December 3, 2017
Ever play a match where your opponent can’t miss? I have and it often seems like you’re helpless in doing anything about it. This is often not the case as I would like to discuss two big factors that you have somewhat control of that could get your opponent from playing so well. Let’s take a look.
The First Element: Your Opponent Doesn’t Fear You
When I say “fear,” I’m not suggesting you need to intimidate your opponent. Rather I am referring to your ability to do two things. Hit the ball deep and punish the short ball. These both relate to the ability to put pressure on your opponent. For example, if you are constantly giving weak balls to your opponent, they know they don’t have to be too risky with their shot selection due to the fact that no matter what they do, you will not be putting pressure on them to hit anything special. Basically they feel in control of the point. I have been on both sides of this situation. When an opponent doesn’t pressure me I make sure to be patient with my shots and wait for the opportunity to hit into the open court before being aggressive. The opposite situation is where my opponent is not feeling pressure from my regular shots so I find myself trying to go for more than I normally would to put pressure on my opponent. As you can guess, that doesn't end well for me.
The other factor is the most important one to look at. It relates to your ability to punish a short ball. If you cannot take advantage of this, your opponent will feel that they have a lot of margin of error on their strokes. On the other hand, if your opponent knows they will most likely lose the point if they hit it short, you will see a lot more unforced errors as they are constantly putting pressure on themselves to hitting the ball deep.
The Second Element: Getting Your Opponent Back Into Their Mind
It’s often called “playing out of your mind” when you play really well at something. When players are asked about their recent spectacular performance, they just shrug and basically say they have no idea why they are playing so well. This is because they are ignoring their inner voice that is often trying to take over during a tennis match. Whenever you lose a point, that voice comes up to try and take over to analyze and criticize you in your playing. Listening to this voice makes it near impossible to play well. Your strokes that should be automated (not thinking about form) are now being analyzed by yourself. This creates a situation where you try to fix issues in the mechanics of your swing AND try to win a match. This is the art of choking. When someone takes a critical look at the parts of their game that should be automated. This leads to choppy swings and an inability to assess your opponent and come up with a strategy to win.
Knowing this can allow you to try to get your opponent’s inner, critical voice to show up again. Simply ask, “hey Sarah, you’re playing awfully well today, what gives?” Usually your opponent will fall for this and start assessing their game to come up with a reason for this to happen. When that happens, their automated strokes are now under the watchful eye of their critical, inner voice. This often leads to them performing worse and giving you a shot at the match!
The Big Picture
The main idea of this blog is to get you to think outside the box to assess your opponent more. Are they tall and like high balls? Slice! Do they hate short balls? Drop shot! Thinking about your match as more of a chess match allows you to gain an upper hand on the strategy that is taken place during the match and gives you a leg up in giving you the best chances of winning!