Doing what comes naturally is not always a great idea when it comes to winning tennis matches.
Case in point--what to do after you win a closely contested first set? Here you have expended a great deal of mental and physical energy getting the set under your belt. You have felt the mounting stress that naturally occurs as you work to close out a difficult opponent.
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Afterwards, an instantaneous and palpable feeling of relief floods your system. You have successfully triumphed over the tension of set point. Now your subconscious mind wants a breather before it shoulders the rigors and pressures of the drive to finish the match. And with a one set lead, it senses the leeway to take that breather.
As a general rule, it is our nature to escape, whenever possible, the unpleasantness of excessive stress. In a hard-fought tennis match the stress on the player in the lead (paradoxically, it seems) increases as he or she progresses towards the conclusion of a set and, ultimately, the match.
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After winning a long, difficult, tense set there often occurs a conflict between the player’s logical mind, which tells him/her to keep applying the pressure in order to win the match, and the player’s subconscious mind, which suggests that he/she temporarily escape all this unpleasantness by easing up and taking a well-deserved mental break.
In any case, with a set under one’s belt it certainly feels like one has a little room to relax before jumping back into the fray.
When physically and mentally tired, even the pros sometimes make the mistake of yielding to these counterproductive subconscious entreaties.
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For example, the world’s number one player, Roger Federer, eased up with a two sets to love lead over David Nalbandian in the finals of the 2005 Masters Championship, only to see Nalbandian bounce back to beat him in a fifth set tiebreaker.
In this situation, forewarned is forearmed. If you win a close first set resolve to immediately hump yourself up and redouble your efforts at the start of the second.
Try to convince yourself that the match is starting over and that you must jump out to an early lead. Come roaring out of the box, more aggressive, resolute, and focused than you were in the first set.
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Concentrate on each point to minimize your errors and show your opponent that he or she is in for a long and painful afternoon. Your opponent, trailing in the match, may be on the edge of discouragement.
Your immediate objective is to shove him/her over the edge by being tough. Keep in mind that your opponent is looking for some sign of weakness on your part to convince him or her that the first set was a fluke.
Any weakness on your part offers hope and a crack in the door of your offense. As the second set begins you want to keep the door shut or, better still, slam it on your opponent’s foot.
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