What thoughts go through your mind during warm-up?
How do you feel when you find out you are playing against the top seed in a tournament?
A top opponent may have a physical advantage but not necessarily a mental advantage.
A player with a mental advantage can beat a player who has a solid physical and technical game.
How can this be? The answer lies in your thoughts.
Your thoughts leading up to a match profoundly impact how you will play. This is especially true when you are playing a higher-ranked opponent.
You can choose between two types of thoughts when facing top-tier opponents: defeatist thoughts or mentally tough thoughts.
Defeatist thoughts include:
- “I’m going to get crushed.”
- “I hope I can win at least a couple of games.”
- “This match is going to be embarrassing.”
- “I have no chance.”
When you focus on an opponent’s accolades and accomplishments, your mind feasts on defeatist thoughts. Defeatist thoughts cause you to see your opponent as unbeatable.
Mentally tough thoughts include:
- “Focus on my strengths.”
- “Everyone is beatable. Stay strong.”
- “Go for every point.”
- “Never back down.”
When you have mentally tough thoughts, you don’t deny the accomplishments of your opponents; you are ignoring their accolades. That is, you are focused on your game.
Mentally tough thoughts are actionable thoughts. Actionable thoughts guide you to focus on how to play each point.
You may not be able to control your thoughts, but you can choose to focus on thoughts that boost performance.
Thought management is a trainable mental skill that gives you a mental edge no matter who you are playing.
For example, Danish teenager Holger Rune faced off against odds-on favorite Novak Djokovic in the 2022 ATP Paris Masters finals. Djokovic is a six-time Paris champion and one of the best players to have ever stepped on the court.
When unseeded Rune stepped on the court, he recognized he was playing a tennis great but chose to focus on his match strategy.
Rune faced adversity throughout the match. Rune lost the first set 3-6. Rune trailed in the final set 3-1. In the 12th game, Rune served for the win in a game that lasted more than 17 minutes.
Despite the adversity, Rune stayed mentally tough and fought back from a set down to beat Djokovic 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, and win his first Masters’ title.
After the victory, you could hear in Rune’s comments that he recognized he was playing an elite player, but he believed in his ability to pull off the win.
RUNE: “I feel exhausted. It was an incredible tournament. I have so much respect for what (Djokovic) has done. I’m so proud of myself; it hasn’t sunk in yet. The last game was one of the most stressful of my tennis life.”
Playing your best tennis starts with choosing a mindset that helps you succeed or learn…
Start by recognize three points:
1. You are playing against a rankless opponent.
2. You are not playing against a player’s athletic resume.
3. You know that anything can happen when you are mentally tough.
Embrace the challenge to play up to a high level.
Related Tennis Psychology Articles
- Your Mindset for Playing a Tennis Rival
- Your Mindset for Playing Higher Ranked Opponents
- How Cibulkova Learned to Stop Her Mental Meltdowns
- Download our a FREE Tennis Psychology Report
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