What an incredible rollercoaster that was!
A perfect example of why tennis is the ultimate sporting mental test. Tough conditions…Massive momentum shifts…And ultimately an incredibly brave effort from Ash Barty to make her 1stGrand Slam final.
There’s a lot we can learn from such a great battle. Because tennis is so challenging it never has been and never will be about perfection. Instead it will always be about dealing with frequent challenges just a little better than the person down the other end. And beneath massive momentum swings that are so common in matches usually lies the same predictable psychological processes for all players who are willing to put it on the line as these 2 young ladies did.
Here’s my most important takeaways:
1.) Compete Your Hardest When Your Opponent Is Ahead, As This Is When It's Most Likely They'll Play Their Worst
The moment that a player realises they are in reach of winning a set or match, but have thoughts to do with the possibility of losing it from that winning position (which is common) is among the most common times they will play their worst.
In this match for Barty it likely occurred on several occasions. Throughout the 1stset from when she missed 2 set points all the way until Anisimova had even he match at 5-5… During the 1stset tiebreak when she led 4-2…Then again when she stood at the door of winning the 2nd and 3rd sets she got tight, surely hampered by the thoughts of choking in the 1st.
And for Anisimova it was when she herself had climbed the unthinkable mountain of coming back from 5-0 down (after 14min) and found herself serving for the set at 6-5. Then when she likely considered winning the match for the 1st time leading 7-6 3-0...And perhaps again when she broke Barty’s serve to lead 2-1 in the decider.
The key here is that as much as people talk about ‘not thinking about the outcome’ even the best players in the world have unintentional thoughts popping up about potential outcomes regularly thoughout matches. So, it’s vital that we recognise the difficult thoughts that will surely arise when our opponents seem likely to finish us and commit to taking actions that increase the chance of success on just the next point (and practice repeating these steps over and over.)
2.) Players Often Get Rattled After Losing the Lead…
The moment Barty lost the lead she had a a completely different challenge to face. Choking is normal and it happens commonly at even the highest levels of our game. But As a choke subsides it is almost always followed by difficult thoughts about the event- “You idiot, you’ve messed it up” , etc, etc…
It’s very common, as occurred for Barty, to get rattled at this point. From the point of losing the lead in the 1stset tiebreak, to going down 3-0 in the 2ndset, Barty looked, and I’m sure felt, rattled. During this time Anisimova did a great job of taking advantage of a shaken Barty.
When players are in the grip of this post-choke mental storm, rather than expecting that they shouldn’t be experiencing the frustration of blowing the lead and the regret of poor choices, the mentally toughest competitors ‘unhook’ themselves from the almost inevitable self-degradation. They recognize the fact that soon enough, as their opponent begins to consider possible victory, that they will probably become vulnerable, and so a good chance to win it remains. Good competitors follow this by returning attention to a helpful process that increases the chance of success and committing to actions that achieve that.
And this is how Barty likely escaped the dire situation she found herself in...
3.) Choking, and Even the Post-Choke Storm is Rarely Fatal, How Brave Players Are In Responding to these Challengers Is Often the Difference Between Winning and Losing…
All players tend to get tight at least occasionally when finishing sets and matches...And most players become shaken initially after they choke.
But the main reason that Barty is the now on the verge of claiming her 1stGrand Slam is her bravery.
Quite simply, having blown a lead and being 3-0 down in the 2nd many players would have been looking for the exit gate.
But Barty was able to recalibrate just when Anisimova likely started considering winning…
She was willing to make room for the self-judgements that she would have had about blowing the lead…
She was also willing to make room for the predicted pain of losing the biggest match of her life from a dominant position…
And she was able to, one point at a time, continue to per herself on the line, problem solve, and find a path to the finish line.
As she said in her post-match press conference: “I’m just so proud of myself the way that I was able to fight and scrap and stay in there and find a way when I kind of threw away that 1stset.”
And as someone who was part of Ash’s development in my role as the Tennis Australia psychologist at the Brisbane National Academy during Ash’s formative years, I feel incredibly proud of the person and player she has become, and am really hoping she can enjoy the final experience and hopefully get the win as well!
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