Winning seems to come naturally to some players while others can only produce their best form on the practise court. For the majority of players, however, match-play tennis is an unpredictable mixture of winning and losing, with maintained success an illusive goal.
It is just as important to develop the control of your mental attitude as it is to improving your physical ability. A winning attitude is often the sole distinguishing factor between winning and losing in closely contested matches.
Novak Djokovic is a good example – he demonstrates the importance of ‘mind over matter’ and comes out of many a close contest as the winner. But don’t forget, he will remind you, of the importance of the serve in the tie-break.
Although attitude is regularly manipulated by changing external circumstances, it is nevertheless possible to change your mental attitude at will by understanding and following some of the forms of mental control which I will describe below.
Although your attitude to winning and your temperament form the solid mental base on which winning is founded, determination will provide the key to success.
Determination involves striving 100% at all times to reach your objective, which will require both mental and physical stamina.
Only you can decide what you want from your tennis, and become determined and dedicated to achieving your ambition.
Set out a success chart, planning each step separately, and as soon as you reach one goal, start working towards the next.
Never be satisfied with your achievement – or someone will overtake you.
Focusing your imagination
Reactions to certain situations are often affected by imagination and, conversely, your imagination can be used to control these reactions. Some players have a habit of bouncing the ball six or seven times before serving.
If you, however, regard this as a deliberate act of gamesmanship you will, as a result, be distracted from making a good return. If, however, you imagine he is doing it because he is anxious about his serve and needs to calm himself.
Thus, providing you with more time to focus your concentration, you will probably remain calm while he bounces the ball, and your concentration will be heightened as a result.
Imagination can be used to visualize improvement by helping you to create pictures in your mind of how you would like to play, and to see yourself playing in this way.
If you have difficulty in winning important matches, or have a defeatist attitude to them, start setting aside 15 to 30 minutes every day for visualizing the success you desire.
When you lack confidence in a particular stroke, see yourself performing it perfectly in match-play situations.
Controlling your temper
Losing your temper on court is to be avoided at all costs. Not only out of courtesy to your opponent and any spectators, but also because it will distract you and waste your mental energy which will ultimately make your performance suffer.
It may also provide a psychological boost to your opponent who may interpret the outburst as a sign of nerves. You may have watched Nick Kyrgios lose control of his temper on court – not a pretty site – and you probably have thought this is not improving his chances of winning.
Just before you lose your temper there will be a split second when you are aware of what is about to happen.
At this precise moment you can decide to use the energy you were going to waste on losing your temper to play better tennis and beat your opponent.
Achieving good match-play temperament
Good match temperament is founded on sound stroke play. If you tend to get nervous, the problem lies in lack of confidence in a particular stroke.
This can always be remedied by practising and perfecting the stroke in question. Develop a sound temperament by perfecting reliable techniques and skills which will encourage you to play with relaxed confidence.
Gamesmanship and fair play
There is an unwritten code of fair play in tennis, upholding the true spirit of the game.
A few players do not follow this, and many of them regard gamesmanship as part of the game, and seek to gain an advantage by any means they can get away with.
Deliberate gamesmanship is cheating, and is therefore to be deplored.
It can range from simple delaying tactics, like doing up your shoe laces when they are perfectly all right to an all-out verbal attack designed to intimidate and distract an opponent.