Mats Wilander once said that he felt he had three games in the bag at the start of each match due to his ranking, reputation and ability to play the game, fair comment. The young fellow from Croatia, Borna Coric played Federer not long ago and won just three games. Wilander's theory once again came into play, many games in the bag in that particular match.
It doesn't matter how old you are, a junior or a senior, intimidation is something that the strongest players use to their advantage to perfection. I remember when I was training full time as a 16 and 17 year old in Brisbane and there were guys at the Coops Tennis Centre who I idolized. The funny thing was this, when I trained with one of them once I got just as many balls back as he did, my standard lifted to a level that surprised the hell out of me. I mean no offence to my regular training partners however they were not of the same standard as the top squad players.
One player in particular, Neil Borwick was on the next court to us younger guys regularly training with the best players available, he was a genius with everything he did. I was never fortunate enough to train with him but I hit with him around two years ago when he was in town. I loved the challenge as Neil beat both Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl, two former World Number 1's in the early 90's.
He also once teamed with Swedish legend Jonas Bjorkman and defeated Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis who also were World number 1's in doubles, that's a rare distinction. So was I intimidated to hit against Neil nearly 30 years later ? You betcha, the guy still has a ridiculous ability to play tennis.
Intimidation never ends until you become a top player yourself so is there a solution ? Absolutely. Who are you training with and are they players you can beat on a regular basis ? If so then why are you still training with them ? You only ever stop being intimidated by players once you start beating them and it all starts in practice.
I will never forget my training session against Justin Stead, a former professional who I looked up to at Coops not only for his on court ability but for his philosophical attitude towards life in general. He once asked me for a hit as his practice partner had not showed, right place, right time GT.
My standard for that hour or so was one that I did not know that I owned, I barely missed a ball. So what did that tell me ? I needed more sessions against those types of players because after my initial nerves, albeit in practice, I realized that the good players who I idolized weren't that much better.
The biggest difference was that they simply didn't miss much and they were thinkers. I have often stated that the best players in tennis were not the best ball strikers but the best thinkers, I will always believe that.
So to the question from the young fellow who looks for an answer to playing the big guns and how to handle the occasion; It all starts with the build up Champ and what you are doing to prepare for tournaments.
If you can find a player who will beat you regularly then 'employ' them as your hitting partner because they are your ticket to improvement. Practice with them for as long as you can but do the right thing by yourself before you go into a tournament, find someone who you can beat to get the confidence back on the right track.
Don't look for a 2 and 2 win, look for a couple of bagels, that's always a good mental test and a test you should always give yourself. Anyone can win 2 and 2 but the really good players can do the bagel job.
Tennis is all in the head Champ but it begins on the practice court. The 'dicks' you talk about are always going to be 'dicks' until they get beaten because it's the nature of the sport. It's egotistical to win at an individual sport, particularly at the junior level as it creates a feeling of superiority. The reason they keep winning is because their training is superior to the rest.
In one of my chapters 'The Wall And The Court' I spoke of a kid who all the other kids followed around like ducklings after their mother. I was unfortunate enough to play him in my first ever tournament, I received a belting. I was more shattered though when I heard him tell his mates I was 'weak'.
A year later I belted his brother in the very same tournament and I received some respect. I wanted revenge on the 'hero' but I settled for a win against his brother who wasn't far off his standard. I told myself from that very first tournament that I wasn't going to accept defeats like that ever again. That's when I started attacking the wall and every good player I could find to get my game up to speed. Have you read the Andre Agassi book ?
As egotistical as the 'Summer Of Revenge' was it was also something for Agassi to focus on to improve. He despised Becker and he wanted to beat him, if nothing more than to gain respect. It gave him a goal.
Tennis is full of 'dicks' and ego freaks but once you start beating them it all changes. Change the routine, find a 'hero' to hit with, that's when you will realize your potential and you will fear no one....