Serena Williams suffered a tough loss against Li Na at the Porsche Grand Prix tournament this week. Williams had a convincing first set lead, 6-0, but Li Na’s mental strength helped her battle back to take the next two sets 6-1, 6-4. Serena’s loss caused her ranking to slip to number 2.
Li Na, ranked 30, has never made the finals of a Grand Slam tournament. She hasn’t had a breakthrough year – yet.
Li Na mentioned that she battled nerves and anxiety during the tennis match:
“I was very nervous in the first set and I just didn’t have a chance.”
Even professional tennis players experience pregame nerves or jitters before and during a match. Li Na’s nerves did not help her in the first set, which she lost 6-0. Athletes can experience pregame nerves or tension because they are worried about the results and who is watching them or performing well.
Li Na was able to calm her nerves to help her win the match. Li Na spoke about her mental attitude for tennis after 20 minutes into the first set. She predicted that she could be winning in an hour:
“I looked at the clock and I saw it was only 20 minutes (into the match) so I told myself I could be winning in an hour. I knew I just had to hang in there.”
Li Na’s mental toughness stayed strong, even though the first set wasn’t even close. After a first set loss, some athletes may believe that today wasn’t their day and given up. But, Li Na hung in there mentally. She was in it for the long haul. She was willing to hang in there for as long as it took to come out a winner.
Serena Williams talked about how she lost her confidence and gave up: “I started making a lot of errors and I just gave it to her,” she said. “Maybe I started doubting myself.”
Even the pros, like Serena Williams, have bad days. Some days athletes make more mistakes than others. Self-doubt about your tennis game will not help the cause. Doubt undermines self-confidence causing athletes to question their ability or play tentatively. The best athletes will bounce back from losses, like Serena Williams, and continue to stay focused and work to improve.
Li Na’s win against Serena Williams demonstrates the importance of a strong mental game in tennis. On any given day, anyone can win with the right mindset for sports. Mental toughness, a strong belief in ability and managing pregame jitters were the keys to Li Na’s success.