Do you Play Better Tennis in Practice than Matches? 

Practice Not Transferring to Matches?

Do you play better tennis in practice than you do in competitive matches?

What causes some players to play like a star in practice but then underperform in competitions?

Let’s examine the issue in further detail. First, let’s eliminate factors that are irrelevant to the “practice vs. matches” conundrum. 

For one, your equipment is the same. You most likely use the same racquet, with maybe some slight variations in string tension. So, you can eliminate equipment from your potential factor list.

Next, let’s look at conditioning. Granted that you are not sick or injured, your conditioning is probably stable. So, we can exclude conditioning as a potential cause.

How about technical factors? If you have sound fundamentals and technique in practice matches, you have the ability to replicate those mechanics in competitive matches.

That leaves one major factor… your mental game. The impact your mind has on performance is staggering. Mental factors affect everything from confidence to dealing with mistakes, swinging your racquet freely, being aggressive, managing your nerves, conserving your energy, and the list goes on and on.

A collegiate tennis player who responded to our Mental Game of Tennis Needs Survey sent us the following question: Do you play better tennis in practice than matches, if so why?

Playing at a high level seems to come easy to me in practice matches. But when I play competitive matches, I tighten up and miss shots I usually make in practice.”

Ultimately, the question is, “What causes you to tighten up and underperform in competitive matches?”

Pressure and nerves are the main causes of tightening up or playing better in practice than in competition. When you make competitive matches bigger than they are, pressure and anxiety build.

Anxiety causes increased muscle tension, a loss of focus, poor decision-making, and rigidity in your swing. The combination of these factors leads to a decline in performance compared to practice matches, where the pressure is lower.

The key is to reduce pressure by shrinking the importance of a competitive match. You can accomplish minimizing pressure through self-talk and anxiety management strategies.

Telling yourself, “This is just another match” or “Just like practice” can prevent you from making the match bigger than it is.

In addition, breathwork, on-court relaxation strategies, and a consistent pre-shot routine will help keep your nerves from building to unmanageable proportions.

In the second round of the 2024 French Open, Iga Swiatek beat Naomi Osaka, 7-6, 1-6, 7-5. Swiatek made the comeback by changing her mentality in the third set.

SWIATEK: “It was really intense and on a really high level. I was in huge trouble in the third set. I honestly didn’t believe I could win because I would be pretty naive to think that. I tried to just play better as if I were practicing.” 

The transition from practice to competitive matches involves developing strategies to manage pressure, maintain focus, and minimize anxiety so you can consistently perform at a high level, no matter the opponent, tournament, or match. 

Put competitive matches in perspective. Remind yourself that when you shrink the importance of competitive matches, you lessen pressure and open the door to peak performance. There is not much different between practice and matches besides your mindset.

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Improve Your Mental Game for Tennis

Tennis Confidence 2.0

Tennis Confidence 2.0

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