How Expectations Affect Tennis Performance

Beating a Top Seed

Expectations Within Matches

Do you have high expectations and think you should win every match?

Or are your expectations usually low to ensure you will outplay your expectations?

Some players believe high expectations boost confidence and help them play at their peak throughout the match.

While other players believe low expectations will eliminate pressure so they can outplay their expectations.

Your expectations impact your performance by affecting your focus, effort, and anxiety.

So which approach is better: having high or low expectations going into a match?

The answer is neither.

When expectations are high, you will feel the need to compete with perfect mechanics, hit the perfect serve, or return and win every point. 

When you compete with high expectations, one mistake can topple your game and increase mistakes. High expectations invite stress and pressure into your game.

However, low expectations also create stress. With low expectations, you will have an internal battle. You know you want to win or even should win, but you don’t want to disappoint yourself.

Low expectations give you a built-in excuse. If you lose or don’t play your best, you can say, “Well, I didn’t expect to win.” While low expectations may lessen disappointment, they will never lead to peak performance.

The most effective approach for tennis matches is to focus on competing for each point. You can think of a competitive match as a series of mini-battles. Each point is its own mini-battle. A present-moment focus helps you focus on each point separately.

This mindset can be summarized as “I’m going to put it all on the line, go for it, and see where the chips may fall. This approach lessens stress and anxiety and helps you maintain your composure during the ups and downs of a tennis match.

For example, Bianca defeated Emma Raducanu 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 at the 2023 Miami Open to advance into the second round. Heading into the match, Andreescu had a “play-your-best” mentality. 

Andreescu credited her mentality for maintaining her poise during a difficult second set and regaining her focus to pull off the victory.

ANDREESCU: “You never know what to expect — I just came in here wanting to play my best with what I had today, and I think I did that…I didn’t let my negative emotions get the best of me. I stayed positive, I was very energetic, and I never gave up.”

High expectations are self-imposed demands that are often unrealistic to attain. In addition, high expectations lead to disappointment, frustration, and low confidence when you fail to hit the mark.

Peak tennis results from letting go of expectations and focusing on one-mini battle at a time.

It is important to know your expectations. You should have a balanced mindset heading into a match. You want to discard expectations and focus on what you need to do to win points.

The best approach is to be process-oriented and focus on playing each point to the best of your ability. Fighting for each point will help you stay positive, feel energized, and never give up.

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