How To Decrease Tennis Match Fatigue - The Complete GuideCompetitive tennis players will often report that match fatigue affected their game in the latter stages of matches.
They note that they play with less power, poorer accuracy and lower levels of concentration.
They, of course, also move slower around the court, which results in many more points played in defense. Typically, this results in the loss of the point.
What can a tennis player do to decrease fatigue during tennis matches so that they can still play fresh in 2nd and 3rd sets?
There are two approaches to dealing with match fatigue, the short-term and the long-term approach.
Short-Term ApproachThe short-term approach is what you can do in your next match to decrease the fatigue building during the match.
Here are some steps you can take:
a) Decrease pre-match anxiety. One of the main sources of physical fatigue is, in fact, mental fatigue.
It results from anxiety that starts before the match and affects the player throughout the match.
By working on decreasing pre-match anxiety, you will start the match way less stressed. And being less stressed will lessen the effect on your physical fatigue.
To decrease pre-match anxiety, you can work on dealing with:
- its source
- and its symptoms by looking to decrease their effects.
How To Deal With The Fear Of Losing
You also need to check your expectations and examine how you put pressure on yourself. I also recommend you check the article on control to see if you happen to think about something that is out of your control.
What Can You Control In Tennis
As mentioned above, you can also work on decreasing the symptoms of pre-match anxiety, meaning you are simply trying to lower the anxiety that's affecting you.
One of the most simple and effective techniques is the refocus/distraction technique that moves your focus from the thoughts about negative consequences of losing to something else.
The Distraction/Refocus Technique
Another technique that is used in all sports to control anxiety levels is breathing. There are different breathing techniques you can learn, but even the simplest focus on slowing and deepening your breath will help you decrease the anxiety level you are experiencing.
Once you calm yourself down after a few minutes of breathing, I highly recommend that you start visualizing successful patterns of play or simply certain shots that you know you'll need.
For example, you may visualize for a few minutes how all your second serves clear the net well and land before the service line, bouncing up high.
Or, you may visualize a pattern of serving out wide and pulling your opponent out of the court and then hitting an aggressive forehand into the open court.
All those mental images already program and prepare your mind and body to perform best in the match.
Visualization Techniques In Tennis
b) Decrease match anxiety and stress during the match. Similarly, you can work on decreasing your anxiety levels during the match.
The most important process to work on is the recovery and refocus during points.
You have 25 seconds between each point. If you use this time in a smart way, you can significantly improve your mental state and your stamina throughout the match.
Most players make a mistake of carrying over their mental state from the previous point to the next point.
Since we know that, in a typical match, you win only around 50% of the points, you may be in a bad mood 50% of the time since you lost the point.
Therefore, it's crucial that you let go of those negative feelings and thoughts and clear your mind for the next point.
The first person to really explain in detail how to best use the time in between points was Dr. Jim Loehr with his famous 16-Second Cure.
If you want to get a deep understanding of his process, I recommend you watch this video:
In short, Dr. Loehr recommends this process:
Positive Physical Response: 3–5 seconds. Following a lost point, make a quick, decisive move away from the mistake as if you say with your body, "No problem."
Immediately transfer your racquet to your non-dominant hand with your head tilted up. Walk back to your position with shoulders back, head up, and eyes forward and down, projecting a strong, confident image.
Relaxation Response: 6–15 seconds. Once behind the baseline, keep your feet moving. Your eyes should be looking at the strings of your racquet or at the ground. Shake out your arms if necessary to release tension.
Always walk several feet behind the baseline before starting the next point. The more stressful the point, the more time you should take in this stage.
Preparation Response: 3–5 seconds. Move toward your serve or service return position. Project the strongest, most confident image possible. Now is when you should plan what you’re going to do with the upcoming point.
Automatic Ritual Response: 5–8 seconds. If you're serving, bounce the ball at least two times and pause after the last bounce to gather yourself before starting the service motion. This will guard against hurrying when under pressure.
If you're returning, fix your eyes on the ball on the other side. Maintain movement by jumping up and down or swaying back and forth. Some players like to spin their racquet in their hand.
The next technique to work on for both short-term and long-term approaches is breathing. There are 3 situations where you can pay attention to your breathing:
- while you are hitting the ball,
- in between strokes while still in the rally, and
- in between points.
Another important part of the match when you can preserve more of your energy is during a changeover.
Tennis players many times carry on the mental state or the mood from the last point to the changeover. If they were upset or nervous during the last point, they tend to stay in that mental state and burn their mental energy even while they sit.
And that burning of mental energy also burns physical energy reserves.
I've even seen players nervously move their legs while they were sitting. They don't realize that they are tiring themselves and wasting precious energy that they'll really need when they play.
That's why it's important that the player rests on changeovers – and, by resting, I mean mentally and physically.
You need to pay attention to your body as you sit down and look to relax it.
You also need to let go of the previous points and future scenarios that might cause you to remain nervous. You should simply stay in the now.
The most ancient technique of staying in the now is, of course, to follow your breathing as you inhale and exhale.
Another useful technique is to look around and focus on the colors that you see. Try to make a mental note of all the colors that you can see around you.
By identifying the colors in your mind – like red, dark blue, light yellow, etc. – you focus your mind on a certain task in the now, therefore bringing it back from the past or the future.
When you give your mind a task of identifying colors, you also disconnect it from the task of thinking about winning or losing, missed shots and opportunities and other scenarios that might cause you to be nervous again.
Don't use the technique of identifying colors the whole 90 seconds of the changeover. Instead, use it for only about 20–30 seconds so that you disconnect from negative thoughts.
After that, it will be much easier to simply rest and breathe and let your mind and body recharge during that short break.
Nutrition And HydrationLast, don't forget the fundamentals of having lots of energy for a long match – eating the right foods at the right time and drinking a lot of water.
There's a wealth of information on nutrition for sports, but in short you need to make sure you create a big reserve of glycogen, which is best done with carbohydrates – meaning pasta, rice and similar foods.
Likewise, you need to create a big enough reserve of water in your body. That means that you keep drinking a bit of water the day before and the day of the match, even when you're not thirsty.
You will be losing a lot of water during the match from sweating. Dehydration of only 1–2% will impair your performance, even if you don't really feel thirsty at the time.
I recommend you study the two articles below from the ITF and Tennis Australia. Do your own research on the importance of proper nutrition and hydration if you want play at your best level even in the latter stages of your tennis matches.
Nutrition In Tennis – ITF
Nutrition And Hydration – Tennis Australia
Long-Term Approach To More StaminaThe long-term approach to improving your stamina and endurance begins with working on the physical part of your game.
But you should also work on identifying the causes of anxiety, anger and other emotional states you experience before and during matches and look to overcome and transcend them by having the right mindset.
There are many articles on this website under the Psychology, Mental Game and Articles sections that give you different views on the game of tennis and that can change your mindset in competitive matches.
For your convenience, I have linked to articles on a few common problems below:
Unforced Errors In Tennis
Tennis Is Messy
Mental Preparation For A Tough Tennis Match
As you go through these articles regularly, you will hopefully start to look at the game of tennis and yourself through a different lens. You won't be so upset with mistakes, and you'll know better how to handle pressure.
Improving Your Endurance
While I've given you some of the ideas above that you may not have considered when it comes to having more energy late in the match, let's not forget the most obvious way to have more stamina and endurance: train for it!
Improve your conditioning to the point that you're better prepared than your opponent.
Endurance Training – ITF
There are different training methods for achieving endurance, but if you're a recreational tennis player and you don't have enough time to devote specifically to endurance training, you can do one simple thing the next time you practice: stay in the rally a bit longer!
We all have a certain limit of shots played in a rally while still being comfortable. When we cross that limit, our mind and body will start to signal the increasing discomfort.
We'll consciously or subconsciously look to end the point so we can also stop the discomfort – or even suffering.
When you always do that the moment you cross that threshold of discomfort, you signal to your body that its endurance levels are good enough for what you need.
As a result, your endurance never improves.
All physical training works on a simple principle: if we want our body to adapt in a certain way – like get stronger, get faster, have more endurance, etc. – we need to challenge and push it over its current stage.
In other words, we must go into the discomfort zone and stay there for a while. Doing so signals to our body that this is what it will have to endure in the future.
As the body repeatedly receives this signal, it starts to adapt. If you regularly exercise in the gym, your muscles will grow in size and become stronger. It's a natural response of the body to adapt to the challenge it experiences.
In the same way, if you stay in the rally a bit longer than you "like", you'll train your body to have more endurance.
For example, you may feel mentally and physically comfortable for up to 5 shots in a rally. After that, you might feel that your legs are getting heavier and that's you're slowly running out of breath.
If you now try to shorten the point by going for a winner or a drop shot, your body won't be challenged to adapt.
But if you regularly stay for 2–3 more shots in the rally and really get into that discomfort state, your body will adapt in time.
You should begin to have more endurance after around 2–3 weeks of training like that.
Once you become comfortable with 7 shots in a rally, try to extend that to 9. This simple principle can help you improve your endurance by a huge amount without resorting to additional training sessions outside your usual tennis schedule.
If you're experiencing fatigue in 2nd and 3rd sets of your matches, you can tackle that from the short-term and long-term approaches, which address the mental and the physical sides of the game.
You need to tackle the mental side because burning mental energy through anxiousness and anger also burns your physical energy.
The short-term approach includes working on:
- decreasing pre-match anxiety (refocus techniques, breathing, visualization);
- decreasing anxiety during the match (breathing techniques, mentally and physically resting during changeovers); and
- proper nutrition and hydration before and during matches.
The long-term approach includes working on:
- improving your endurance levels in existing sessions or adding specific sessions just to train the physical aspect of tennis; and
- working on other aspects of the mental game as to identify the sources of anxiety and overcome them.
What you'll also realize once you raise your levels of endurance is that it is the foundation of your overall confidence in your ability to play tennis well and to win matches.
Feeling physically strong even in the latter stages of the match will cause you to feel mentally strong when it matters the most. That's what will really change the outcome of the tough matches that you may have lost in the past.