In many of the lessons I teach we discuss the importance of
consistency. To most players consistency means being able
to get the ball back to your opponent over and over until
they basically wear out. In fact, some players feel that
the consistent player is not really playing tennis but is
considered a "pusher." I consider consistency more of a
player's ability to hit a shot the same way rather than the
number of shots a player can get back.
A good way to get a little more consistency in your game is
to try to start the point the same way every time - get your
ritual. Your ritual is a set routine that you go through
before serving or receiving to let your mind know that the
point is starting. Going through this pre-shot routine can
let your mind and body get in synch in preparation for the
If you watched the U.S. Open this year you may have
noticed the rituals of the touring professionals. Although
each player's pre-shot routine is unique, each has some
specific move that gets them into a mental state prepared
to play the point. You might notice things like
the number of bounces before looking at the target
for serve, maybe a rocking back motion like a Sampras or a
swaying motion and small steps before receiving serve.
Whatever the ritual, it is the same every time no matter who
the opponent. In the pre-shot routine or ritual, it doesn't
matter the opponent - what matters is that the player has
prepared him or herself for the point in a consistent manner.
This can bring on more consistent play.
More and more I notice the similarities between golf and
tennis. There are many of the same muscle movements
between the two sports. However, it seems there are countless
books and articles on the mental side of golf as compared to
tennis. Over and over in these golf books a players is told
to learn to focus the mind on the target and the ritual and
then let the shot happen rather than think of swing mechanics.
In fact there is a saying "don't let your brain get in the
way!" which I think can apply to tennis as well.
The next time you play a practice match try to be conscious
of your ritual and keep doing it no matter what the results.
You might have to experiment to find what is comfortable but
a consistent mental start to a point can lead to more
consistent play. Start your ritual, visualize what you want
to happen, then execute without thinking of stroke mechanics
in the middle of your swing. Remember that winners visualize
what they want to happen and losers visualize what they are
afraid will happen. The results will speak for themselves!