Hey tennis fans! Have you heard of Brad Gilbert? Brad who? Besides being the fourth best tennis player in the world, Brad has coached top players including Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Kai Nishikori, and Sam Querry. All these players had great talent but were missing one thing- mental strategies.
How about your game? Do you have incredible talent but you’re not winning matches? Or perhaps you notice that you have less talent than other players but still manage to win matches? We all know THAT player! They may not have perfect strokes, but they always seem to win!
Brad Gilbert was one of those players with average strokes but became a master of the mental game. During his career he beat top players including Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Michael Chang, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg. It is even rumored that John McEnroe retired from tennis after losing to Gilbert in the 1986 Masters Tournament in Madison Square Garden.
In his book, Winning Ugly, Mental Warfare in Tennis-Lessons from a Master, Gilbert reveals his mental strategies for winning tennis matches. Brad reminds us that the game of tennis is played in the mind. It’s more than just getting the ball back to the other side. It’s THINKING!
His strategies for winning include: hating your unforced errors, knowing yourself and your opponent, playing to your strengths and to your opponent’s weaknesses, and again- hating your unforced errors. First, think about your unforced errors. Are you missing shots because of a lack of skill, lack of concentration, or going for too much? If it’s skill, practice the shot on the ball machine or take a lesson. If it’s concentration, think in advance where you want to hit the ball. Be proactive, not reactive. And finally, don’t go for too much! How often have we had a wide open court and hit the ball out? Make your shot and force your opponent to chase it down- they might even miss!
Next, know yourself and your opponent. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Most players love their forehand and hate their backhand. How can you get yourself more forehands and less backhands? It might be as simple as keeping it away from your opponent’s forehand. How about your serve? Are you serving to their forehand and they’re crushing you? Even a weak serve to the body or backhand can generate a weaker return to keep you in the game. THINK!
And always observe your opponent. Brad calls it, “who’s doing what to whom?” Where are they beating you- groundstrokes, serves or volleys? Learn their favorite shot and take it away from them. Many players love their forehand volley- hit it to their backhand. If they’re serving to your backhand, move over and hit more forehands. Take away their strengths.
I like to say that tennis is not rocket science. Of course there are fundamentals that we all need to master: forehands, backhands, serves and volleys, but after that it’s your mind that can help you win matches. We each have our own natural talents, but the point, Brad Gilbert’s point, is that we can win more matches AND beat better players IF we develop our mental game!
Good luck to all of you. Enjoy your game. And, THINK out there!