One of the most difficult times in a set or match can be when you are given
the opportunity to serve for the win. One of the main reasons for problems
at this time in the match stems from your own attitude. Many players assume
that the set or match is over and that they've already conquered the problem
just by being able to serve for it. Others fear that they won't be able to
finish off the opponent.
In addition to the things going on in your own mind, you must also consider
what your opponent might be thinking. Their back is against the wall and are
about to be closed out so they obviously are playing out of desperation.
When an opponent fears that it is slipping out of hand, they will frequently
play their best tennis because they know they must. If they feel like
they've already lost then they can be very dangerous.
There are a few things you can do to combat those nervous times in your
matches. First remember that your are the one that is in the lead and
probably for good reason. You don't want to change a winning game plan. If
serve and volley has brought you to this point, continue to do so. If
hitting to their backhand has worked, don't play to the forehand. The basic
concept is to maintain a winning plan and everyone should have a plan.
Remember that you are to play every point as an important one. Casual points
played while assuming you've got it wrapped up can really mount up against
you. Continue to play smart tennis and stay focused. Never assume it's over
until after the handshake.
Take note that your opponent's game will probably change. Just as you have
recognized that you need to maintain your winning plan, they must now change
their losing tactics. This can be very rattling to some players but you
should be prepared for it. If you are hitting winner after winner off the
forehand side should they continue to hit there? They will remember these
things in desperate times!
Practice being in these situations. Play against a team or partner and start
every game at 30-love. See how you react when your ahead. Try it down
love-40 and a few other scenarios. Find out exactly how you play and think
through such situations. Practicing this way will only prepare you more for
the actual match situation and help you to stay calm and focused.
Remember the saying, "Champions visualize what they want to happen and
everyone else visualizes what they fear will happen". Work on closing out
your matches and see which applies to you. Adding a little mental toughness
at critical times in your matches might give you the confidence needed to
play better under pressure.