If ever there was a match that points a microscope on the mental challenges that competing in tennis ensures it was this match.
It spoke to the mess of applying what tennis psychology legend Dr Allen Fox calls“The #1 Rule of Tennis Success” that even the greatest tennis competitors can make:
Never Do Anything That Doesn’t Increase The Chance of Winning
It seems like this should be so simple right…
So why is it that even Serena Williams, the player who has successfully applied this rule at the highest level perhaps better than anyone in tennis history, so spectacularly failed to apply it in the final?
Well, as simple as it seems, the human condition combined with the nature of tennis means that what seems like it should be so straight forward is actually incredibly hard to do.
But Why Is This?
The basic reason is that losing is emotionally painful due to our brain’s inclination of interpreting a tennis math akin to a life and death...
When Marco Cecchinato was down 2 sets to 0 against Marius Copil and fighting for survival during a tight 3rdset in the 1stround of the French Open I wonder if he ever imagined, having never won a Grand Slam match, the possibility of what might lay ahead if he could find a way to scrape out a victory.
My guess is probably not…
But 9 days later, he is still standing as the 1stItalian man to make a Grand Slam semi-final since 1978 after defeating Novak Djokovic in another amazingly gutsy effort.
His life changing run is a strong reminder of an often overlooked keys to tennis success….
This key is that because of the one on one match play structure of tennis, how players compete on their worst days is often more important that what they do on their best.
So, in golf for example (unless in a match play tournament), players’ performance over 4 rounds in averaged out to decide the placings. This means that golfers can often survive a round where their...
During the 2018 clay court season, Rafael Nadal broke another amazing record, becoming the first male player to win 50 straight sets on any one surface. Consider that in his last 46 sets on clay before yesterday, no opponent had reached a tie-break against him and just once had someone achieved a 7-5 loss and his mind boggling run seems even more astonishing.
It got me reflecting on the mental attribute required to achieve such a feat and one stood out.
Andre Agassi described this attribute well in his book: ‘Open’. He said this about the difference between the great champions and the rest:
“The more you can be present on every point. I think that’s why you see great champions separate themselves at the end of a set or at the end of a match, because they are the ones that aren’t changing in their execution. They are not assigning a value to any one point more than another. It is about what they do...
And a classic case study for how in vital ways the field of sport psychology has set coaches, parents, and players up for failure when it comes to developing long-term mental toughness. But to understand why this is so, I need first to summarize the match and Federer’s experience of it.
Part 1- Federer’s Pre-Match Jitters
It was refreshing to hear Federer talk about how difficult he found the build up to the final.
He said, “Well I think my thoughts were all over the place all day, I was thinking what if I lost how horrible it would be to lose it, what if I won, it’s a late match start so I thought about this all day, I was so nervous going into this match.”
Part 2- Federer Looks To Make It An Early Night
With Federer off to a flyer as Cilic struggled to find his range in the cooler closed roof conditions, the 1stset was over in a flash. And early in the 2ndFederer looked like he was going to cruise to victory as he...
After 72 appearances between them, either Simona Halep or Caroline Wozniacki is about to win their 1stGrand Slam.
This will be an incredible achievement for the winner given that despite their world rankings of 1 and 2, their comparatively disappointing Grand Slam history and failure to deliver in some of the most important moments was beginning to suggest that these 2 players may not have what it takes in the upstairs department to deliver on the biggest stage.
What a difference two weeks can make…And today, one of them will become a grand slam champion.
Despite the significant mental scarring in their Slam history, for these two weeks they have put on among the best displays of fighting tennis when they looked down and out, combined with poise in the pressure moments, in the history of the game.
Halep’s Journey To The Final
For Halep, it started in the very 1stround coming back from 5-2 and set point down against Aussie young gun Destanee Aiava.
Just over a year ago Grigor Dimitrov looked every bit a player who was destined to be remembered as a career underachiever.
Nicknamed ‘Baby Fed’ when he emerged from the juniors as World #1 for his similarity in technique and gamestyle to the great Federer, it seemed just a matter of time before he became one of the game’s very elite.
But 7 years later that destiny had not materialized and at the end by the end of 2016, having not yet achieved an end of year ranking in the top 10, a new wave of young stars were starting to pass him by.
Fast Forward To Last Night
Fast forward to last night however, and we were looking at a very different Dimitrov…
One who has redirected the path of his career with the help of an obviously very skilled coach in Dani Vallverdu, to the point of becoming an incredibly effective competitor who put on a mental toughness master class for all of those who were lucky enough to watch.
Here are 5 key ways Dimitrov...
When we watch the ATP and WTA tour players compete, we have the privilege of watching the mentally toughest players on the planet.
And while it may not seem it while watching from the sidelines, playing at the highest level of the game brings huge levels of pressure that have caused many aspiring tennis players to be driven to mental weakness.
The reason that playing the game of tennis creates such huge pressure is that our human brain tends to interpret it more like a life and death situation, especially for those who commit so much of their lives to it.
But one thing I’ve learned over the years, is that even at the highest level, as we watch mentally tough players compete, there are 2 distinct types of mental toughness which are driven by different motivations and results in very different long term consequences both on and off the court.
I call these ‘Healthy Mental Toughness’ and ‘Unhealthy Mental Toughness’.
And while players...
One of the most difficult things to go through as a tennis parent is to watch your child develop ‘avoidance focused coping defenses’. This occurs when players develop competitive adaptations such as excuses, tanking, perfectionism, and anger explosions as an unconscious way of reducing the stress of competition.
While any player can develop these responses to reduce the normal fears that are a part of competing, it’s important to be aware as a parent that it's MUCH more likely that children will develop these adaptations when a child’s fear of failure has become exaggerated due to what can be called ‘parent conditional regard’.
The devastating effects of parent conditional regard on children’s development are well researched and highly predictable…
Parent conditional regard occurs when parents communicate love conditionally by tying special...
How we interact with our children around tennis has incredible power in influencing his/her mental toughness development, even more so than coaches. This is due to the 'perfect storm' of brain factors that make tennis parenting interactions the most powerful determinant of children's mental toughness development, both on and off the court...Let's explore the 4 most important now:
The genius of the human brain is evident in the way it has evolved ways of deciding which life experiences need to be remembered and learned from and which can be forgotten.
Recent research has shown us that the brain figures out what is likely to be important to remember based on a number of factors, making it more easily rewired as a result of these factors.
And as it happens, there are two factors crucial to sport that encourage our ability to remember sport experiences: exercise and high levels...
Watching Nadal and Kyrgios in the final of Beijing highlighted the contrast in 1 vital mental skill that we often fail to understand. Let’s explore it…
Nadal Is Actually Getting Better…
It’s hard to believe but Nadal is actually getting better. He is a competitive machine… Simply the greatest competitor the game has ever seen.
Last night is the best I’ve ever seen him play on a hard court. That he turned up to this rather minor tournament (for him) at this stage of his career and displayed the same desire to win as if it was a Slam is the very reason he has become so good and continues to improve.
His insanely high level had Kyrgios looking for an exit within 30mins.
Kyrgios Is Deeply Addicted to Reducing Fear and Pain…
The reasons that Nadal has become so great are many. But 1 of the most important that sets him apart from all but Federer is his consistent, career long ability to tolerate the fears that come with...
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