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Every once in a while youíll come up against a player with a big reputation. This opponent might be the champ at your club or in your league, or a Division I college player home from school. While the player doesnít compare to Roger Federer, he might as well be No. 1 in the world as far as youíre concerned. What should you do? Be respectful and take your licking, or try to take your game up a notch and hit harder and closer to the lines?
The answer is neither. Both responses are apt to get you beaten.
Itís important to remember tennis mind games of percentages. There are no guarantees, only probabilities. Your task is to give yourself the best odds you can. Thatís not going to happen if youíre preoccupied with your opponentís intimidating reputation. Instead, concentrate on your game plan and assume that your normal shots are good enough. Itís OK to make small adjustments to your tactics and style as necessary, but keep them within your capabilities. Pushing your game to unsustainable limits will lead to disaster.
At the same time, playing only for a respectable score and worrying about what the opponent or spectators are thinking will be equally damaging.
The bottom line is that you must play your tennis mind games and believe that it will be good enough. If you can get past your early jitters and keep the match close, youíll have a chance. At that stage, donít worry that your normally superior opponent is bound to do something special to beat you. If you think your opponent has a secret weapon, youíll likely try shots you shouldnít and make fatal errors. More than anything else, this is why higher-ranked players usually win crucial tiebreakers. Itís not because they do something amazing, but rather because the lower-ranked players try to step up their games in the fear that their opponents will either hit winners or never miss. Donít give the match away or allow your opponent to bluff you out of it. If the score is close, the better player is, on this day at least, no better than you.
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Tennis Mind Games: Dominating Your Opponent
A closely fought tennis match is not just a physical battle. Itís a struggle of will, mental strength, and character. One powerful element in winning matches is establishing dominance. That is a part of tennis mind games.
What do I mean by dominance? It has to do with the feeling that inferior players get when they face better opposition. High-ranking or successful players have a way of making their opponents feel ineffectual. Take Roger Federer. His simple presence across the net is intimidating. And as a consequence, opponents miss shots against him that they routinely make against other players. Theyíre also more likely to become nervous against him or get discouraged when theyíre behind. This psychological tennis mind games weaponry makes Federerís job easier. It can also help you in competitive matches.
To establish this dominance, start by recognizing that all of your actions, not just your forehands and backhands, have an effect on your opponentís mental state. Since human beings are social, we instinctively react emotionally to the way other people treat us. If you show your opponents that you fear them, theyíll feel strong; if you dismiss their efforts, theyíll feel weak. We com-municate this, in part, through gestures and body language. Much of Federerís psychological dominance comes from the way he carries himself on courtóerect, conﬁdent, and unresponsive to his opponentís winners or his own er-rors. The same is true, in a different way, for Serena Williams. She dares her opponents to match her intensity; usually they canít and that gives her an im-mediate psychological tennis mind games advantage.
You can do the same as these champions. If your opponent hits a great shot, make it appear that you donít notice. Walk back into position with your head up, your stride steady, looking as if you are conﬁdent and know exactly what youíre doing. If you make an error, no matter how egregious, act as if nothing happened. Displays of frustration or discouragement are signs of weakness that serve only to strengthen your op-ponentís resolve. Theyíre submissive gestures, not actions of a dominant competitor, so lose them.
Another method of establishing dominance is to control the pace of the match. Even if youíre behind, you can still dominate the tempo of play. Between points, walk into position at your own pace. If itís slower than your opponent wishes, make him wait; if itís faster, let him feel rushed. Donít break the rules or try to be irritating. Just be determined to play at your own pace.
Finally, you can dominate with your match strategy. Clear game plans can be intimidating. They indicate that you think you have found a weakness and intend to exploit it. Thoughtful, purposeful people frighten those who are uncertain (which most of us are). Also, donít allow your opponent to think that you fear any part of his game. For example, if you serve to your opponentís forehand and he hits a great return, indicate that it didnít impress you by serving there again. If you play a long baseline point and he outlasts you, donít immediately begin to hit harder or rush the net. Go right back at him and force him to do it again. After you win one of these long points you can decide to adjust your approach, but you donít want him to feel that you have conceded this part of the game to him. Dominant players change their strategies because they choose to, not because their opponents make them. These are the two of the best tennis mind games.
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