Your Mindset for Playing Higher Ranked Opponents


Staying Confident Playing Higher Ranked Opponents

Do you get anxious when going up against top ranked opponents? Does your anxiety overwhelm you and cause you to play well below your capabilities?

When playing against higher ranked opponents, you might notice several issues at play that affect your performance:

(You can remember these factors with the acronym A.C.E.)

1. Attitude – Your view of the upcoming match means everything.

Do you think you are going to lose before the match even starts or are you excited to see how you match up against top opponents? If you view the match as a challenge, rather than a guaranteed loss, you will fight for points and raise your game up a notch. Who knows… you may even pull off the upset because nothing is ever set in stone or predetermined.

2. Confidence – Do you feel you have prepared well and have the skills necessary to play your best tennis no matter the opponent?

Ultimately, how you play is up to you. When you focus on your abilities and skill set, your best tennis is at your fingertips.

3. Emotions – Emotions are tied into your attitude and confidence level.

Prior to any match, you want to have the right level of activation that helps give your energy and focus. Some players get excited for the challenge of playing top players while other players get anxious.

Your emotions will dictate how you play so it is necessary to keep these emotions in check if you are to play at your peak.

In fact, some top-ranked opponents may overlook you and be emotionally flat at the start of the match. If you are in an optimal emotional zone, you can pounce on your opponent early if they take the match for granted.

John Millman loves challenging himself against top players.

Millman, ranked 128, is looking to break into the top 100 this season. In order to accomplish his goal, Millman will need to beat many higher-ranked opponents on a consistent basis.

At the 2018 Brisbane International, Millman played resilient tennis and revealed his approach to playing higher ranked opponents.

MILLMAN: “I always like to test myself against the best players in the world. And sometimes it’s challenging, as I found out against Rafa last year at Wimbledon [losing 1-6,3-6, 2-6], but sometimes it can be very rewarding just to kind of see where you are against them.”

Millman approaches matches against higher-ranked opponents with a very particular mindset:

1. Nothing to Lose – When you play higher-ranked opponents, you really have nothing to lose. With nothing to lose, you can hit the court and play freely and aggressively.

2. Getting Comfortable & Confident – The more you play in high level tournaments against tough players, you get comfortable in that environment. When you are relaxed, you are more apt to go for shots and, with each win, your confidence grows.

3. Any Given Day – On any given day, the results may turn out in your favor but only if you fight for every point and move forward from previous mistakes.

The right mindset is always the best bet!

Competing against Top-Ranked Opponents:

1. Choose your attitude wisely. Look at each match as an opportunity to lift your game higher.

2. Play confidently. Focus on your strengths and talents, not opponents’ strengths.

3. Keep your emotions in check. Don’t allow the moment to overwhelm you. Stay relaxed and loose.

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1 thought on “Your Mindset for Playing Higher Ranked Opponents”

  1. Great topic. Having been through the system myself I can add a slight subtlety to this topic. I think one can draw a distinction between playing someone who is clearly far better than you, where it really is a long shot, approaching an impossibility, that you could win, and playing someone that you can compete against, but is ranked higher. I think people can fall into the position of what I like to call the “happy loser.”

    When I was younger I went through this situation but the psychology of it never dawned on me until years later, many years after I’d stopped playing. When I was in my late teens and early 20s I played a lot pf guys around the same age as me who were good players and regarded as the top juniors or up and coming players in the world. Some of them went on to win Grand Slam titles. The scores in these matches were mostly along the lines of 7-5/6-4, or 6-4/6-3 maybe. Just one break in the set, Maybe there’d be a tie breaker in there. But here’s the rub – I never beat any of these guys, ever, not even once. I don’t think I even ever took a set.

    The situation was always pretty much exactly the same every time. I’d won through beating the lesser players vey easily, I was happy to be playing the match against the superstar, I played very well, without tension, anxiety or nerves. We played a good match – we both looked like superstars. The crowd loved it. I lost in a very routine way. I was not one bit upset about that. In fact I smiled and had fun all the way through, including at the end when we shook hands and I just left the court and went about my business, without one ounce of disspointment.

    It was not until years later that I looked back on this and thought, “what was going on there?” If I could have 7-6s and 7-5s with these guys, why couldn’t I have won or at least gotten closer to winning, and hence put myself in “their group” so to speak. I’m not saying I was better – I think they were better, but I think this happy loser thing can be a barrier to going to the next level, when maybe the ability is in fact there.

    It is very interesting, because on the other side of that coin, is that once you adopt the mental position that you can win or expect to win, then two things can happen, that I guess are related. All those things that your whole website and podcast is about get in the way and maybe you don’t play so good, and then you get angry and upset when the ball isn’t going in.

    Playing someone who is miles better than you is just a test or a bit of an experience, as you say above, and the mental aspects of that should be fairly easy to handle. Playing someone who is just a bit better than you is a very interesting area to be in, because you can either fall into the comfortable zone of the happy loser (they also say “happy just to be there”) or you can try to figure out how you can compete and possibly win, and hence risk having to deal with all the problems that come with not being able to meet your “hopes” because you played badly.

    Very interesting. Maybe you could give some tips on how young players can go to the next level – maybe beat that person who is on that next level above them, without being the “happy loser” and without falling prey to the tennis demons. The answer might be just to keep going until it happens, but the problem with that approach is that it does not address the “happy loser” mentality, and if this is really a thing, then you may never win because of it.

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