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Hardscrabble Scramble
April 1999 Article

Hardscrabble Scramble Archive

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Are You Playing Smarter Tennis?

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Mike Whittington

Now is the time of year when many players are playing team tennis and tournaments. You have worked all winter on that new shot or the mechanical aspects of your game but are you using the biggest weapon in the sport - the brain? One of the most difficult obstacles we find as players is taking that practice game to the actual match. You play flawless tennis when there is no pressure but when it is tournament time you gargle peanut butter! You know what I'm talking about, the shots change, you push, and you are basically afraid you might miss. Some call it choking but it is really just a mental block.

We all realize what a big part of the sport the mental game is and how difficult it is to comprehend. Mental toughness can take an average player a long way. You might think mental toughness is just that look that some people have when they play but one aspect of being mentally tough is playing smarter when the pressure is on. While you worked on the mechanics over the winter, did you also try to work on playing smarter? Let's use Pete Sampras as an example. With the score 5-4 in the 3rd set most of us would tense up and play not to lose. Sampras is capable of playing unbelievable tennis under this kind of pressure. Being able to play at a high level in tough situations is really more of a mental accomplishment rather than physical. He hits great shots on the run but he KNOWS he has practiced them and he KNOWS he can make them.

How many times in a match have you hit a shot and then immediately realized you shouldn't have tried it? Many players get upset for missing the shot but that is not the problem. The problem is that they didn't play smart tennis and try the correct shot. Good players rarely attempt shots that they have not successfully executed in practice and feel that they have control of. Look at some of your misses in practice matches and learn your capabilities. Know what shots you have control over and know what shots you might only want to try when you have a big lead. Learning and using the best shot at the best time is playing smarter rather than harder. And playing smart tennis might just mean more wins for you this season!

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This column is copyrighted by Mike Whittington, all rights reserved.

At the time at which he wrote this column, Mike Whittington was a USPTA pro in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he served as director of tennis at the Hardscrabble Country Club.


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