“You know, this is life”
Never be satisfied
Andy Murray had long been considered the fourth member of the Fab Four, especially after losing four Slam finals early in his career. He then famously hired Ivan Lendl to help him get over this massive hurdle that was causing his career to stagnate.
Lendl was an excellent choice. Not only was he a great coach, but he had himself lost a string of Slam finals early in his career, only to go on to win eight Major trophies. So he knew exactly what Murray was going through and what he needed to change. The first and biggest suggestion he had for Murray was to be more aggressive without giving up his defensive mindset, which has become the hallmark of the Scot’s play up to that point.
The turning point came after a loss, strangely enough. Murray lost the 2012 Wimbledon final to Roger Federer in four sets, but Lendl said it was the first time the Scot had been competitive in a Slam final. He believed the future was bright, and encouraged Murray to take positives away from the defeat. The results of this positive thinking were quick and decisive: Murray beat Federer in the final of the London Olympics just a few weeks later, on the very same court he had suffered the Wimbledon loss.
Although it was not a Slam tournament, Lendl considered it Murray’s first major victory. He had done something even more incredible than coaching Murray to a Slam win: he had convinced the Scot to think positively and be more aggressive.
You are better than you think, can play at a higher level than you think, and have the potential to beat players who are considered to be better than you. If you have a competitive spirit, never accept the position you are in. Don't settle!
Like Murray, you can also change things and beat players who you have always lost to. This attitude of not being satisfied was also expressed by a petite player named Justine Henin, who was just 167 centimeters tall and weighed 53 kg.
Henin had a different kind of game to other players on the women’s Tour. She used her incredible timing to become one of the greatest players of her generation. Of course, being aggressive at her height went against all of the experts’ advice, but she stuck to her guns and proved everyone wrong.
Despite her small stature, she managed to win an incredible seven Grand Slam titles. She went beyond her physical limits with the power of her mind. It's hard to do, but she did it. And if she can do it, so can you. There are times when you have to follow your instincts, to do what is right for you, and that’s exactly what Henin did.
Another great tennis player from the mental point of view is Serena Williams. She has serious short-term memory loss, and that’s something you should have as well. When things go wrong in a point, or even a game or a set, you need to be able to erase it from your mind and start from scratch.
What do club players do? They miss a few shots, lose a couple of games, and fall apart mentally. They cannot forget all the mistakes they made. They lose confidence, and when they lose the match in their mind they will soon lose it on the court as well.
There are two players on the court playing against you, and one of them is yourself. Think about Serena’s ability to forget the past and look only at the future. When she makes mistakes, she does not change her approach or dial down her aggression. She believes in herself and her game and will not let some minor setbacks get her down.
You need to approach each point with a mental freshness without being burdened by your pervious mistakes. Short term memory loss is a great thing: it helps us stay focused on what we want to do. This kind of mental strength can even unsettle your opponents. Every person who squares up against Serena knows she is unshakeable, and they know she can come back from even the most desperate scenarios to win the match.
Of course, it’s often very difficult to free your mind of distractions. At the 2012 French Open, Serena lost in the first round to a player ranked 111 in the world. Even though she had never lost in the first round of a Slam, was playing against someone ranked outside of the Top 100, had a one-set lead and was 5-1 up in the second set tie-breaker, she eventually lost.
Sometimes, no matter what you do you can’t win a match. Serena tried everything, saved several match points and was on the brink of victory several times. But she couldn’t save the day in the end. A devastating blow for Serena, right?
No, quite the opposite!
To journalists after the match, she simply said: “You know, this is life.”
Winning is hard enough when you believe in your shots, but it's impossible when you allow yourself to have doubts. Remove them with short term memory loss and I promise you will get better results.
A good way to do this is, after a loss, write down the things that you did write during the contest.
In Serena's case, she had come close to winning and continued to fight even when she had to face match points.
In your case, look at the downsides and correct them. Build and fix. Go ahead and tell yourself: “This is life.”
Serena didn't cry over what happened. Indeed…she was inspired and immediately trained even harder. At Wimbledon she won the singles and doubles, and followed that with gold medals in the singles and doubles at the Olympics! And after that, she won the US Open too.
All of this was certainly connected to that loss in Paris. Club players, on the other hand, become discouraged and depressed after a bad loss. It can affect them for weeks afterwards. The result is that they enter a negative vortex that will do nothing but destroy them and kill their tennis!
Risks and rewards
Now, let me tell you about my biggest criticism of club players and their games: too often, they don't correctly calculate the possible benefits of risks. When they are behind in a rally, they tend to simply try and invent an impossible winner from a difficult angle. It may have worked for them once before, but more often than not it fails miserably.
On the contrary, when they have to play an easy ball in the middle of the court, they immediately worry about missing an easy shot and play conservatively.
I wonder: “Why? What are you thinking about?”
This is the time to be aggressive and you have the chance to force a shot, to hit a winner: exploit it!
Club players are often cautious when they should be aggressive, and aggressive when they should be cautious. This often happens with high bouncing balls. Don’t try and be a hero if it’s a tough shot! Hit a normal shot and continue the rally.
Wait for an opportunity and then seize that opportunity. When an easy ball comes up the middle of the court, hit it!
Roger Federer may be able to play a winner from any part of the court, even when he is in a completely defensive position, but club players are not Roger Federer. Too often they forget that.
Rules to remember
To be more effective on the court, especially when it comes to confidence, there are some basic rules that must be remembered.
It often happens that club players think their opponents are too strong and beyond their ability to defeat. An attitude of this kind inevitably leads to defeat, because it means that you have lost before even starting the match. In professional tennis, there are many examples that can help us overcome this fear. Just think of Murray defeating Federer, Nadal and Djokovic to become world number one seemingly out of the blue! He succeeded thanks to his stubbornness, sacrifice and conviction that he was capable of such a feat. Perseverance is required if you want to grow mentally and improve your results.
Not losing confidence when things go wrong is hard. If your best shot is suddenly misfiring all over the place, it’s difficult not to get down on yourself.
Quickly forget the negative aspects of what’s happening, and lose the match without losing confidence in yourself. Even if you lose the match, it can motivate you to train harder and be better. If you have a bad day, just remember that “this is life.”
Try to read situations and become a coach to yourself. Know when it is time to push on the accelerator and become aggressive, and when it is time to be more cautious. Point by point, game by game.