Nadal and Berrettini Both Choke During the Aussie Open 1st Round

What an enthralling Aussie Open 1st round!

Now the title of my message may seem strange given that Nadal won his 1st round.

Let me explain...

The choke, which comes in all shapes and sizes, is the most common competitive challenge that I see in tennis.

The reason it occurs is that all players naturally fear failure because our evolutionary brains tend to mistake playing a tennis match as being a life and death battle.

And as we saw in the 1st round, even the best players in the world are vulnerable to choking.

1.) Nadal vs Draper

In Nadal's case, his challenge came when tied and 1 set all and Jack Draper began to cramp.

With Draper unable to move at all, Nadal went ahead 4-1. But then, just when it looked like Draper was close to defaulting, the cramps abated.

This put Nadal in very difficult mental position. When playing an opponent who is injured or cramping, the pressure to win (and therefore the fear of losing) escalates.

Nadal began to choke, playing 3 terrible games, and soon enough it was back to 4-4 and Draper was alive again.

Now Nadal has choked as much as anyone throughout his career, but it rarely costs him matches. Because he realises that the nature of our strange brains is that as soon as matches get back to even, the choke naturally ends.

Most players at this point are so caught up in self-criticism and judgement that it usually costs them matches.

But as has been Nadal's competitive genius throughout his incredible career, he didn't overreact to the choke, and as soon as it was back to 4-4 he settled and Draper's cramps reappeared in the 4th set....

2.) Berrettini vs Murray

Unlike Nadal, whose choke lasted a couple of games, for Berrettini the choke was just one shot, but proved much more costly.

On match point, Murray played an ill-advised drop shot and when Berrettini reached the ball with ease Murray covered the line meaning Berrettini had the court wide open to win the match.

He choked hitting the ball half way up the net...

This circumstance where our body tightens, or our mind interferes ("don't miss it") in a moment is one of the most difficult challenges in tennis.

The best we can do in my experience is to be absolutely committed to a plan before the point, and in that moment have full conviction with the simple strategy we have chosen.

Although it might not be realistic to execute as well as we would like in those moments, if we're able to say that we committed to a helpful plan, we are still a decent chance to win the point.

And if, like Nadal showed, we choke and we lose the lead, we can still recover via the discipline of knowing that while a choke costs us leads, it rarely costs us matches.

So the key at this point is to not get caught up in the difficult thoughts that appear after a choke, and instead buckle down to competing as well as possible for the rest of the match.

Enjoy the tennis!