The psychology of tennis: critical moments during the match

Tennis is a highly mental sport. The games are long, concentration, confidence and mental strength are difficult to maintain for long periods of time, as well as recover them. There are ups and downs in these critical situations, typical of this sport that deserve the proper functioning of the mental aspect if you want to reach the highest level in white sport.

Tennis must benefit from a series of psychological elements such as:

  • Self-esteem
  • Emotional control
  • Activation
  • Mental strength
  • Display
  • Concentration

These elements are widely known, but there are moments in matches when
all this set of elements, which are part of all the psychological baggage that the tennis player must
have, have to be combined and appear more strongly at critical moments.

  • keys to a tennis match.

Personality characteristics of a successful tennis player:

  • Mental strength
  • Concentration
  • Frustration tolerance
  • Pain tolerance
  • Perseverance
  • Tireless fighting ability, fight to the end
  • Emotional control:

– Ability to emotionally recover from important falls or keys in sets or games .

– Keep negative emotions in control (frustration, anger, anger, rage, etc.)

– Maintain the influx of positive energy, based mainly on the joy of playing and fun.

– Ability to control oneself

  • Confidence:

– Ability to be confident

– Ability to regain confidence

Key match situations:

  • First sets: The first sets are for reconnaissance and warm-up. Any tennis player who has the ability to read the game early or enter with the appropriate activation, will be able to take advantage of these initial moments of the game and generate confusion in the rival.
  • 0-40 or 40-0: This marker is always a complex situation, the player who is up can get out of this and be transported automatically to the next game and / or set, and that having such a large advantage can give the game terminated in his mind, which can cause the opponent’s comeback. When this happens and the set is turned upside down, it is a tough and difficult situation for the player who lost, needing the right mental tools to recover from this situation. On the other hand, the one who is down can end the game and ‘throw in the towel’, giving an effortless game for the other, when it has not finished yet.
  • Deuce (tie): In deuce, the one with the greatest pressure is the one with the serve, for fear that it could be broken. But the one who is about to break can also become anxious or nervous about the proximity of being able to break the opponent’s serve. And this will put more pressure on one or the other in relation to who has the advantage on the set and the overall game.
  • Second serve: The second serve takes away the confidence of the player since he cannot err and give the opponent a point. He thinks twice before risking, preferring to assure it by giving a good opportunity to the receiver to counterattack a serve – sure “.
  • 4th, 5th and 6th set: The last three games are the end of the set, it is where the pressures increase, anxieties to win and / or rush the game, the psychological aspect for these situations is decisive and of the utmost importance.
  • Fourth Set: The number 4 in tennis implies a psychological change in both players. It is when the barrier of the first half of the set is passed, it is when the demands and pressures increase and the points and games become more decisive. From the fourth set things begin to be defined, so the pressure increases, the decline curve of the set begins (4-0. 4-1, 4-2 or 4-3), the breaks of games are More important, the pressure for the server is greater, the game becomes more interesting for the public, the balance begins to tip for one or the other player. There are two types of important variables in the fourth set, which are the following:

– 4-2 or 4-3 down with serve: It implies greater pressure because he must retain his serve, in theory what is expected, but the pressure to maintain his serve can play a trick on him since there is concern that if he loses his serve the Opponent gets to 5 sets and with his serve, that is to say, a shot of victory.

– 1 4-2 or 4-3 down without serve: A tennis player with little mental strength, perseverance, fighting spirit and faith in himself will ‘throw in the towel’ and give up the game for lost, simply waiting for it to finish to go away. your home and stop feeling bad. While one with internal strength will fight to the end, which is to be expected and ideal, because the set is not over yet, the result can still be turned around and even lost, but as a strategy it is better to tire the opponent than to let him take the set easy.

  • Losing the serve: It is considered that the one who serves has the advantage, so when they “break ‘the serve or -broke it’ it is an expected situation and an advantage for the other player. this has a psychological and emotional impact on both players. Both for the one who loses and for the one who wins. This is a key moment of the match. The next game is decisive since it will define if that break is consolidated, because sometimes the one who broke mentally relaxes due to emotion and joy causing the rival to grow, connect or stimulate more (for example Rafael Nadal is like that) and take advantage the relaxation of the other to even things out.
  • When the serve has been broken: When the serve has been broken or the other player has broken, it can fall into a relaxation, overconfidence and / or tranquility that can lower its activation and / or concentration, relaxing, allowing this to be used by the other player.
  • The small details: They are what make the difference in tennis in long matches (in duration, time, and / or in sets), and those small details are given by the mental aspect. Those little details to handle the downward curve (from the fourth set), the pressure, anguish, anxiety to win. the desire to rush the game, handle anger, frustration, helplessness, anger. rage, anger, among others, the ability to maintain a flow of positive energy (joy, fun, optimism, self-belief), ability to keep negative emotions at bay. manage negative, intrusive, irrational or invasive thoughts, stay focused on key moments (breaks, closings of games or sets, tie brakes , etc.), mental routines between points to re- oxygenate and renew yourself physically and mentally, to quiet the mind and allow talent to flow naturally.
  • Tie brakes : This really is a sudden death, it involves great emotional handling and concentration, as well as cold blood. Here the mental aspect is more decisive than technical issues – although fatigue also comes into play (we start from the premise that in the high competitive level of tennis there are no major technical differences). They are energies that face each other and whoever knows how to handle them, take advantage of them and read how the other’s is doing is the one who will take advantage of this.

Tips :

  • The time between serves or points (25 sec .): It is important to manage the times in the serves. If the other is good, with courage, confidence and / or strength, it will be appropriate to slow down and take some time. If the other is wrong, the game can be hurried. But in general, taking time to breathe, dry your face, concentrate, focus, control fears and anxiety, and even visualize the action before performing it, having taken almost everything or even the 25 seconds of time between points, is good for performance.
  • The time between changing sides (1 min. 30 sec .): It is also very important to take the time between the change of field to relax, oxygenate, rehydrate and / or recharge with some light food, regain confidence and finally activate mentally and prepare to continue the fight in the field. All of this can be done in just a minute and a half.
  • Between court changes it is important to make a routine for a minute and a half, breathe, read something on a piece of paper (technical issues, confidence, mental strength, concentration or others), visualize what you want to correct, improve or do. Rest can be divided into:

– Recovery:

  • Rehydration
  • Eat something
  • To breathe

– Relaxation: Forget what has already happened

– Prepare for the game:

  • Specific respiration
  • Display
  • Specific messages
  • Activation
  • Mental preparation

– Time management during the game: The tennis player must learn to read the game and his opponent, smell fear, anxiety. nervousness lack of concentration or confidence, strength or when it is climbing. According to that, he must rush the game to maintain that confidence and positive energy, taking advantage of the opponent’s bump. If you are unwell, it is important to take the 25 seconds between points to re- oxygenate yourself , return to calm, regain your spirits and concentration.

* It is important to emphasize the importance of the mental, since the athlete does not have the possibility to speak with their coach during the match (except in the DAVIS Cup), so unlike other sports that have paramilitaries, there is no external feedback qualified.

Mental routines:

The tennis player must be full of mental routines for competitions,

  • Pre-game routines: To get active, focus, get on the field of play, put aside your personal self and move into your athlete self or others.
  • Routines between points.
  • Routines between games .
  • Routines between sets.
  • Routines to focus on the present.
  • Routines for when the game is bad.

There are great examples in tennis who handle these situations very well like Andre Agassi. Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.

How to increase confidence?

Below we list a series of techniques and / or strategies to increase confidence:

  • Use the same ball with which the previous winning point was made.
  • Don’t wipe your sweat while you’ve earned a point.
  • Towel dry sweat when you have missed a point.
  • Change polo when you are losing.
  • Change racket when you are losing.
  • Request support from the fans (especially if it is in your favor or if you are local).
  • Celebrate the key points (not celebrate to celebrate, just the important points).
  • Say key words or phrases to yourself Wear a brightly colored uniform.
  • Hurry the game when you are winning, take advantage of your own good level and take advantage of the low level of the other.}
  • Take the necessary time when you are losing yourself, to reoxygenate yourself , regain concentration, confidence and mental strength, through mental routines (they must have been worked with a sports psychologist previously).
  • Maintain a winning posture despite adverse situations (upright, head raised, shoulders back, gaze straight ahead, etc.). Do not show a position of defeat, this will be perceived and taken advantage of by the opponent. Turn quickly before the error or point in favor of the opponent, mentally closing the door from that point, quickly and move on to the next.
  • Faced with the error, do not get confused, but automatically repeat the movement in the air, correcting the technical failure.

You can choose the strategies that best suit you or you can vary according to the circumstances, but the ideal is to work it with a psychologist specializing in sport, if he has experience in better tennis, to work according to the personality characteristics and see which is what accommodates him, always respecting his styles of thought.

Strategies to increase concentration:

  • Bounce the ball.
  • Look at the ball.
  • Look at the strings.
  • Arrange the strings.
  • Focus on playing point by point, what happened has already happened and what will come is unknown.
  • There is only the present, the here and now.
  • Using a towel on your head is a good way to isolate yourself from the environment, to focus on yourself.
  • Do not anticipate the circumstances.
  • Tie the pins (cords).

It must be remembered that these applications will not have results if they are not practiced, they must be automated until they become part of the tennis player’s personal repertoire, until they are given without thinking. They must occur naturally, automatically and spontaneously and that is the result of practice and work. Mental skills cannot be mastered without training, technical and physical skills must be practiced as well. Remember that one should not be discouraged if they do not work the first few times. They must remember when they just began to practice the back, the drop , the serve, the toff spin or others, they did not go out, but they persevered and managed to dominate them, it is the same with the mental aspect. Who perseveres wins.


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