Mental approach to five-set match

Read and remember, or even take on court to read:

These tips were originally developed as a help for players about to play a Grand Slam or Davis Cup match for the first time and who had to mentally prepare for the possibility of going to five sets, which is a long time to concentrate.

When you may be on court for over three hours there is no point in trying to hype yourself up over a long period of time. If you get involved in a long match you need to pace yourself. However this does not mean low intensity, but rather keeping a good work ethic and choosing moments to raise your intensity.

I developed a tool to explain exactly what I mean by this and that is to imagine that your intensity is similar to that of a rev-counter in a car. The idea is to keep your rpms steady at a certain level of intensity. During important moments in the match you accelerate and raise the level with spurts of extra energy and intensity.

Imagine keeping the rpms at a constant 3000 rpms – then putting in spurts of intensity to 5000 rpms. Once the crisis passes you need to bring the revs back to 3000 rpms, so you do not burn out mentally or physically.

Below are the key points given to players, which alleviated the fear of long matches. Although the information is aimed at preparing for five sets it is nevertheless valuable to all players who wish to learn how to manage their resources over a long match. It is also helpful if you are playing more than one match in a day.

  • Understand momentum will come and go.
  • Try to stay sharp and finish in three sets if you can. You have plenty of time, but try to convert the early chance if it presents itself!
  • Keep your sense of humour and also your toughness. The crowd will feel this even if you are in a bad period.
  • Use your good tennis memories in times of crisis – Consciously prepare three successful memories to tap into for confidence.
  • Be you – the tennis player out there, feeling at home – rather than being manipulated by the crowds or your opponent. 'Own yourself' and therefore own your choice of emotions and actions.
  • Totally believe that you are competing to continue building your game and enjoy the reason for playing which is – performing performing your best under pressure.
  • When you serve or return for the match –look at your opponent, smile and play to take him/her out. Remember whatever you feel they are feeling worse because they are in the toughest position trying to stay alive in the match.
  • You can wake up the next morning with pride or regret. You will still be back learning and playing regardless. It is an honour but don’t make it a bigger deal than any other tennis match played on a great court.

A player has four choices of what can happen when faced with a huge match with lots of pressure. He/she can choose either the route of worst or best outcome. Following are the most common reactions players will have to this kind of pressure:

Scene 1:

Nervous and scared: this means playing with frozen or lethargic legs, tentative, intimidated, overawed, can’t think, believe it is a nightmare and be embarrassed.

Worst outcome - hardly remember the match or remember it only as a blur, which will be no fun and a wasted opportunity.

Best outcome - snap out of it too late and realise how unnecessary it was to be that way and that tennis is what you do not what is prearranged in their mind– There is huge regret for the wasted opportunity created by poor mental preparation.

Scene 2:

Nervous but adrenalized and start like you are on speed: can’t time the ball and no breaks come your way.

Worst outcome – game racing away and then suddenly you become deflated and quiet. Match goes dead and you want it to end. 

Best outcome – Understand adrenaline so keep energised rather than manic and be patient knowing that eventually you will strike it well when you get your eye in and nerves under control. Wait for your window, staying alive physically but calm mentally. Soon the match will be on!

Scene 3:

Nervous but energised: start like a dream taking the guy apart

Worst outcome - opponent gets their window and starts to play well. You buy into the feeling that he/she is suddenly a better player, rather than realising it is a normal match with a change in momentum. You slide into panic and never recover your form.

Best outcome - realise it’s a momentum change and keep physically working hard but mentally calm therefore riding out the storm looking to taking your opportunities when they invariably arise.

Scene 4:

Start playing tough, keep tough and end tough – enjoy match and put in a class performance.

by David Sammel


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