In the heat of the battle, it’s difficult to think clearly.
In the heat of the battle, it’s difficult to think clearly. With so many things going on it’s sometimes easy to forget the basics, and to be forced into making decisions in a match that you normally wouldn’t make. But to perform at your best in matches certain parts of your game must function perfectly in order for you to win. Some people call them ‘The Percentages’, and everyone has a slightly different version of what playing ‘The Percentages’ actually means. Essentially I believe “The Percentages” are all about the choices you make in a match. The Percentages involve your shot selection and the type of strategy you employ at different times during the match. I like to call “The Percentages” the ‘5 Core Elements of Match-play’. Executed correctly, they are the key ingredients needed to play at your best in competition. I expect my students to mentally monitor the 5 core elements at throughout the match, particularly when under pressure and during those critical periods of a match just mentioned. Under these conditions, we need to be clear what makes our game “click”, and what keeps our game strong. This is not the time to be trying new things or taking risks that have little chance of success. At these times we need to do the very things that hold our game together. The 5 Core Elements of match play are: 1. High Percentage of First Serves Any time your 1st serve begins to fail and you find yourself starting points with your 2nd serve you are in trouble. You’re putting pressure on yourself and that pressure will eventually lead to a lose of your service game. Often a player can go through multiple service games holding serve easily with the loss of just a few points. Suddenly that same player misses their first serve for the first 2 points of a game and finds themselves under pressure to hold serve. Inexplicably they lose their service game and go done a break. An intelligent player understands immediately the dangers of missing their first serve multiple times in the same game and they make adjustments to avoid being broken. 2. Consistent Returns Always remember that when you are serving you have a huge advantage, while if you are returning serve you are at a disadvantage. You must adopt a defensive mindset and focus on getting the ball back in the court. The simple act of getting the ball back in the court allows you to start working on winning the point. By getting the return back in play consistently during the match you are also neutralizing the servers’ advantage. This begins to create a very subtle form of pressure within the Server’s mind that will hopefully pay dividends at some stage during the match. 3. Pressure in the Rally It’s impossible to win points at the highest level if you can’t exert pressure on your opponent during the rally. By exerting pressure on your opponent during the rally you will eventually create the opportunities to either finish the point with a winner or force an error from your opponent. 4. Low Unforced Errors By keeping the unforced error count to a minimum you pressure your opponent to come up with more and to take risks and play outside their comfort zone. That often means that they will make more mistakes. Great players never beat themselves. Manage your mistakes. Make sure your game is solid enough in all departments so that if you are involved in a close match and you have to go into your “default mode”, you are still playing great tennis. 5. Mentally Stable Keep mentally stable when you are up a break, otherwise, you come out of the patterns and mindset that got you the break in the first place! Likewise, if you go down a break or a set, analyze the situation clearly and come up with a plan to get back on level terms. Sulking won’t help you and neither will be becoming too confident and “showboating”. Keep your mind stable no matter what is occurring during the match. When using the 5 Core Elements of Match Play remember that every match is different. If you served well in yesterday’s match you may suddenly find yourself serving poorly in today’s match. Monitor your performance in each and every match and be constantly aware of the 5 elements so that you can make adjustments when needed.