How to Manage Pressure and Play Peak Tennis During Tiebreaks

How to Manage Pressure and Play Peak Tennis During Tiebreaks

What is your focus when you are playing in a tiebreak?

While some tennis players play mentally tough throughout tiebreaks, many players unravel. Most of the time, players who lose in highly contested sets beat themselves by unforced errors, double faults, and cautious play.

Why do some players rise to the occasion, and others shrink under the bright lights?

The most significant predictor of success during tiebreaks is not talent but focus.

For example, you can have a powerful serve and hit a high percentage of aces early in a set. However, if you are overly anxious and fearful of faulting during the tiebreak, you might double fault or attempt to play it safe by taking pace off your serve.

Likewise, you may be an athletic player with the quickness to cover a lot of ground. However, if you focus on potentially losing the tiebreak, your body will tense up and neutralize your strengths. Your distracted mind will give your opponent a significant edge.

A collegiate tennis player who responded to our Mental Game of Tennis Needs Survey asked the following question:

“When I am playing in a tiebreak, I put a lot of pressure on myself, and as a result, I start to play worse and worse, and I get angry quickly. How can I concentrate on playing my best instead of being afraid to lose?”

The best way to maintain your focus in a tiebreak is to have a reliable, comfortable, established mental strategy in place even before you start playing a tennis match.

Preparation is the key to confidence. When you know how to handle stress, realize you have the ability to play your best under pressure, and have a strategy in place that will help you focus during tiebreaks, you will feel more confident and play more aggressively.

With practice, you have many options that you can implement to achieve an optimal focus and peak play to close out sets, including resetting between points, calming your body by deep breathing, immersing yourself in the current point, using cue words/ phrases to direct your attention, practice empowering body posture to enhance confidence, etc.

These mental strategies will immerse you in playing each point without fear of making mistakes or losing the set.

At the 2023 Rolex Shanghai Masters, Hubert Hurkacz faced Andrey Rublev in the Finals.

Hurkacz was down 6-5 in the deciding tiebreak before battling back to win the set and title. 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (8-6).

What was on Hurkacz’s mind during the last few points in the tiebreak?

HURKACZ: “Just trying to tell myself what to do during the points, where to play and, you know, to stay committed and to trust my shots and, just fight and just battle.”

Hurkacz maintained his poise throughout the potentially stressful situation by focusing on fighting for each point as if it were its own competition.

HURKACZ: “Andrey [Rublev] was playing some really good tennis, and I knew I [had] to produce the shots. So I was just trying to stay out there and compete as hard as I could and to keep positive self-talk and then keep the belief until the end.”

Playing confident tennis during tiebreaks requires practice, mental repetition, and preparation. The better prepared you are to handle the pressure, the more comfortable, confident, and focused you will be to go big in those big moments.

Tip for Managing Pressure and Play Peak Tennis During Tiebreaks

Select 2-3 stress management strategies you can quickly implement during tiebreaks. 

For example, if you choose deep breathing to calm your nerves before a serve, use that strategy before every serve in practice or during practice matches, even if you don’t feel stressed.

The goal is to feel comfortable implementing that strategy when playing in challenging circumstances.

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