How Nadal Uses His Mind to Win Matches

Tennis Psychology

Winning Ugly in Tennis

When underperforming during a match, do you try to hit perfect shots rather than focusing on performing well? Many tennis players get caught in performing the “right way” during matches, which distracts them from focusing on what need to do in order to get the job done and win points.

Successful tennis player and coach Brad Gilbert wrote a book on tennis called “Winning Ugly.”

What is winning ugly?

Winning ugly is the ability to abandon the right way to perform for the functional way to get the job done, especially when you don’t have all your shots working.

Rafael Nadal recently defeated David Ferrer 6-2, 6-4 to claim his sixth Barcelona Open title. Nadal didn’t bring his best game, but was able to pull off the win by using his mind and winning ugly tennis .

“If you are winning without playing your best, seems like you have enough tennis to keep being competitive even if you’re not playing perfect. So let’s try to play better. If you play better, you have even more chances,” said Nadal.

When you aren’t on your A-game or one of your shots is not working, you have to use your mind game to get through the match. Don’t try to force it or fix what’s wrong in the middle of a match.

Instead, think about how to play functional tennis. Play the shots that are working. You can have perfect-looking groundstrokes, but perfect stokes does not always win matches.

Good (functional) strokes, good tactics, and mental toughness wins matches. Play the shots that get the job done in the match rather than what you think looks pretty or perfect.

Playing functional tennis means playing what tennis you are capable of in that given moment. Functional tennis is the opposite of trying to make perfect strokes. You are human, you will make mistakes and you have to accept these mistakes.

Five Strategies for Playing Functional Tennis

  1. Give yourself permission to make errors when performing. Don’t expect to make errors, but you certainly must accept them when they happen. Give yourself the luxury of making 3-4 errors during each performance so you can continue playing in a functional mindset.
  2. Perform efficiently instead of perfectly. This means that you have to abandon the “correct” way to perform in some cases. Use whatever works to help you get the job done in tournaments. Be happy with the shot that worked well, but was perhaps not “perfectly” executed.
  3. Simplify how you perform. This is the opposite of trying to be perfect. Simplicity means using fewer thoughts, reacting more, and NOT thinking about every single instruction your coach has told you. In other words, don’t “over-coach” yourself. Less is always better.
  4. Use your go-to shot if needed. Stick to your “bread and butter” shot. This is the shot that’s working that day. I teach my students to play the shot that’s currently working well rather than playing the “correct” or perfect shot.
  5. Save practice for after the competition. Avoid analyzing your strokes during play and trying to fix or correct them in the middle of a match.

The key to playing functional tennis is having the ability remain confident and positive after mistakes.

“The important thing is I didn’t play perfect this tournament and I won. I have something to improve and I am excited to try to do it. Let’s keep that with humble, motivation, and positive attitude every day. That’s the only way to keep playing at this level,” said Nadal.

Next time you compete, think about winning ugly. No matter if you have you A, B, or C game that day, commit to getting the job done with you athletic talent. Have confidence that you can still win even if you don’t have you’re a game.

This article was based on Dr. Cohn new program: Tennis Confidence.

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