Big matches and big points can reveal a lot about a tennis player.
We are in awe as we watch top-ranked players dig deep and hit big winners when it matters most or nail that big serve to win the third set… or lay out to return a practically impossible shot down the line.
Some younger players watch these big time moments and wish they could play just as big when they face big points in their own matches. The reality is that you can play big in big moments.
You may counter with, “But I’ve never beaten a higher ranked opponent.”
It doesn’t matter… or, “I’ve never been so close to winning a tournament before.”
It doesn’t matter… “I’ve never played well under pressure.”
It doesn’t matter.
It’s not the circumstance that matters but the mindset you have in that moment.
That is empowering because you can’t change your circumstances but your mindset is something you can groom to be whatever you want it to be.
Playing big in big moments is not just about your physical tools.
Playing big in big moments has everything to do with your mental tools.
If you want proof, look no further than 20 year-old 2018 US Open Women’s Champion Naomi Osaka.
Osaka was playing in her first Grand Slam final against crowd-favorite and one of the most accomplished tennis players in history, Serena Williams.
No matter what her opponent threw at her or the crowd noise or the chaotic circumstances, Osaka stayed poised and in control and pulled out a dominant 6-2, 6-4 victory to win her first Grand Slam title.
OSAKA: “I felt like I shouldn’t let myself be overcome by nerves or anything. And I should just really focus on playing tennis because that’s what’s gotten me to this point.”
That is an interesting statement from Osaka, simplistic and seems to make sense but the big question is:
How was Osaka able to maintain this competitive mindset?
How do you not let yourself be overcome by nerves?
How can you stay focused on just playing tennis?
Osaka’s coach Sascha Bajin pointed towards Osaka’s composure as the key factor in the match but sees poise as an “in-born” trait.
BAJIN: “Ultimately, you never know what you’re made out of until you’re tested. Naomi was thrown in there into deep water today. Got everything thrown at her: big bombs by Serena, the crowd, the drama. She remained with her composure. There are certain things you can train yourself to do; other things you just have, and I believe it’s a gift, what Naomi has.”
Although Bajin points to Naomi’s composure as “a gift,” her competitive mindset was something that required specific training to develop.
No part of your game just “happens”.
Your serve requires practice.
Your footwork requires training.
And your mindset requires training.
If you want to play big in big moments, don’t leave your mental game up to chance.
Tardio Tip: Developing the “Play Big” Mindset
As with any skill development, you first must know what the finished product should look like.
What type of mindset do you want to have in big matches?
Would you be poised, aggressive, relaxed, mentally tough, energetic?
With your picture of your competitive mindset in place, look for instances in practices to train this exact mindset.
The more attention you pay to training your mindset, the more you will be able to rely on your mindset in big moments.
Related Article: The Confidence Process: Debunking Confidence Myths
Identify mistakes you may be making in your pregame mental preparation. Download our Free Pregame Mental Preparation Tips!
Interested in upping your Mental Sports Performance? Free 15-Minute Mental Coaching Session
Parents learn more about Mental Coaching: About Mental Coaching