The same factors operate on the tennis court with the way you treat your opponents. If you fear them, they feel brave; if you show they are hurting you, they feel strong; if you appear certain, they will feel uncertain; if you dismiss their efforts, they will feel weak.
And you communicate much of this with body language. So if you appear strong, confident and impervious to their efforts, your opponents will tend to feel weak and ineffectual. Along this line, much of Federer’s psychological dominance came from the way he carried himself on court -- erect, confident and, to all appearances, unresponsive to his opponent’s winners or his own errors (even if on the inside he was screaming).
1. Never Show Weakness
You can behave like Federer. If your opponent hits a great shot, appear to take no notice. Simply walk back into position as you always do —
head up, steady stride, under control and looking like you are confident, have a plan and know exactly what you are doing. This is a dominant attitude.
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If you make an error, no matter how egregious, act as if nothing at all happened. Just go about your business and ready yourself to play the next point. Realize that displays of frustration, anger or discouragement are signs of weakness that serve only to strengthen your opponents -- the emotional equivalent of giving them backrubs on changeovers.
If you are moaning and groaning when things are going against you, expect your opponents to fight you to the bitter end. These are submissive gestures, not actions of a dominant competitor, so lose them.
2. Control the Pace of the Match
Even if you are behind in the score, you can still dominate the match pace. Between points, walk deliberately into position at your own pace, taking no notice of your opponent.
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If it is slower than your opponents' wish, make them wait; if it is faster, make them feel rushed. You don’t do this outside of any written or unwritten rules. You are not trying to be irritating -- you are merely determined to play at your own, dominant pace.
3. Dominate with Your Match Strategy
Having a clear game plan and purpose rather than opportunistically hitting balls into whatever opening appears to be at hand is intimidating. It indicates that you think you have found a weakness and intend to exploit it. Thoughtful, purposeful people frighten uncertain people (which are most people), and even an opponent’s better side can break down if you put purposeful pressure on it.
Never let your opponents think that you fear any part of their game. For example, if you serve into your opponent’s forehand and he hits a great return, don’t be hesitant about immediately serving to it again, indicating that you were not impressed. (Later, after he misses one, you may decide that the shot is indeed dangerous and choose to serve elsewhere more often, but don’t let him feel like he has bullied you).
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If you play a long baseline point, and he outsteadies you, don’t immediately begin to hit harder or rush the net. Go right back at him and force him to do it again (and again). After you win one of these long points you can then decide to adjust your strategy, but you don’t want him to feel that you have conceded this part of the field to him. Dominant players move because they choose to move, not because their opponents make them.
Acting in these ways imposes your will and force of personality upon your opponents. It is an unpleasant and heavy burden, and your opponents, even though they may be technically better than you, will often falter under it.
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