I recently spoke with an aspirational 16-year-old named Larry who had performed poorly in his previous competition. Larry informed me that despite his rise in the ranks, the pressure was beginning to get to him. He dropped the first set in a match against an opponent from the first round, but he came within two points of tying the match in the second.
He started to overthink, get agitated, and haste because he wanted the game to end. The game was over in a split second. The match was lost in a blur as a result of his subsequent nervous blunders, which left him rattled. Larry was abruptly eliminated from the competition and placed in the consolation draw.
He fell to his next opponent, 6-1, 6-1, and was discouraged. Larry thought this competition was a complete failure because his aspirations of raising his rating were destroyed. However, there were many lessons to be learned from the encounter. Why did this occur, and how could Larry prevent it from happening again? Since Larry lacked guts, it actually occurred.
And I’m not saying this because he flubbed a lot of set points and stumbled while serving for the set. I say this in light of what transpired following the choke. Everyone, including Serena Williams and Roger Federer, chokes occasionally.
The way in which players bounce back makes a difference. Players who have courage accept their mistakes without grumbling, complaining, or feeling sorry for themselves. When necessary, they are ready to make logical adjustments and continue with a positive outlook.
They understand that choking is merely a gaming mechanic. Like the pros, you must swiftly, amicably, and steadily accept it. When he fell to Federer in five sets in the Wimbledon final in 2009, Andy Roddick gave a fantastic illustration of this.
Roddick had lost 15 pounds before the major to strengthen his mobility, which was one of his liabilities. In the championship match, Roddick was playing excruciatingly well, moving with ease to the ball, confidently hitting his backhand, coming to the net when the opportunity presented itself, and supporting it all with his thunderous aces.
He easily won the opening set and carried that energy into the second, where he reached set point. Federer, however, wasn’t giving up lightly. On Roddick’s fourth set point, the American seized initiative and advanced to the goal with a close-range shot that was wide to Federer‘s forehand.
Federer returned a gentle, floating serve. All Roddick had to do to take the lead in sets was poke this sitter into the open court. Although making this shot would have been almost easier than missing it, he misfired horribly. Roddick’s window of chance closed in an instant.
Federer stormed back to take the tiebreaker and the match. In another tiebreaker, he won the third set. Roddick aggressively pursued Federer to win the fourth set 6-3 and engage in a drawn-out fifth set battle instead of dogging it.
Before finally giving up at 14-15, Roddick held serve to stay in the match 10 times in a straight. He did lose, but it wasn’t because he gave up. Roddick left the court hunched but unharmed. Tennis is much more than just a game of agility, strategy, and strokes.
It is a test of character as well. Nobody is going to come to your aid if you fall because you are on your own out there. In order to get off the court with the pride of either winning or at the very least not having defeated yourself, you must have the guts to endure whatever psychological harm the game deals you without quivering.