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Match Experience
By:  Scott Baker | Tennis4you  | Tennis Forum  | E-mail

Do you ever get nervous while playing in big matches? Perhaps playing in tournaments makes you so jittery that you are too timid to play your full potential. Maybe school matches get you on edge and keep you from hitting those shots that you are use to hitting in practice. Many people battle their own nerves while playing tennis; I know I too can battle them sometimes on the court. You may be the type that can play anyone and never deviate from your game even if it is the championship point in a tournament you've dreamed about winning since you were 6. If that describes you.that is great! I have been playing for over 12 years and still get nervous on certain occasions. When I was much younger I used to play people at a local club and I knew I had a good chance to do well in their local tournament. So I signed up for my very first tournament. I saw that my first opponent was someone I have beaten before, and someone I could probably defeat left-handed. (I am a right-handed player). Needless to say I lost. Why? One, I was nervous; it was my first tournament and he had been in several tournaments before. Two, I took my opponent for granted, which will be another article altogether.

Nerves can kill a game quickly. So how do you get rid of nerves? Just like everyone else; match experience. I often hear from other players that they do not perform as well in match play as they do in practice. Even more often I hear players say they play the worst tennis of their life in tournaments. Well people, there is a difference. You can practice hitting the ball all day, but match play is where it is at! Do not get me wrong, you have to practice, but match play helps you to learn strategies and how to become a stronger player offensively, defensively and strategically. With match experience comes an improved player. After twelve years of match experience, I rarely feel nervous during matches, even if they are tournaments. Anticipation before the game is normal, but once the point starts, you have to be in the zone, not the Twilight Zone!

One of the best ways to get good experience is to play against as many different people as you can.
Playing the same person over and over again can only do so much for your game. You adapt only to that person's style of play and do not grow strategically. A lot of us are guilty of this, including me! The more people you play matches against, the more relaxed you will become in tough points in different situations. If you play John Doe everyday and no one else, then you are only adapting to playing John Doe's style of play; you get a feel for John Doe's game and it gets to be comfortable to play John Doe. But is John Doe going to be in the tournament coming up next week that you have to play in? When you play the same person all of the time you do not get to experience the difference in styles of play of other tennis players. If you are used to playing someone who hits the ball very hard and then in a big tournament you have to play a lobber, will you be comfortable and know how to play the points?

Another way to get good match experience is to play in leagues.
Leagues are a step up from playing different players everyday. During leagues you get to play a variety of people. Granted, it is not as tough mentally as a tournament, but it is a great tennis resource. A lot of leagues play for prizes at the end of a season or maybe rankings and that is great! Even better! This will give you something to work for and mentally challange you more than league matches that have no rewards or rankings.

Play tournaments!
Tournaments are the biggest brain racker! There will never be a tougher situation mentally than a tournament! So get in those tournaments early and play as many as you can. If you can learn to stay calm in a tournament then you will be much tougher to beat!

Here are some of the common errors that you may make if you are nervous during a match.

Error 1: You are afraid to hit the ball hard when you need to. You just try to dink the ball in play and put no pressure on your opponent.

Error 2: You deviate from your game. If your game is serve and volley, but you are to afraid to go to the net because you might get passed, you will not be playing your game. That alone gives the opponent a great advantage!

Error 3: Taking your eyes off of the ball. When nerves hit, you lose confidence. When you are not confident in your game or your shots, you tend to look up well before you hit the ball to make sure you see where the ball is going after you hit it. When you lift your head up early, the racquet head lifts up as well, creating an error or a poorly hit shot.

Error 4: Some people may go for the big shot too early because they are nervous and have less confidence in their consistency over the long run.

Error 5: Not thinking straight! It is obvious that most people think better when they are not nervous.

Some people take tennis extremely serious, including myself. However, you must take control and stay calm in all types of situations on the court. The more practice you get with different players in different types of play the better you will be. You will thank yourself later!

Good Luck on the Court!
Scott Baker