The warm-up is over, and the match is on. You’re amazed that everything you do is working out and you’re playing your best tennis ever. This performance puts you in the lead in no time with the score being 4:1. Alright, only two more games to go and you’ve won the set. So many recreational tennis players have been there, done that. That’s the time things so often turn for the worst. Not only do you end up losing the set, but the whole match is at risk now. Going from playing best tennis ever to losing an “already won” match is excruciatingly frustrating.
What happens when you’re winning
Usually associated with recreational and club level of tennis, the psychology of being in the lead can have disastrous effects on some players. Have you noticed that when you’re behind and chasing the score, more often than not you win those game or match-saving points? At the same time, you might be having trouble taking break points, holding serve and closing out the match when in the lead. These are classic signs that you’re losing focus when pressure eases off.
What happens is that you just stop fighting when you’re in the lead, and this can affect your game in a significant way. If there is no pressure and your opponent is making mistakes, you unconsciously start hitting shots with less pace, hoping for another unforced error from your opponent. Good news is that there is a relatively easy solution for this.
How to stay in the lead
You need to switch the mindset from playing the score to playing one point at a time. The score doesn’t matter. You need to give your best to try to win every point in a match. You can’t sacrifice any of the points for relaxing or taking a break. When your opponent gets in the zone, it’s hard to turn things around. Focus on keeping the ball inside the court, and if possible, don’t even think about the score. Of course, to do this, you need motivation.
Try setting goals like: “I’ll win this game without losing a point” or “This is my chance to win a breakpoint, I’ll focus and do my best to take it.”
You should always aim to win sets without losing any games, especially when playing against weaker players. Many recreational players tend to tank a game here and there when they are considered to be a stronger player, destined to win the match. It's a bad habit, as next time, you might face a player that is on the same level as you are skill wise, and then you can’t relax and afford to lose games without a fight.
Play one point at a time
To sum it up, focus on each point no matter what the score is. Play tennis one point at a time. Never give your opponent a boost when you’re in the lead as sometimes only a point or two can wake him up, and then it can be hard to stop the momentum. Tennis is a fantastic mind game, and there is so much you can do for your performance on the court just by changing how you think and approach matches. Next time you step on the court, try out some of the ideas we talked about, and you’ll surely win more matches, more confidently.