How Not to Choke During a Tennis Match

How Not to Choke During a Tennis Match

The reaction to last Monday’s victory by Andy Murray over Richard Gasquet was truly that of Murray mania.

To come back from 2 sets and a break down in the third set was in some peoples eyes bordering on Superman like proportions and when at the end of the match Murray rolled up his sleeve to display his biceps in an incredible Hulk like bodybuilder pose we all wondered whether the British number 1 really had a shot at the Wimbledon title.

That was quickly extinguished 2 days later when he was soundly beaten by Rafa Nadal in 3 one-sided sets which brought the reality back to the situation and made everybody realise exactly where Murray was in the pecking order of tennis at this point in time.

But what happened in that match with Gasquet, after all he was two sets up and indeed served for the match at 5 games to 4. Having not been troubled up to that point on his serve he was broken, lost the set and then lost the match – Did Gasquet CHOKE?

Firstly let’s look at what choking is.

Choking is typically when a player who performs well in the practise situation is unable to perform anywhere near the same level in competition. It can also apply to a player who can play well in matches when there is little or no pressure but “chokes” when faced with match situations that have more pressure.

This was the case with Gasquet who was coasting up to the point when he needed to play well to finish the match and then was unable to perform at the required level.

Typically players who choke become so nervous and filled with anxiety that they lose all “feel” for the ball. Feelings of self-doubt and anxiety set in and performance levels drop.

The first thing to realise is that choking is a mental problem, however your ability to take your “practice game” to the court, is critical if you want to be successful.

Here is how you can overcome choking

Focus on the process, not the outcome

Most of the stress you will feel will be generated by paying too much attention to the end result. The biggest hurdle you need to overcome is the fear of failure. You need to learn how to focus on processes such as improving your first serve percentage or bending your knees on your shots or even reminding yourself about your game plan and what has possibly got you into a winning situation rather than the win or lose end-scenarios and “what ifs.”

Practice in conditions that mimic competition

Try to do “simulation” training to get ready for matches. Practice is always more effective if you can mimic competition conditions. You can practise serving out for a match, maybe even starting from 0-30 to add a bit of pressure to the situation. If you do this often enough you become used to it.

This is precisely why players are encouraged to start competing at an early age – to get used to it!!

Stop Caring

The best players don’t have any cares or worries about performance and are then able to play free (champions mentality). How many times have you seen a player at the point of defeat suddenly play amazingly well because the “they just don’t care”?

Bjorn Borg who was one of the best “big-point” players in history put his success down to going for his shots because ultimately in the scheme of things it “didn’t matter whether he won or lost”

Have a game plan

You should always have a game plan in place.

Even if you don’t know your opponent you can construct a simple game plan to try to play to your strengths.

By making as many decisions as you can ahead of the match is good because decisions making can become difficult in the “heat” of competition.

NEVER expect to choke

Your expectations have a massive impact on your end performance. If you go into a match expecting to lose or choke then you are probably going to.

Try to recall situations in the past when you played well and played great shots.

Write those down in a notebook and read them regularly to remind yourself of them and they will stay at the front of your mind whilst pushing any negative thoughts further back.