Practice under pressure on the tennis court

Another psychological secret of tennis champions from the book Maximum tennis by Nick Saviano.

Saviano Genie - Practice under pressure on the tennis court

To best deal with the pressure of competition on the tennis court, frequently simulate those experiences in practice. The legendary coach of UCLA’s dynasty, John Wooden, espoused this philosophy,

“The pressure I created during practices may have exceeded that which opponents produces. I believe when an individual constantly works under pressure, they will respond automatically when faced with it during competition.”

Try to duplicate the various scenarios you are faced with in tennis match play. If you have trouble serving out a match, play some sets with a friend, where you start at 5-4 serving and then play out the set. If you don’t play break points well , play a set where each game starts at break point and play out the set. Do drills where you keep the score. Play a practice set and have the loser buy lunch. By putting extra pressure on yourself in practice , you quickly will learn to improve your ability to execute under pressure in tennis matches.

Remember, the biggest challenge (and the best weapon you have) when you compete on the tennis court comes from your own mind.

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Don’t take it personal in tennis match

I continue to publish some interesting thoughts of Nick Saviano from the book Maximum tennis.

Don’t make your tennis match into a personal battle between you and your opponent, even you hate his guts. It is counterproductive to focus on the person you are playing, as opposed to how he is playing, what he is doing, and what his tendencies are. If you are thinking about your opponent, you are no longer focused on your own execution.

Nick Saviano and Jennifer Capriati

Jennifer Capriati, after defeating Serena Williams in a hotly contested quarterfinal match at the 2001 Wimbledon, said “I don’t worry about what she (Serena Williams) is doing. I just try to concentrate on my own game”. Perhaps Jim Courier said it best, just before winning the 1992 French Open: “Opponents don’t worry me. It’s like playing a faceless person on the other side of the net. I concentrate on me and how I play”.

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Smart Tennis vs Power Tennis

I like that comment by Alex Yep:

Serena Williams. Wimbledon 2012

“Power tennis vs smart tennis. A great discussion. I think power tennis has a slight edge over smart tennis. You look at Serena Williams, she has power and quickness, which is a devastating combination. Then take a look at her game averages. With her power, she compensate the unforced errors with free points and winners. However, with smart tennis, the question is, can you finish the point? Smart tennis is great ball placement.

Radwanska Agnieszka, the smartest tennis player

With Agnieszka Radwanska reaching #2, I think it is more then just smart tennis. I think in the women’s field, some of the best players have retired and some have been phasing out which opened up the door for players like Radwanska. In order to sustain at the top level I think you need smart tennis and some power tennis. We’ll see if Radwanska can maintain that type of play and continue to be able to beat the top level players.”

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Project a powreful, positive presence on the tennis court

There is another advice from the book Maximum Tennis by the great tennis coach Nick Saviano.

Nick Saviano and Jim Courier

No matter what the circumstances, try to always project a powerful, positive presence on the tennis court. That does not mean you have to be stoic because that just doesn’t fit everyone’s personality. You can get angry and still present a strong image. Sometimes, you will have to simply be a good actor or actress to disguise how you feel. It is okay to lose the match, but don’t give your opponent the satisfaction of the confidence of thinking that she has broken you down emotionally. Whether you are winning, losing, or playing someone who is simply better than you are, act confident and under control. This will leave a lasting impression on your opponent, and, many times, when you least expect it, he might be the first one to “crack” mentally. But, most important, by maintaining this type of presence, you are taking a major step in controlling your emotions on the tennis court.

It was 1987, during the French Junior tennis championship. I was traveling with four junior boys, Jim Courier, Jonathan Stark, David Wheaton, and Cris Garner. Jim Courier, 17 years old at the time (and future number-one men’s player in the world and two-time French Open singles champion), and Jonathan Stark (future number-one men’s player in the world in doubles and French Open doubled champion) were playing in the first round of the French Junior doubles. Both boys were upset earlier in the day in the first round of the singles and, consequently, were despondent when they went on the tennis court to play the doubles. They were playing a team from the Ivory Coast, which they should have been beating comfortably. They had just lost the first set, and boy was it ugly! Their body language was terrible, they were talking negatively after almost every point, and they looked like losers. What was even more frustrating was that we just talked earlier before the match about forgetting about the singles loss, staying positive, and not letting their opponents know they were down. After the first set, I had decided that I would try to make a positive comment to perk them up as they came over to the side of the tennis court where I was sitting. But before that happened, they lost serve to go down a set and a break. Jim made another negative comment and dropped his racket to the ground. I had seen enough. Jonathan glanced over at me as they started to switch sides. He knew I was fuming. Jim kept his head down and did not look. I said to Jonathan as he passed by, “One more comment out of either of you, and you are in big trouble” and I motioned to him to get Jim’s attention. Finally, Jim reluctantly looked over. “Did you hear me? One more time and big trouble”. I wasn’t actually going to do anything. I just wanted to make a point. Both of them settled down, picked up their energy, started encouraging each other, and won the match in three close sets. But that was not the end of the story. They kept that positive attitude throughout the week and went on to win the tennis tournament. They beat two great Argentinians (both were ranked in the top 100 in the world on the men’s tour and still came back to play juniors) in the finals. This was one of the most gratifying success stories of my young coaching career because I felt the boys really learned some important lessons along the way about staying in the present; using positive self-talk; and keeping a powerful, positive presence on the tennis court. The great thing was they were rewarded for their efforts. Lesson learned!

Yoga and peak performance in tennis

This article is written by Dr. Robert Heller, a psychologist, sport psychology consultant and USPTA tennis teaching professional based in Boca Raton, Fl. He is the author of the mental conditioning CD-ROM program, TENNISMIND. You can reach him at

It has been more than forty years since I read Tim Gallweys book, “The Inner Game of Tennis”. Little did I know then how much it had to do with yoga and peak performance. Gallwey was a student meditation and yoga and used the medium of tennis to apply sport psychology and yoga principles and practices to sports and life.

Yoga for tennis

As a more recent student of yoga I have discovered it shares many key principles psychology practices designed to train individuals in achieving peak performance in sport, music and other areas of life.

To achieve a peak performance in tennis, we need to have a quiet mind and a calm body. Yoga helps us develop these abilities.

Another useful idea of yoga that facilitates peak performance focus on being fully aware of our body and our senses, noticing what we are focusing on and when we are distracted.

Rather than being preoccupied with the past or anticipating the future, yoga has a present focus on the here and now. Paying attention to what is going on in the present allows tennis players to react quickly to changes they might want to make to improve their performance now. It is really important in tennis.

The idea of “awareness without judgment” is another useful principle that is a key to achieving peak performance. By having awareness but suspending judgment we learn to make critical decisions without being overly self-critical.

The breathing/meditation aspect of yoga helps us regulate our emotions. By being less anxious and angry, our muscles can be more relaxed and movements are more fluid producing better and more consistent results in sports, music and our overall functioning.

I have noticed personally that practicing yoga has impacted my own peak performances.
As a competitive tennis player, I notice experiencing more frequent and longer episodes of,”playing in the zone”, a place where one is performing at their highest level.

As research mounts, I am confident that the usefulness of yoga in attaining peak performance states in tennis will be substantiated.