Possibly the largest issue in tennis is the mind game that is played out inside the head as a match unfolds, at times a totally different match as the one actually taking place on court. I once saw a video of Mats Wilander talking about just that, he spoke so blatantly honestly about what can happen to the thought process cogs inside the brain during play. From a player who reached the pinnacle of his sport it was fascinating to listen to, a rare insight.
One thing in particular stuck in my mind as far as what Mats was talking about and I believe it to be a huge issue while playing tennis. 'I'm serving for the set against the number 5 seed, I need this first point, If I don't win it I will be down 0-15, that's just one point away from 0-30, then I'm in trouble, I'm looking at a break back then we are on even terms again, this first point is crucial'.
That wasn't word for word from Mats Wilander but I am sure you get the point, so to speak. How do you think you would play that first service point that you have made so crucial inside your own head and do you think you are in danger of double faulting ? Nothing worse than a double, it's a sign that you are tight, a sign that your thoughts are not free, a sign that perhaps your technique is not as good as you thought it was.
I am sure Australia's Bernard Tomic could vouch for that feeling where just over a week ago he lead Thomas Berdych by a set and 4-0 only to lose. How did that happen ? Well at 0-4 Thomas Berdych knew he was almost gone but he won his own serve and had a red hot go at Tomic's next service game, he didn't have much to lose, why play safe ? For the Czech to break back to 2-4 it was a huge momentum shift and it was enough to put the self doubt into the Aussie's game.
So when Thomas won his next serve the pressure was right back on Tomic to somehow put the disappointment out of his head regarding his previous service game. Do you think that Wilander's theory on self doubt well and truly came into play in that particular game that Tomic had to win for his own confidence to be restored ?
I have seen countless tennis matches that have a score line of say 1-6, 7-6, 6-2 or 0-6, 7-5, 6-3 with my favourite of all time being Mats Wilander's effort in 1982 to win the French Open against Vilas. The score of 1-6, 7-6, 6-0, 6-4 shows a huge momentum shift from the first set that Guillermo Vilas dominated and it shows the second set to be one of a player just hanging in, weathering the storm.
The third set is typical of two mind sets, one being of a shattered player who's game plan was now being worked out by his opposition. In this particular case a set point went begging that was perhaps a point that would have almost secured the title. The opposing mind set is one of a player who took all that was thrown at him for two sets but weathered the storm, a new sense of freedom evident with no fear that eventually earned him the title.
Many players who lose a close second set after easily winning the first set are mentally crushed hence the typically one sided third set, even in Grand Slams you will often see a score line like that of the French Open final of '82. Perhaps it is the fragile mental state of some players who are happy to own a lead but not so happy to be challenged that ultimately hands them more losses than wins.
The players who can forget the ramifications of the score (as mentioned in my last chapter regarding Andre Agassi) and the many mind games that go hand in hand with each point played are players who own a unique brain.
Even Andre Agassi writes openly in his book regarding his wayward thought processes, something that was definitely not evident when I first saw him play in 1988 as an 18 year old. Does the mind start to waver as you get older perhaps ? Mats Wilander's revealing thoughts on the game are not unlike Agassi's with both champions showing an almost human side to a sport that at times seems to be played by robots without any fear of consequence.
The players who adopt a no fear attitude if technically correct will ultimately become successful at any level played due to a free flowing style. It's the players who are constantly concerned about what may happen as the score board continues to tick over who perhaps never realize their full potential. I have seen guys ranked 500 in the World practice at tournaments both in Europe and Australia who you would swear were the next 'big thing' but practice form is deceiving.
If every player could take their fearless practice form into a tennis tournament then it would be a sight to behold, the game would become a circus of ridiculous talent. It's what though makes the game unique, only the smart players make a living out of it.
It's all very well to be a good tennis coach, good luck with the 'brain teaching' that goes with it...........