Originally published Monday, December 4, 2017 at 10:30p.m.
When you decide to play in a tournament, USTA League play, or any tennis competition where you most likely will be playing others you’ve never met, there comes a rush of emotions - for various reasons.
You’ll be thinking about who you’ll be playing, what their skills and personality will be like in comparison to yours. Will you hold up physically and mentally in match play - and, just how will you be viewed?
It can be a bit scary and somewhat tough to decide to make this leap of faith in playing others in singles, doubles or mixed events but by doing it you get to know what’s going to take place and that it’s exhilarating for the most part.
This year I played in eight tournaments, co-captained and played on a men’s 9.0 team in Phoenix that did well at sectionals. I will have attained the No. 1 ranking in singles and doubles in the SW section in the men’s 60’s division for 2017 which I am proud of. I’ve been playing in tournaments for 50 years now and I still get nervous, still agonize before my matches, and I’m in the profession.
Do I enjoy it, yes - most of the people I play become friends and that’s really nice, but when you’re pitted against one-another it’s a friendly war.
For most of us who want to perform as well as possible at the level we’ve attained or are reaching for prior to the event, we begin to go into a battle mode of routines.
The physical may be the easy part - you practice, drill, play matches, analyze-tweak, agonize and that’s just for your court skills. You try to eat better, do special tennis exercises, prepare your body to perform in the heat or cold - and you become proud of what you’ve accomplished.
The mental prep is far harder to regulate at times.
Tennis is hardly a perfect sport, in fact it’s a sport of mistakes - it’s managing those mistakes in a manner that we try to have fewer than our opponents.
It’s learning to keep our composure when things are going well and when they aren’t. Trying hard every point, no matter the score. Figuring out how we can keep the match in our favor, or change it when it’s not - if possible.
I like the Jimmy Connors quote, “I never really lost a match, I just ran out of time.”
The day before and hours before the match/event begins we’ve probably learned who we’ll be playing against. Maybe you know their type of game (which allows you to make an early plan) and maybe you won’t know how they play until the warm up and the match begins.
How do you conquer your nerves?
Here’s a couple ways.
Have a game plan to begin with. During the warm up keep an eye on what they seem to be good at and what they struggle with. Plan your opening game strategy on what you’ve seen. (Maybe you saw a good forehand and a so-so backhand. Or that they love their groundstrokes, but did not like being at the net.) Try to make them do what they don’t like if you can.
Tell yourself you will not make many mistakes into the net.
Expect to make mistakes, but don’t dwell on them. Make the corrections and go on.
Keep your game-face on no matter the score. Be friendly, but concentrate if you want to do as well as possible. Stay in the right frame of mind for all your shots, meaning don’t hit shots you don’t own, like going crazy with power or hitting set up shots by getting too careful.
Enjoy the moment - it’s a learning experience, win or lose. That’s how we get better while getting to know who we are in and during the battle and who we’d like to become.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 45 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or firstname.lastname@example.org.