needed to the conditions of the court. Even if you can only spend spend 15 minutes hitting serves a few hours before your match, it will benefit you greatly.
When it comes to playing tennis in a competitive environment, being prepared is a huge advantage. The old adage “Fail to plan and plan to fail” has never been more true than in competitive tennis today. Whether you are a weekend battler or an aspiring tour pro, developing good preparation and planning habits will assist you in playing your best tennis and increasing your win percentage.
See you on the courts!
USPTA Elite Professional