The Difference Between the Best Tennis Players and Other Players
by John Cavill
What is the difference between the top National tennis players and those who are knocking around the top of the county? Having attended the County Cup National Finals a few weeks ago, it was great to see the differences between the levels and see what the top players do to put themselves in that position. Although the players are only 13 or 14 now and that their status as the best in the country won’t necessarily remain there over the next few years, it was interesting to understand why they were the best now and what the other players need to focus on to make the leap.
Below are a few observational points I’d like to share with you:
1. AttitudeFor me this is everything. There was a large variance on the level of attitude across all the competitions, with those who were positive and up for a fight, through to those who would blame everything around them for their performance. How the player’s attitude was portrayed was interesting, with some shouting and geeing themselves on and others looking cool and showing no emotion whether they won or lost a point. The best tennis players took 100% responsibility for their performance and there was nothing they wouldn’t try or focus on to get a result. They thrived off the pressure and rose to the challenge of saving match point or closing a match out. They were so engaged with the situation and what they had to do it was commendable to see these warrior traits and to see those who lost take pride in their performance.
2. Self confidenceThe big players showed an abundance of this. I think that this is closely related to attitude but it is great seeing players so confident in their ability. The top players were not only confident on court but seemed it off court and peers levitate to them. They were leaders not followers and as the competition was a team event, these players would be the captains. The players are young and some have got a few years ahead of them to curb their arrogance, but I think it would be very hard to perform the way they do without being deeply confident within themselves.
3. Tactical awarenessThere were a number of players with different strengths and weaknesses and everyone is trying to match themselves up against their opponent. Physical, mental and technical abilities will improve the player’s tactical options but the big players kept things very simple. They were able to keep unforced errors down to a minimum, keep consistent depth and pace on the ball and know when to change the direction of the shot when their opponent was out of position or not expecting it. They wouldn’t wait for the ball and take it early to take time away from their opponent and if they were in a losing battle they would figure out other options e.g. loop the ball up, play slice, hit short angles etc. This awareness and ability to execute won them the matches and the lower level players were very short on options and struggled to play anything apart from their one-dimensional game.
4. Emotional controlThis was an interesting observation especially between the boys and the girls! The boys are full of testosterone and you’d hear the cries of frustrations or joy regularly around the centre as the alpha males imposed themselves on the pack. Some of the language was quite colourful too! Some of the players I felt needed more discipline with themselves as they really disgraced themselves and I saw no one play well when they were hacked off. The girls were very aware of everyone else around them and they tended to beat themselves up if things were going wrong. Some of the questions I had from my players was ‘what am I doing wrong?’ when simply their opponent was playing out of their skin. Again, there were girls getting angry and showing poor body language when they were up against it which did them no favours. In both categories the top players dealt with pressure well and would swallow frustrations very quickly to get their heads back into the game. When a top player was not performing well or losing a match they should be winning, they managed to bide their time and be patient until their opponent’s level dropped or they found a formula to break their opponents down.
5. Physical presenceThere were some massive kids at the event and in some matches it looked like adults playing little children. Although physical presence is a big part of the game, more times than not this didn’t put off the smaller players. They were obviously used to playing bigger people and enjoyed the challenge especially when they used their athleticism to time some amazing returns and make their opponent run around the court. Body language and posture was a clear indicator as to who the warriors are. None of the top players slouched. They all walked with confidence, made strong eye contact and had good in between point routines.Much of the above is known by coaches but the levels vary a lot although the top players do stand out. I think that a lot of those players in the middle tier could be very good if some of the areas mentioned were addressed. Obviously it takes a lot of hours of practice to be good but much of the elements I have discussed will come from the players personality, home life and parental up bringing but how much work and awareness is spent on this?