How do you keep calm and mentally prepare for a tennis match?
Forzoni advises players who struggle to close out matches to adopt certain routines. So what are his main mental tennis tips and tricks?
‘You need to train your mind to be able to accept that something can go wrong,’ Forzoni said. ‘This can be done off the court by talking about a lot of “What if?” scenarios. That’s a great tool and skill for a player to learn. What if you lose the first set 6-2? – what’s your response going to be? What if you win the first set 6-0? – what’s your response going to be?’
By talking through the various match scenarios, players will learn to ‘control the controllables’ through tennis mental training, according to Forzoni. In other words, they won’t get anxious when something happens that’s outside their control, for example when their opponent hits a winning shot.
‘It all comes back to: what is the process you are going to do, what have you practised every day, and can you replicate that in a match?’ said Forzoni.
How to win a tennis match mentally?
Both Forzoni and Lane cited multiple Grand Slam champions Nadal, Federer and Novak Djokovic as prime examples of mentally strong players.
Take for instance last year’s men’s semifinal on the clay courts of Roland-Garros between Nadal and Federer, which was played in extremely testing conditions. The remnants of Storm Miguel, which had struck the French coast with wind speeds of up to 130 kilometres-per-hour, were so fierce they even sent chairs flying and occasionally had the players covered in clouds of red dust on the centre court.
Although Federer struggled to execute his offensive game plan in high winds, Nadal appeared to be utterly unaffected by the conditions, displaying superb footwork to win in straight sets.
‘What is mental toughness?’ asks Forzoni, answering with: ‘It’s probably that ability to stay focused on what you are doing, at the expense of everything else that is going on.
‘So if you’re playing in terrible weather, and chairs are going around in the wind, that’s irrelevant. We call it noise, it’s just interference. If you can ignore that interference and focus on what you are there to do, then you’re giving yourself the best change to have the best performance on that day.’
How can I improve my mental game?
Here are Forzoni’s and Lane’s top five tennis psychology tips:
- Work on your self-confidence
‘Tennis players need to introspect, and call on inner reserves to maintain self-confidence during a game,’ says Andy Lane. ‘Studies have shown that winning tennis players report high levels of self-confidence and low anxiety, are able to control emotions before competition and can use adaptive coping skills.’
- Develop performance routines
‘The brain and memory are very complex,’ says Lane. ‘Sometimes we find it difficult to remove negative thoughts in situations that require us to be positive. When I work with athletes, I try to encourage them to record as many positive features from their training and competition as possible. For example, where tennis players have had a very good session practicing serves, it is important that they recall as much information from that practice session as soon as possible.’
- Accept you won’t always play at your best
‘Not even the game’s most successful players play at their best level in all of their matches,’ says Roberto Forzoni. ‘Let’s say a player competes in 20 matches. The player may view two of those as great while two might be seen as not very good. It is how they perform in the other 16 matches that’s likely to determine their level of success – so have that in mind for 80% of the matches you play.’
- There’s no such thing as ‘having a bad day’
Never speak in terms of ‘having a bad day’ as this gives you an excuse to continue having a bad day, according to Forzoni. Making excuses beforehand is a form of ‘self-handicapping behaviour’, which stops you changing the situation.
- Be comfortable being uncomfortable
This attitude ‘epitomises the journey in sport,’ says Forzoni. Being uncomfortable is part of playing sports ‘so learn to be comfortable with it.’