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Overcoming Intimidation

December 2, 2005 02:47 PM

by Dr. Robert Heller

One of my tennis clients recently confided that he gets intimidated when he notices his opponent has a hard serve during the warm-up. He felt that he would have a hard time returning the serve and this started to erode his confidence even before the match begins.

I have noticed that in my own tennis career I have won many of the warm-ups only to subsequently lose the match. In other words, your opponent may have hit a few “lucky” serves during the warm-up or possibly serve less consistently during match play and especially on critical points.

The warm-up should be viewed as an opportunity to gather intelligence about your opponent and come up with a tentative plan based on your early observations. You want to avoid judging or evaluating the outcome in advance and decide what tactics you will employ to counteract your opponent’s strengths. In the case of a hard, fast serve placed in the middle of the service box, it might suggest taking a few steps back to buy a little more time to react and/or a short backswing on your return. The focus is on how you will return the serve and not being in “awe” of the serve. If your opponent simply has a hard serve and can’t get it in consistently you don’t have a problem. If he’s consistent but doesn’t place it well, you can probably adjust within a few games to this predictability.

If he can hit it hard, move it around and do it consistently, you say, “good shot” and move to the other side of the court. You do your best to win your own serve and keep the score close, while looking for an opportunity to make a good return, hope for a double fault and get a break. Even a very strong server will let up or breakdown at some points throughout the match. Be ready to move when the chance comes your way!

To build my client’s confidence I suggested he practice hitting return of serves from inside the baseline and to have a coach or training partner hit serves at him from the service line. In this way, he will get used to the speed of a hard hit ball and get his timing and coordination down.

I also encouraged my client to work on an all around game and reminded him that there are a number of tour players with huge serves who rack up an impressive number of aces yet lose a significant number of matches in spite of their great serves.

So, work on your service return, think about what adjustments you need to make when playing a big server good things may start to happen!

Dr. Robert Heller is a psychologist, sports psychology consultant and certified tennis instructor based in Boca Raton, Florida. He is the author of the 2-volume mental conditioning CD-Rom program, “TENNISMIND.” For information on sports enhancement training, workshops and other services, contact him at (561) 451-2731, robertheller@adelphia.net or visit www.thewinningedge.usptapro.com.




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