Tipping the scales in tennis
The reason for quick changes in momentum
And how come you play a match and everything goes fine, you're leading and then suddenly things start to go wrong. Your opponent catches you and leaves you behind wondering how things could change
so fast. This usually happens after you've won the first set, right?
The reason for this is something that I call the scale effect. Imagine the scale where you put 1 kilogram on each side. The scale is balanced. Now, what happens if you put on one side just 5 grams? Does the scale on that side go slightly down? No, it goes all the way down.
Just a little weight added, which is very minute compared to the total mass, and yet the effect is total change in balance. This effect happens in tennis too. When someone is just a little bit better, he can win the match with the easy looking score of 6:1. That doesn’t mean that the points were all easy but that the slightly better player won most of them eventually.
Maybe they exchanged 8 or 12 strokes in a point and the better player hits 12 in and the lesser 11 in. So he is maybe just a little bit weaker, but the score has no numbers or rules between lost and won points. You either win the point or you lose it. So even though you are 10% worse than your opponent, the score in that particular point is 100% for your opponent and 0% for you.
So what can you learn from this?First, realize that even a very small difference between you and your opponent can make a big effect on the score. That is very important in 3 typical situations:
When you're ahead – you may feel too comfortable and drop your level of intensity for »5 grams«. This immediately tips the scale on the other side and now you can't win a game anymore. So keep your intensity high even when the score seems comfortable. You can't really tell how much more »weight« is on your side so that the scale is tipped in your favor.
When you are leveled with your opponent – that means that no one has any extra grams on his side. So even when you do your best and the scale doesn’t tip in your favor, keep fighting and keep this high level of play. Because as soon as your opponent drops his level, the scale can tip totally in your favor. And of course if you drop your level of intensity and concentration for just »5 grams«, it can tip in your opponent's favor.
When you're behind – it doesn't necessarily mean that your opponent is light years ahead of you. Maybe the scale has tipped against you and there are only »5 grams« on his side. Keep a high level of play and make your opponent lose those 5 grams of extra weight. Or maybe even 10 grams and knowing how much that affects the tennis game, you'll be able to catch up quickly.
Now that you are aware of the scale effect you'll be much more attentive to the slight changes in scale and where it tends to tip. If the scale goes against you, raise your level of play. Stop the momentum before it gets too far.
And when you make the scale tip in your favor, look to keep the weight on your side. Keep the pressure on your opponent and don't allow him to put any extra weight on his side. You'll find your matches much shorter and effective and your opponents will be glad that you showed them a way to new tennis heights.
Have you ever been annoyed, irritated, angry or even frustrated because it was just not your day? You didn't feel the racquet, the ball, your movement was not really fluid, you kept missing sitters and even your normal shots were short? Not to mention the serve…
We've all been there, right? Well, if that is true, then it is inevitable to have a bad day. Just like in life you can have a bad day in tennis. But it doesn't have to stay like that. I personally have had some of my greatest satisfactions when my tennis started bad.
But what usually happens when you have a bad day? You are very disappointed, you keep blaming the bad day for your mistakes (which is partly true), you become very emotional and we all know how we play in emotional states.
Not very good. Bad decisions, rushing things, taking the mind (and eye) off the ball and choking in the crucial moments of the match.
Why does this happen? There are a couple of limiting beliefs that we hold on to:
- If I have a bad day, I cannot win against a good player. So what's the point of trying?
- The second one is: this is too difficult. If I had my normal feel, I would have hit these shots in.
They both make the player focus on the problems. And when a player starts thinking about these problems, his emotional state becomes even more negative. His level of play consequently drops and so he gets his proof - he was right. He makes self fulfilling prophecies. He gets to be right, but loses the match.
But no one cares whether you're right or not. The only thing that counts are the results. So how can we get them?
It takes a different – winning – attitude. First, you need to realize and see the reality as it is. In reality – you are having a bad day. So what will happen? When you aim for the lines, your shots will probably go out. When you attack with your risky slice approach it will sail long. When you try your super drop shot it won't make it over the net.
That's the reality of a bad day, right?
Instead of dreaming how nice it would be to have the feel back again and be really feeling good this day, you need to fight with what you HAVE. You need to accept the reality as it is and do your best to deal with situation in a different way.
That means that you can't win the match with winners, surprise drop shots, super short cross court shots, and second serve aces. You need to accept the challenge that on this day it will be harder for you to play than on your good day.
Stop looking for shortcuts and easy ways to win the match. There aren't any, especially on a day like that.
You need to play solid, percentage tennis. You need to play further from the lines and have high percentage of first serves.
Maybe change your approach. If your aggressive attacking style of play is not working today, then you must find your consistency despite your bad day.
Ask your opponent with your play and attitude: «All right. It looks that I can't beat you today with winners and smart play. But can you beat me? I will play intelligent, fighting tennis with a positive attitude. Can you beat me?«
And then take a quick look at your problems and start looking for solutions.
If you have no feel, start looking for it. Stay in the point; focus on how you feel the ball. Become aware of your feel and when it feels a little better.
If you have problems with your serve, CHANGE IT! Stop hitting 150 mph serves if only 4 percent go in. Stop going for the corners on the second serve if you keep missing for a couple of inches. Serve a slower, more consistent first serve and serve a second serve more to the middle.
Will your opponent punish that? If so, then you would have lost anyway since you were already beating yourself without his actual play. You assumed that he will finish the point and so you missed. So this 100% leads to defeat.
Why don't you test your ideas in reality? Make him play those shots and see what happens. This way you don't kill yourself and you put up a courageous fight.
Another good tip when you have a bad day is to focus only on tennis and not on your opponent. It's very hard to play against your opponent AND tennis difficulties that you may have on that day.
You first need to solve your tennis problems and then focus on your opponent's play. How can you outsmart and outplay him if your tennis is not working 100%?
See the problem, start looking for solutions. Focus on improving your tennis first and then start playing against your opponent.
This is of course a very long explanation of how to deal with a situation like that. It is very useful for understanding the principles and the approach to this type of situation, but it's not useful as a quick practical tip in the heat of the match.
The Mental Manual for Tennis Winners includes this situation and shows you how to deal with it in 6 short sentences. You'll immediately remember what to do and start winning matches even on your off days. How will that affect your confidence and ranking?