Why don't I stay agressive during a match?
I have noticed an frustrating behavioral pattern in my match play. I find that I hit hard and aggressive during practice or matches with friends. But, in a tournament or league match, I begin to push the ball and play tentative.
I find the whole thing bizarre because I am aware of it. I consciously commit to myself before each match that I will stay aggressive. However, after the first couple games, I start to push the ball and be careful.
The irony of the whole situation is that I make far more mistakes and sail more balls long when I am "being careful". Even my serve can get the yips during this mental walkabout. The only thing that saves me is my athleticism and net skills.
Has anyone here ever defeated the tentative tournament yips?
How to stop yourself choking
Basically, this inability and desire to play anything like you do in practise is "choking".
It is very common and sometimes seen as part of the natural course of becoming a better tennis player however you can learn to play in the match situation better with practise.
One of the problems with most tennis players is that they are willing to put the practise into their strokes and not into their mental side (to be honest many players don't know where to start with their mental training).
I have an article (Choking - How to stay aggressive & avoid it!) on my site that explains the 5 main areas you must work on to minimise choking - please have a look and begin working on them (one by one) and pretty soon you will be playing much better in your matches!
If anyone wants to add to these areas please feel free.
Minimizing the Gag Effect ..
When I was beginning to learn this wonderful game, I believe I had an advantage many younger kids don't have today. I didn't start playing to win matches but instead, I played for the FUN of the game. Building my skills was paramount over simply winning a match. Personally I devoted many months of merely hitting practice.
One game my partners and I frequently played was a game called 21 which is basically a hitting game with incentives. The first player to reach 21 wins however the twist to this game is there are no servers. To start a point both Players are standing at the baseline, either Player can start the point off however the stipulation is simply the first delivery can not be an attempt at a winning shot but rather the ball must be placed anywhere beyond your opponent's service line and whomever delivers the first hit must serve it underhand. At that point, the point begins and you are then trying to win the point as if you are in a match. There is a point to this scenario regarding minimizing one's tendency to choke.
* Given you are not dealing with return of serves or facing someone who can ace you, your game is based upon your ground stroke capabilities. Of course all other assets of the game apply once the point begins such as drop shots, chipping & charging, hitting the corners, etc. But you'll find this game relieves much of the stress normally associated with your typical game of Tennis.
As time goes on, you start to build confidence in your ground game and ability to win points by constructing points. What I've discovered is one's lack of confidence is usually the key to choking. Whether you make a shot or not make a shot has far too many variables to pin-point causes but when a Player makes that instant decision whether on defense or offense, you will either make it or not make it and nothing in between. If you go for a shot and produce an unforced error, correct what just happened.
There's an old saying amongst Musicians, "You can't play the Blues until you live the Blues" well that philosophy can be applied to the game of Tennis as well. You can not produce a consistent game until you've made a sufficient amount of errors that you learn from. No one is able to watch Andre Agassi, pick up a racquet and expect to hit like him. I had a long standing pattern of losing the first set of almost every match I played. I considered myself a slow starter. The pre-game warmup never did much for me but rather once the match began, I needed to find my range and get my feet moving. So dropping the first set never bothered me in the slightest. By time the 2nd Set came around, I generally had my range and my body was loose & mobile so in my mind, now we're going play some tennis.
I challenged every kid I worked with to only hit first servers whether they double faulted or not. I never wanted to see a first serve around 110 - 120 and then a second serve around 80 - 90 because they were afraid of double faulting. What I use to point out to them was the losing point ratio on their 2nd serve. They began to take note that by essentially getting the ball in play on the 2nd serve, they were immediately putting themselves on defense because their opponents were pounding the ball down their throats on the service return. So there's your issue to contend with, do you GO FOR YOUR SHOTS or do you play timid style Tennis achieving very little in terms of increasing your level?
There was an old guy that came down to the Courts were I began playing Tennis. He was very Old School, all he did was hit against the wall and occasionally he would grab me or a few others to hit at him while he stood the Net. He had a great mind for the game and I often sat with him (Ernie) on the benches while we watched different people play the game. He would pick them apart telling me who was good and who needed help. There were two statements he made often that have forever stayed with me,
"Hit it were they ain't" That was a very profound statement that made a ton of sense to me. Why are so many Players hitting the ball directly back to their opponent? He said, you must adapt a game that focuses on placing your opponent on defense as often as possible. Go for the corners, hit behind them, figure out their weaker side and selectively attack that. Don't waste time feeding them a ball so they can do it to you first.
"Win matches because you were better, not because your opponent gave it to you." This statement reminded me of the Chris Evertt style of play where she would basically challenge her opponent to outlast her on ground strokes. Chrissy was as steady off the ground as one can ever hope to be. But Chris's game was more about her opponents finally making the error before she did. Rarely did Chris generate a series of winners or take advantage of an opening. She just didn't have that much power to her game, which is why Steffi Graf's first title came against Chris. Steffi had a fierce forehand and used that to deliver harder ground strokes than Chris was use to dealing with.
Finally I would like to remind everyone that what makes Rafael Nadal so incredible is Rafa believes he should win every point. even if Rafa is up 5-1 in the Set and loses a point, you can see him get extremely angry at himself for losing a point. He will not give you anything, if you beat him, it's because you beat him not because he gave you the match. So every win against Nadal is a crowning glory for his opponents because they had to produce their very best game to pull that accomplishment off. Try approaching your next match with the attitude that you are not going to concede one single point within this contest. Concentrate on every point as if it were match point .. the longer you do this the more it will become commonplace. I firmly believe you will soon find, you will no longer choke on any point regardless of where you are at any given moment of the match. Even if you're opponent has match point.
True Story: 1986 Maui Hawaii, I was playing a match against a friend that was very close to my skill level. We had split sets and as always, I lost the first set but I can't recall the score. I do remember that I won the 2nd Set and then all of a sudden, I found myself down 1-5 and he was serving for the match. My mind had taken a nap or something because I completely lost focus on the match until I heard him say, "Match Point". Then I thought to myself, what the heck is going on here, I can not lose 1-6 to this guy. He was serving 40-15 and I decided I was going to do everything possible to win this point and thus I did. Now he's serving 40-30 and I again told myself I must win this point at all cost which I did. Actually I'm one of those guys that loves the Add Court side. I have always considered my Backhand return as one of my best shots so I cheated slightly to the center hoping he would take the bait and go out wide but I didn't want to be so far away that I could make contact. He did just that and I hit a great down the line (DTL) BH Return that he didn't get to. Now we're at deuce and at this point, I figured in my head that I had this game. I am now serving 2-5 and at no time did I even give a second thought to any place other than where we were at. I had to protect my game is all I thought about which I did and now he had another chance to serve it out and once again I was able to break him. The final score in that 3rd Set was 7-5. He did win another game from the moment he yelled out "Match Point".
I watched Mary Jo Fernandez do the same thing against Gabriel Sabatini at the French where Mary Jo was down 0-5 in the final set and came back to win that match as well as Jana Novatna vs Chandra Rubin where Jana was serving 5-0 in the 3rd and eventually lost the Match.
Point is, in this wonderful game, it's not over until it's over regardless of the score. You can still emerge victorious even if you're down 0-5 0-40 if you instantly begin to focus on the task at hand, play one point at a time, believe in winning just the following point and going for the shot(s) you found yourself pulling back on earlier in the match.