How to Respond When Trailing in Tennis

How to Respond When Trailing in Tennis

How do you respond when you are down in the tennis match?

It is easy to battle when the score is close. However, champions continue to grind, no matter the score.

In tennis, there are several realities:

  • You will not win every match
  • You will not always have your ‘A’ game.
  • You will not always play with the lead.

If you are not prepared to compete while trailing in a match, you will limit the number of victories you can earn.

Mounting a comeback requires a positive mindset characterized by the following:

  • The belief that anything can happen.
  • The confidence that you have the capacity and mental toughness to rebound.
  • The commitment to grinding until the last point.
  • A strong focus on the present moment.
  • The resilience to never give up.

These five characteristics of a positive mindset do not guarantee you will win, but they open up the possibility of succeeding.

In our Mental Game of Tennis Needs Survey, a tennis player asked a common question:

“How can I keep my head in the game when I’m down a set in a match?”

When you feel you have no chance of winning a match, it is due to a defeatist thought process, “I am being dominated. I can’t seem to win a game. I’m going to lose. I just want this match to be over.” 

Negative thoughts affect your game in several ways:

  • You will feel physically tired and mentally drained.
  • You will have difficulty focusing on winning points because you have mentally accepted defeat.
  • You will feel frustrated and lose confidence.
  • You will not take the necessary risks to score points.
  • You will make an increasing number of mistakes.

Your thoughts affect your effort, focus, and performance level for each point.

The key question is, “What thoughts will you choose to focus on when trailing by a significant margin? 

Will you focus on how far behind you are or focus on winning the next point?

Will you think about losing or focus on finding a way to swing momentum in your favor?

Will you choose to relive your mistakes or immerse yourself in the present moment and grind forward?

At the 2024 Dubai Tennis Championships, Sorana Cirstea achieved “the biggest comeback” of her career. 

Cirstea lost the first set and was down 5-1 in the second set against reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova. However, Cirstea kept a positive focus and saved six match points to earn a 2-6 7-6 (7-1) 6-2 victory.

CIRSTEA: “To be honest, at a set and 5-1, I wasn’t thinking about winning anymore. I was like, at least make it nice for the public, at least make it longer and give them a bit nicer tennis. Somehow, I managed to get this win, and I still don’t know how I managed it. This has to be the biggest comeback of my career.”

Making a comeback requires that you let go of possible results. Instead of thinking about losing or winning, you focus on the battle for each point. 

When you battle for each point, you give yourself a greater chance to turn the match around.

Prepare yourself for a battle on the court by arming yourself with powerful self-talk to keep you grinding forward. 

Phrases such as “Never going to stop,” “Grind it out,” and “Keep fighting” will keep your head in the game and competing for each point.

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