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Charlie Garfinkel’s racket sports: Work on developing winning tendencies

Have you ever noticed that certain tennis players have an amazing winning percentage in tournament or USTA play in close matches; winning by such scores as 7-6, 7-5, or 6-4, 4-6, 7-6? Some opponents might say that these players are just lucky. Not so. Tennis players who continuously win these types of matches all have one attribute in common. They know how to conserve their energy and play their hardest at the crucial points of a match. They also have the uncanny ability to make winning shots when the match is on the line. 

The following hints could help you win when you’re involved in a close tournament or USTA match.

Know what you can and can’t do: First of all, you should work on the shots that have consistently worked well for you in the past. For instance, your topspin serve, which allows you to hit the ball with power and with plenty of room to spare (height wise), is the serve that you should use on both your first and second serves. I still remember a close match between two local seniors that came down to a tiebreaker. Player A was keeping the match close with his consistency by using topspin serves. Suddenly, he started hitting hard, flat serves in the tiebreaker, which resulted in his missing many first serves, and then being forced to hit many easy second serves that his opponent readily put away. Suffice to say the player lost, 7-3, in the tiebreaker and wasn’t sure why he lost. Simply stated, his poor second serves resulted in easy points for his opponent. Remember: Use the serves or shots that have proved the most reliable for you in practice and in tournaments, especially in close matches.

When you are returning serve or are involved in a rally, stay with the returns or shots that you have the most confidence in. Trying to hit shots that you have hardly ever used will only ensure losing a close match even faster.

Use your changes of court wisely: Some players, when they change courts on odd games, hurry to the sideline, take a quick sip of water, and return to the court quickly. They actually get mad at their opponent because he or she is taking the allotted time that they are entitled to between games. I assure you that the patient player will use his changing of courts wisely, by sitting down and relaxing, drinking water, and most important, thinking about what is happening in the match, and focus mentally on what to do when he or she goes back on the court.

What to do if you start losing after having a lead: How many times have you won the first set by the score of 6-3 or 6-4; only to find you are trailing by 4-2 in the second set? Instead of panicking, think about what you did to win the first set. You should then continue playing by implementing the shots and strategies that worked for you earlier. Conversely, if you continue losing, think about the serves and shots your opponent has been using that are now causing you difficulty and try to decide what to do to turn the match around.

Concentrate: When you’re involved in a close match, concentrate on every point as hard as you can. Often, when you lose a point or fall behind in a close match, you may start thinking negatively about how you’re striking the ball. Or, you may start thinking about your swing, footwork, court position, grip or follow-through. My personal thinking is that you are making a big mistake. If you try to concentrate on the positives rather than the negatives in a match, you will find a lot more wins in the win column. Throwing your racquet or constantly berating yourself will result in a sure loss. This will also cause you to miss many shots that you often make.

Let your emotions be your guide: Answer the following questions honestly. How do you feel in a close match? Are you as relaxed as you were when the match started? Or, are you a bundle of nerves? If you’re able to play within yourself, you will find that you will be winning most of your close matches. Conversely, players who get upset by their own missed shots are their own worst enemy. Some players get their adrenalin flowing when they make one or two great shots in a row, or make a great get off one of your returns. My advice: Act as if the shots and great get didn’t bother you. Other players actually use their own mistakes to their advantage. If they’ve missed one or two shots, they will bear down and do whatever they can to play error-free tennis.

Have enough equipment: It goes without saying that you should have at least two racquets if you’re involved in a tournament, USTA play, or even when you’re playing for fun. Let me give you an incredible story that took place about three years ago in the Men’s 4.0 division in a local tournament. A well-known local player was playing a tough match when he unexpectedly broke a string in his racket. When he went to get his backup racquet the look on his face was incredulous. Why? His backup racket also had a broken string. Unfortunately, no one had the same make or model that they could lend him. Predictably, he borrowed someone else’s racket and lost the match. You would also be wise to have an extra pair of sneakers. Although the chances are small that you might rip the pair you’re wearing, it still would be smart to have an extra pair just in case. As for myself, an extra pair is a must. Why? I wear size 16. You should also have a plentiful supply of shirts, shorts, socks, and shoelaces in your tennis bag, especially on a hot day.

Learn how to pace yourself: All of us have played a match in which we’re trailing in a set, 4-2. We play brilliantly for the next three games to go ahead, 5-4, only to lose the set, 7-5. What happened? When you rally from behind you’re using a great amount of physical and mental energy. When you do go ahead you often suffer a temporary letdown. Why? Subconsciously, you are thrilled to have tied up the match or moved ahead, especially when it appeared at one time that you surely were going to lose. Instead of letting down, you must push yourself even harder. Once your opponent sees and feels your determination and aggressiveness, you’ll be a tough opponent to defeat in a close match.