There was a time when most recreational tennis players dreamed of the day Santa would deliver a solid backhand drive on Christmas Eve, but those old days of weaker backhands is long over. Not only have we witnessed an explosion of outstanding “two-handers,” but now we are watching the return of some of the best one-handers we have ever seen: Wawrinka, Gasquet, Dimitrov, Almagro, Kolschreiber, Haas and Federer.
So, I’ve completely changed my mind, and now I am totally focusing on the mental game.
Without a doubt, the emergence of tennis coaching is at an all-time high. The prior times where three out of four Grand Slams were played on grasscourts and conservative teachers exclaimed the merits of the Continental forehands are long gone. Thank goodness for Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert and Bjorn Borg; their different styles brought a new perspective to this great game.
In particular, Chris and Jimmy demonstrated their two-handers, and Borg literally blew everyone away with his Western forehand. The tennis establishment proclaimed that Bjorn’s awkward forehand was limited at best, and he would never win on the fast grasscourts at Wimbledon. Guess who had the last laugh? Borg won Wimbledon five consecutive times!
Today, we have so many incredible coaches who have developed players with the most vicious groundstrokes we have ever seen. Even though most ATP Tour pros can rip serves well over 130 miles per hour, player after player can possess such solid “groundies” that they can negate the serve and volley specialist, and off-court training and state of the art nutritional meals enable players to move around the baseline with ease and play for hours.
Still, even though experts like Dr. Jim Loehr have offered cutting edge mental toughness tips, players continue to struggle with pressure. How many USTA tournament players, who have taken a boatload of lessons, still “fold tent” on big points? It’s impossible for me to count the numbers of players I have competed against who usually “win the warm up” only to fail on every important occasion?
I highly recommend one of Loehr’s recent books — “In the Only Way to Win” — “(s)pecifically, Loehr finds that the blind pursuit of external achievement often results in emptiness, addiction and, ironically, poor performance. It’s not really about what you achieve, he argues, it’s about who you become as a consequence of the chase.”
As I’ve discussed in prior articles, Loehr offers keen insights into how the mind works during intense competition and offers revealing truths.
During the mid 1980s, pro friend Jak Beardsworth and Loehr had given me the new heart rate monitor. Wrapped on my body near my mid section, I could read levels after each point. Even though I was competing in the Florida State Closed Singles event, I experimented with Dr. Loehr’s device, and I was able to make small adjustments during play.
Earlier in the draw, I was confident that I was going to win so I wasn’t intimidated to use this new tool. When I viewed a higher heart rate, I would dwell on my breathing. By the time I faced a high seed in the quarterfinals, my breathing numbers were dropping, and this overall calmness helped me win more matches.
Now by the time I played in the Florida 25-and-Over Singles division, I had played in hundreds of junior state, sectional and national tournaments and played at least 50 D1 collegiate matches per year throughout my career (singles and doubles — all two out of three set matches). In short, I had years of experience in pressurized situations, and it wasn’t too much of a gamble to try Loehr’s new apparatus.
Unless the tenacious 3.5 or 4.0 rated player has extensive on-court experience, I wouldn’t recommend heart rate monitors or other gadgets because it may affect concentration, but it is essential to seek out information about one’s inability to cope with pressure on the tennis court.
Why does a 3.5 or 4.0 player, who takes dozens of private tennis lessons, choke during competition? Believe me, every player is unique, but I would like to footnote Loehr and his theory about one’s character. In simple language, as the tenseness increases, the player is doubting their ability to cope and perform.
It is quite possible this player is competing for the wrong reasons. If the player “needs” to win because of their off-court inadequacies, they will fail. We all know this type of person. Maybe he cheats on his spouse or cheats on his taxes or has a terrible temper or deliberately hurts people to get ahead. It will reveal itself on the tennis court.
To me, the player who continually embraces self-improvement is more likely to succeed in the future. Clearly, when we seek improvement of our character, it is somewhat daunting because we all have plenty of weaknesses.
Finally, be bold, grip onto the idea of honor and character, and watch your results climb match after match. Good luck.
Since 2000, Doug Browne was the Collier County Pro of the Year three times, and has been a USPTA pro in the area for 28 years. Doug was also honored in the International Hall of Fame (Newport, Rhode Island) as Tennis Director during the 2010 summer season. Doug has been writing about tennis for the last 19 years.