I remember some time ago a conversation I had with a kid and a parent regarding intimidation from other kids at tennis tournaments, it happens regularly. Players of all ages walk around behind the courts as if they are 'rock stars' complete with dazzling clothes and foot wear. These players often stop to watch or in some cases put the opposition off their game, particularly the higher ranked players. It is natural for the lesser credentialed tennis player to be intimidated by the ones who are looked upon as the bench marks and who are usually the players left at the end of a tournament.
I touched briefly on the 'intimidation factor' in my last chapter regarding Europe and the tournament scene because I believe it's a huge factor in tennis. Some players are intimidated by different things and different types of opposition, I recall some moments both here and in Europe.
When I entered Roland Garros in Paris in 1991 that to me was an eye opener of epic proportions as the enormity of the centre court stadium is one that hits you with a dose of reality. I imagined what it would be like playing in front of that many people and the effect that it would have on me. What sort of person would you really have to be to play fearless tennis in front of 15,000 spectators who are watching your every move ? It's one thing to play in front of 50 people at your local tournament but in front of thousands ? That's intimidating.
I remember walking past some players at Roland Garros who were there for the same reason as I was, to gain paper work to allow us to play the tournament circuit that involved prize money. The money was not life changing but it was a big help to get to the next tournament. Some of the players I saw were possibly the untidiest tennis players I had ever seen, there was no such thing back then as 'dressing to intimidate'.
I see kids now days walk onto a court at the local junior competition with racket bags big enough to sleep in and shoes worth $200, maybe a racket worth $300 - $400, that's a big investment at a young age. It is however all 'part' of the game now days that seems to thrive on looks and image. If you turn up to play in a pair of Dunlop volley shoes and a $50 racket you will more often than not gain the attention of that group of players I mentioned at the start of this chapter. They are intimidating at a junior level.
I usually found the guys who turned up to play with a beard , long hair, older rackets and shoes to be the players who could really play the game of tennis. Why? Because they relied on nothing except ability. Polite players too were the ones to look out for , these guys knew their capabilities and they oozed confidence. They knew they would be in the last 4 in a few days time, their opponents until then were simply 'practice partners'. Arrogant players were not as good , they relied on their surly attitudes to try and gain an edge, their tennis though was not as confident.
When I used to play junior tournaments in both Queensland and Perth I was sometimes overawed with the occasion initially or the opponent but I usually settled well and played a competitive brand of tennis. Trying to do it in Europe however was a totally different equation as the last chapter also suggested, it was like an AFL side trying to win regularly away from home, tough assignment.
So to my initial paragraph and the conversation I had with the junior and the parent, I simply gave some examples as best I could. I told them I now days enjoy playing in front of people who would rather I lose, I actually pick them out and use them as a spur. If tennis tournaments were full of spectators wanting you to win all the time where would the fun be in that ??
So the obvious question came back " How do you know some of them want you to lose "? I said "Well at your age you don't have to worry too much about it , at my age though in a sport such as tennis some of us have a difference of opinion, nature of the game. As a kid however you have a chance to walk past that group of boof heads at the end of your match and give them a smile that says "Thanks for the support , I play better in front of you guys, hopefully I will see you all next match" (under your breath of course).
That's how you deal with 'rock stars' and their 'fan club', simply beat them, they won't bother you too much after that even if you do play with a $50 racket.....