Almost universally, coaches and parents report to me their advice to players regarding competing effectively includes the aim to control uninvited match related thoughts and feelings like nerves, frustration, and helplessness. For example, statements like: "Believe in yourself", "Stay calm", "Don't worry about the outcome", "Accept errors", Don't get frustrated at the wind", etc, etc.
While this is well-intentioned and sensible on the surface, a crucial question to reflect on in trying to help players improve is this:
How well does it work?
For example, when Roger Federer went down a break in the third set against Hurkacz, do you think his dominant thoughts and feelings were more reflective of self-belief or helplessness.
He let us know in the press conference that he was feeling helpless: "Well, in the last few games I could feel that I wasn't going to come back".
And I strongly suspect that based on the situation he was in, and the point he is currently at in...
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.
While I’ve written about Kyrgios’s issues a couple of times in the past I’ve never before received so many communications asking for my opinion as on his performance last night against Andreas Seppi.
So here it goes…
Essentially, the way I saw it, Kyrgios tried for 2 and a half sets…Didn’t try for the next set and a half… Then see-sawed between trying and not trying in the 5th.
First, lets clarify the possible reasons players don’t try…There are only 3:
1.) Lack of motivation
We most commonly blame a lack of effort on poor motivation. While this is sometimes the case, more often than not I’ve found that what I first thought was a motivational issue, turned out to be a result of other issues.
2.) Caught in Helplessness
A more common reason players give up is that they become caught up in the internal experience of helplessness.
Throughout evolution it has increased the chance of human survival to be able...
The 8thDay of the Australian Open showed how even the best professional players aren’t immune from hitting the mental wall.
First it was Dominic Thiem winning a total of 4 more games when leading Goffin 7-5 6-6 (4-4 in tie breaker)…
Next it was Istomin who, since shocking Djokovic, had continued his impressive display with a 3rdround victory and was then leading Dimitrov 6-2 6-6 from which point he won only 3 more games…
And next, Bautista Agut had fought his way back after losing the 1stset against Raonic 6-7, to win the next 6-3 and find himself at 4-4 in the 3rdwith several break point chances to serve for a 2 sets to 1 lead…He won only 1 more game from that point…
And finally, with Nadal stumbling as he neared the finish line Monfils suddenly found himself back in the match with a big chance to take it to a 5thset serving at 4-3 30-0 in the 4th…He failed to win another game.
Together this group of players (Thiem, Istomin,...
When Novak Djokovic lost to Stan Wawrinka in the final of the French Open last year, I wrote this in my post-match review:
“His (Djokovic’s) efforts strongly indicate that his march towards becoming a master competitor is complete…Quite simply, his ability to maintain consistent competitive effort throughout the challenges of both his semi-final (in which he beat Murray in 5 sets) and final was hugely impressive…With the histrionics and hitches that were a feature of his early career play becoming almost nonexistent, unless players can repeat Wawrinka’s incredible level, it looks likely to become a Slam fest for Djokovic in the coming years.”
Funnily enough, it was the way Djokovic lostthat convinced me that he had overcome the final barrier (his occasional low stress tolerance) to becoming virtually unbeatable in the Slams…
And He Has Improved Since Then…
To understand how far Djokovic has raised the bar, anyone...
At the end of this match I was left both dumbfounded and dizzy after witnessing an incredible comeback from 2 sets and a break down, including 7 straight breaks in the 5thset, and finally an insane level of play to finish the fairytale. Watching Fognini point to his head and pump his heart as he looked to his supporters to signify his massive mental effort left chills..
John McEnroe summed up the collective feeling well when he remarked, “That was one of the greatest, most spectacular comebacks you’re ever going to see…The level of play to mount that miraculous comeback will be remembered for a long time.”
But what allowed this moment to unfold when Rafa had previously been a perfect 151-0 when leading by 2 sets in Slams?
I contend that, during the crucial 3rdset, based on these players' combined recent histories, 2 key psychological factors consecutively unfolded to give Fognini a chance at the unbelievable; when; if faced with the...
While players can give up because of a lack of motivation, this is rarely the case.
More often when we see players fold, it’s for 2 other reasons. And both reasons played out at the same time on separate courts during the 2014 French Open men’s quarter-finals.
Becoming ‘Caught Up’ in Helplessness: Ferrer v Nadal
Score: Nadal 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-1
In this match, David Ferrer played his typical terrier like tennis during the first 2 sets taking advantage of Nadal being below his best.
As the match wore on, however, Nadal’s level started to rise allowing him to claw back the advantage.
But to see Ferrer, one of the toughest competitors of this era, fold so quickly and meekly was shocking.
So what exactly happened?
He explained it best in his post-match interview, “The court was slow, he (Nadal) started playing a lot better, making fewer mistakes, and I threw in the towel…I don’t usually do this, but I thought, I’m not...
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