Competing against a theoretically weaker opponent
By Marcin Bieniek
Tennis competition is a great experience. Players get to the new venue and try to show own best skills to dominate the rivals and lift the trophy at the end. It is not easy to finish the tournament without one loss because there are different types of opponents. Some of them are theoretically better than us and others look weaker at first glance. However, sometimes weaker opponents can surprise us and be the reason why we have to go back home with sad feelings.
Practice makes better but tournament shows the real skills of any player. It is quite easy to perform well during the training session because the environment is not really demanding. The player knows the court, the partner as also the drill that will be executed. Overall it is all planned and within the player’s comfort zone so stress doesn’t go to the high level that can be detrimental to the player’s performance.
The completely different situation we can observe during the tournament. Players struggle mentally and tactically because opponents try to discover their weaknesses and use them to own advantage. Players start to think about surviving – not about using their own strengths to win the match. Then also come thoughts about ranking points, others’ opinions, and own confidence so the player starts to feel insecure and his offensive game converts into defensive battle that consists of many unforced errors.
Waiting to get to know your own next opponent is a really stressful time. Players would like to know as soon as possible who will stand on the other side of the net to start thinking and preparing for the next battle. Before the match starts player wants to know all the details about the next rival to get an advantage even while still being off the court. However, some players use a variety of information in the wrong way and tend to put labels on players.
They categorize them as better or worse for than they are and according to this assessment they change also own approach to the match. Better players are players who have stronger skills, higher ranking spots or good results during the last tournament. On the other hand calling someone „weaker” is related to poor technical quality, visible weaknesses in physical preparation or the last negative results against beaten players. Surprises happen in the world of tennis. We can see that at all levels it is not easy to predict before the tournament who will become the winner. That is why it is important to properly approach every match and have proper mindset especially while playing rival who on the paper can look worse than us. Our ego loves to play different games but the only game we should play is the one on the court against given opponent. If you want to make sure that you don’t experience too many negative surprises related to weaker opponents start preparing for these matches with consciousness.
Your plan to compete successfully against a theoretically weaker opponent:Treat your opponent the same way
Rafael Nadal is the best example that does it perfectly. He says that he doesn’t pay attention to the ranking spot or to the latest results of the opponent. He understands that opponent is always dangerous and if he is an underdog, mentally he has nothing to lose so he can start playing his best tennis. If it is difficult for you to implement this approach you can change it a little bit and think that you don’t player against the rival – you play only against the ball that is always the same. This thinking will make you free of labels and will allow you to optimally prepare for the incoming match.
Pay attention to your preparation
We all know how important preparation is to increase own chance for winning the match. Paying attention to physical warm up, adjusting own mental mindset and setting goals for the incoming challenge are major parts that should be included in professional match preparation. The biggest mistake that player can do is to relate the level of preparation to the level of the next opponent. If you skip some steps because you think that your rival is weaker than you there is a chance that you will underperform as also that you will get injured. In tennis one ball can make a short and long-term difference so that is why it should be a priority to take care of all the details before every tennis match.
It is all about given day performance
You can have better groundstrokes than your rival. You can train more than him. Maybe you have also won the tournament recently. All these facts can boost your confidence and create the picture of being better but you have to keep in mind that these numbers and comparisons won’t win you a match. Tennis is the game where you have to show your dominance on a given day. It doesn’t really matter what you have done yesterday – if you are not able to repeat it today you will have problems even against weaker rivals. Focus on a given day and show your best performance. That’s the only recipe to consistently deal with opponents that are theoretically weaker than you.
You can’t choose your next opponent. You have to face the one that will appear next to your name. Top players believe that it doesn’t matter who is on the other side of the net, they always have a chance to leave the court as a winner. Take the same approach, treat every player the same and focus on the things that you can control – on your best game!