Your Mindset for Playing a Tennis Rival

How to Play a Tennis Rival

Do you become excited or nervous when matched up against a rival player or a rival team? Rivalries can be filled with excitement for some players and absolute dread for other players.

What is the cause of such a difference in emotion when playing a rivalry?

Well, the difference in your emotions has nothing to do with the physical game. The game of tennis doesn’t change. You are still playing under the same conditions on a standardized court under the same rules.

On the other hand, your mindset influences your emotions. When you attribute more importance to playing a rival, you make these matches feel bigger. You feel there is more riding on the game, such as, evening up the series or having bragging rights.

This heightened sense of importance can help you feel excited for the challenge or overwhelmed by the worry about losing.

A tennis player from our Mental Game of Tennis asked, “Every time I play my friend, I get so nervous that I lose most of the time. How can I improve my chances of winning?”

When you play against a rival, thought distractions increase greatly, “If I lose again, he will take the lead in our head-to-head match-up. It will be the third consecutive match I lost to him. I can’t lose this match or everyone will make fun of me.”

Every mistake, unforced error and double fault makes you feel one step closer to losing. Instead of taking advantage of your strengths and aggressively going for points, you play back on your heels and try to not lose. This mentality leads to losing 99.9% of the time.

When you play against a rival, you need a strong mental game. A strong mental game keeps you in charge. A strong mental game helps you embrace the pressure to go for your shots without fearing missing.

One of the great rivalries in tennis has been the Williams sisters. Venus and Serena Williams have won 30 major singles titles between them. The official beginning of the Williams sisters’ WTA rivalry was at the 1998 Australian Open where Venus won 7-6(4), 6-1. Venus had the edge early in the rivalry, but Serena has dominated the rivalry lately, winning nine of the last 11 meetings prior to the inaugural Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky.

The 2020 Top Seed Open was the first tournament the Williams faced each other since the coronavirus pandemic interrupted the WTA season. In the second round of the tournament, Serena had to rally back from a break down in the final set to beat Venus, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Serena’s victory against her sister was not easy. Serena was down 4-2 in the final set before she hunkered down and focused on playing fearless.

SERENA: “Last couple of games, I just wanted to win because I have been losing a lot of those tight sets. So I said ‘I really need to try to win this’… just for my game and my confidence, so I just tried to focus on those last two games.”

Serena’s mindset was to focus on her game rather than getting distracted by how well her sister was playing.

The mindset of fully immersing yourself in your game gives you a significant advantage playing against your rivals and the best chance to win the match.

Your Mindset against a Tennis Rival

Your mindset doesn’t just happen magically. You choose your mindset every day as a tennis player.

Prepare your game like you would for a Rival. However, when it’s time to play, focus on your tactics instead of who is across the net. Don’t get distracted by the history between you and your opponent.

Treat your opponent as another opponent you might play. The most important thing is to focus on the tactics that will help you succeed, not the past history.

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