It’s normal to tighten up when trying to close out a match. The excitement of an impending victory can make you lose focus, and the thought of failure from an advantageous position can be overwhelming. No matter what, try to concentrate solely on winning the next point.
Q: In tight moments, I sometimes panic and can’t stay calm. How can I regain control?
Take three or four deep breaths—in tense situations, we sometimes forget to breathe. Properly oxygenating is key to success, especially when the pressure’s on.
Q: What is the difference between playing to win and playing not to lose?
Playing to win means hitting shots that will help you compete as effectively as possible—the shots you have been honing for years. Playing not to lose is hitting the ball softer than usual and just hoping the other team will hand points to you. Remain confident in the shots that got you to the winning position you’re in, and continue to hit them. After all, why change a successful strategy?
Q: Do you have any tricks for handling high-pressure points or games?
Reverse the score in your mind. If you have a tendency to miss returns on break points, tell yourself that it’s the opponent’s ad to relieve pressure. If you are serving for the match at 5–3, tell yourself that it’s 3–5.
At the 2015 US Open, Roberta Vinci was serving at 5–4 in the third set against Serena Williams. Vinci convinced herself that she had already lost her serve, and that it was 5–5. Feeling less pressure, Vinci went on to hold and scored one of the biggest upsets in tennis history. If this mental strategy worked for her, in that moment, it can work for you.