How Zverev Played Out of His Mind

Match Time Focus

The Most Important Mental Skill For Tennis Players

The ability to think, evaluate and analyze is the greatest asset for a tennis player. Thinking allows you to adjust, improve, set goals and optimize performance.

Conversely, overthinking can be your greatest adversary if you allow negative thoughts to distract you from the task at hand.

Getting your thoughts under control and focusing during a match are critical to your success in the sport. While playing “one point at a time” has become very cliché in the tennis world, focusing is the most important mental skill needed for all tennis players.

Every tennis tournament you have watched has some example of how focus, or the lack thereof, has determined the result of a match…

A two-seed enters a tournament with expectations of reaching the finals. The opening match, he faces an opponent he has beaten easily several times over the past year.

After winning the first set, he loses serve and he retreats to playing cautiously. Negative thoughts swirl around his head, “Oh my god, why can’t I get the ball over the net. What’s wrong with me?”

Instead of focusing on the next point, the very point that could turn things around, he is worried about an early exit from the tournament. At the end of the match, his fear is realized, an opening round loss.

When asked what went wrong by his coach, he dejectedly replied, “I couldn’t focus on what I was doing.”

In the round of 16 at the 2017 Australian Open, No. 50 Mischa Zverev upset top-ranked Andy Murray, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 to advance to the quarterfinals, his best showing in a Grand Slam event.

Zverev was at a loss when asked to reveal his thoughts during the match in his on-court interview.

ZVEREV: “Honestly, I don’t know. I was in a little coma just serving and volleying my way through it. I think you should tell me how I did it ‘cause honestly there were a few points where I didn’t know how I pulled it off. I didn’t know how I won certain points, but somehow I made it.”

That’s right, Zverev was so focused on playing each point that he had no idea what he was thinking during the match. Zverev was so immersed in the game that he lost his sense of time. That is being totally present in the moment!

Zverev revealed one strategy that he has utilized to help him focus after a bad shot…

Near the end of the match, Zverev missed an overhead shot and, instead of retreating into a negative place in his mind, he refocused himself by focusing on something familiar in the arena.

ZVEREV: “[After I missed the overhead] I immediately looked at my mom because she always smiles when I miss those balls, and she did smile and that helped me a little bit.”

When you know you can actively control your focus, you become the director of your thoughts rather than the hostage of your thoughts.

Try This Tip to Improve Your Match Focus

When you hit a bad shot, most players evaluate the miss, but you can choose not to focus on those unproductive thoughts.

Pick out a focal point in the arena (a person, your racquet, a water bottle, a sign, etc.) that will help you refocus your thoughts.

Say “NEXT Point” to yourself. Cue yourself to focus on the next point instead of dwelling on the past.

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