It seems most players misunderstand what is happening when they play an important tennis match and they do not play in the same way they have practiced. They become completely despondent. Without a doubt, the number one question that has been asked to me over the years is, "Why can't I play tennis like I practice?"
The short answer to why you can't play match tennis like you play tennis practice is: YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO! You may be thinking, "Okay, then how am I supposed to play?" The short answer to that question would be: THE WAY YOU PLAYED IN THE MATCH!
Making any sense yet? Let me explain. The most important mindset you can develop to help increase your victories in match play is to accept the way you are playing tennis on any given day. Then you do the best you can, using what you have to work with to win the match. That's it!
If you ever hope to someday close the gap between your tennis practice play and your match play, you first must learn to adopt this attitude. What happens, happens! This is not fatalism. It is orientation to reality! Learn to deal with the adversity, adapt and keep fighting! This also includes choking on a point. Forget it and play the next point. Train your mind to keep moving forward and play the hand you have been dealt on that day. "The next shot is more important than the last mistake."
The good news is that this mental strategy really works. All of the best tennis pros in the world have mastered this thought process. The bad news is most amateur players refuse to accept their shortcomings, stay positive and vigorously continue to play their match. Whining about their mistakes, their problems and their adversities leads only to the quagmire of self-pity and distraction from the Champion's mental attitude.
Here is the scenario where most players' minds short-circuit the correct mental attitude. Picture this: They are in an important tennis match and they are not playing well, even choking on some of their shots. Confused, their mind begins to wander and they think only about the way they play in practice. They muse, "Why can I not play in matches the way I play in practice? I know I can play better than this. Just last week in practice I was really hitting the tennis ball well."
You should never compare your important match play with your practice play. They are two separate events that do influence each other but are definitely NOT the same. Never compare them as a means of determining how you should play in important matches.
As the great golfer Bobby Jones said 80 years ago, "You may take it from me, there are two types of golf. There is golf - and tournament golf. And they are not at all the same thing."
Improvement in tennis practice will influence your improvement in matches but will rarely be the same. Your previous practices have allowed you to play at your current match play level. As your tennis practice improves so will the level of improvement in match play, but they will not be the same.
If you would like to compare how you are playing in an important match, compare it to other important matches, not your practice play. Then see if you can improve on that level.
For instance, you may have played a tennis match a week ago where you felt really nervous the entire time and you never hit one comfortable shot. Recently you had an important match and you hit three or four comfortable shots, even though you were still nervous. That's improvement! Look for simple, subtle successes, then build upon these successes in each match.
You still did not play like you practiced, but that is totally irrelevant. You must not make that an issue. You are not practicing, you are playing a match! Again, as Bobby Jones says, THEY ARE DIFFERENT. Treating them as different events that are not the same is the key to eventual match play improvement.Ê