Mental Toughness In Tennis: Why It’s Important & Tips 

Everyone understands the benefits of a fit and strong body in tennis, but what about the mental side of the game? How much better can a player be with a strong mind? In fact, what even is mental toughness? 

We will highlight the importance of mental toughness by discussing the occasions when it is most needed. We will then suggest some simple ways to improve your tennis mentality. 

What Is Mental Toughness? 

Mental toughness is a form of psychological resilience. It is the ability to give maximum effort to achieve something even when conditions for doing so are not ideal. 

Mental toughness is not an attribute you can describe with numbers though is as important as a player’s fitness, shot selection, and error rate. Without mental toughness, an athlete cannot hope to survive the inevitable feelings of disappointment, anger, and frustration that this sport will cause. 

A mentally tough person can handle psychologically challenging situations repeatedly in both the short and long term. They can experience stress, disappointment, and self-doubt without losing composure, focus, or sight of their objectives. 

Mental toughness is also important for overcoming physical discomfort. This is relevant for athletes since their bodies are often not in the optimum condition to compete. In long matches, they have no choice but to fight through the pain to win. It takes significant mental fortitude to put physical pain aside while trying to participate in a professional sport. 

On the other hand, mentally weak people are easily distracted by their surroundings and current emotions. They allow minor, irrelevant setbacks to disrupt their focus. When they encounter bigger obstacles, they have no methods to overcome them. 

Why Is Mental Toughness Essential in Tennis? 

Points and opportunities can come and go fast throughout a tennis match. You can be moments from victory, then find yourself on the verge of defeat in the blink of an eye. Likewise, when a player looks down and out, there is always the possibility of a comeback. Until the last point, nobody can predict the result. 

Tennis is full of mentally-taxing situations, with few other sports featuring so much drama. Matches are often on a knife-edge, so a few points can drastically swing a contest in one player’s favor. 

A tennis match does not primarily consist of actual play. Between points and during changeovers, there is hardly any physical aspect to the game, so players are alone with their

thoughts. Mental toughness is, therefore, a vital part of a player’s arsenal that will help them navigate the emotional rollercoaster of competitive tennis. 

What Situations in Tennis Require Mental Toughness? Here are some key situations in tennis where mental strength can make a big difference: 

Before an Important Match 

It is important to figure out your strategy and consider how to exploit your opponent’s weaknesses. However, imagining possible future scenarios can make you feel anxious. You have to somehow think about tactics for the upcoming match without worrying about winning or losing. 

There are tense periods before matches while you wait to go on court. Being mentally strong in those moments will help you to stay calm and focussed on the technical aspects of your game rather than the potential glory or despair later on. 

Tiebreaks 

One of the most nail-biting moments in any match is surely a tiebreak. At 6-6, there is nothing to split the players, so the set comes down to a single shoot-out. At no other time can a few points have such a huge impact on the result of a match. 

Naturally, players understand the importance of every point in a tiebreak. Without mental toughness, the stressful occasion can impact their level of play. In those cases, they can feel nervous, tight, and start to make silly errors. 

By training your mind, you can view tiebreaks as relaxed training sessions. That will allow you to perform at your best and start to win more crucial tiebreaks. 

Missed Break Point Opportunities 

Few things are more frustrating for a tennis player than not converting on break points. Of course, breaking your opponent’s serve is necessary for gaining a lead in a set and eventually winning it. 

If your opponent is serving well, break point chances may be rare. When they do appear, it is critical to take them. Yet with a quick ace or a silly unforced error, crucial break points can disappear in a flash. 

It is easy for the disappointment of missed chances to overwhelm you. This is bad news since you have to serve right after your opponent.

While in the wrong state of mind, you could potentially lose your serve after failing to break your opponent. Then, your disappointment could spiral out of control and cause you to completely lose your composure. 

Mentally tough players are able to put the frustration of missed break points behind them and concentrate fully on creating new opportunities.

When Facing a Deficit 

You might be down a break of serve or 2 sets down. Either way, you face a huge physical and psychological challenge to get back into the match. Most players with a weak mindset would give up there and then, and accept defeat. 

Only those with minds of steel will be prepared to fight their way out of a hole to secure victory. Even from 2 sets down, a win is possible, but only with great confidence and self-belief. 

Undesirable Weather Conditions 

You cannot always expect playing conditions to suit your preferences as a player. The temperature may be too high, the playing surface may be slippier than usual, the court’s lighting and shadows might be distracting, or perhaps high winds are preventing you from making your shots. 

Whatever the case may be, these factors are outside of your control. If you plan to win a match, you have to learn to do your best in the conditions on any given day.

Mentally tough players can leave their comfort zones and adjust their shots so that they work in sub-optimal weather and court conditions. 

Rain Delays & Other Interruptions 

Unless you are playing at an indoor tournament or are lucky enough to play on a main Grand Slam court, you will probably experience rain delays.

Other unexpected interruptions can happen too. For instance, while playing an evening match, the umpire could suspend play until the next day. An opponent taking a medical timeout is another possibility. 

If you were playing well before the delay, a strong mind will help you to stay in the zone so that when play resumes, you can continue at the same level. Losing focus during a break is something you must work hard to avoid. 

Conversely, an experienced competitor with a well-trained mind will use a delay to their advantage. If they were playing badly beforehand, a rain or medical delay is a great chance to regroup and start fresh. They can use the time to calmly review their game plan and decide how to gain a lead at the restart. 

Both players experience the same delays. What separates them in those moments is mental toughness ― nothing else. 

How Can You Become a Mentally Tougher Player? 

As you saw from the list above, many things in this sport could potentially throw you off. A strong mind will help in many scenarios. 

Every player is different. Just as you have your unique playing style, you must figure out how you as an individual can best respond to challenging situations. These are some general tips that may sometimes be helpful:

Focus On What You Can Control 

You have no direct impact on your opponent’s level of play. If they are having a good run of form, it is pointless to feel frustrated and hope that their level might drop. While that may happen, your sole focus should be on executing your game plan to perfection. 

Furthermore, you cannot affect weather conditions, scheduling, or crowd noises. Simply accept that, from time to time, these factors will not be ideal for you. Wishing for different weather or a better crowd distracts you from the only thing you can influence: your game. 

Be Satisfied With Your Level of Play 

As we mentioned previously, sometimes your opponent will be on fire. On other occasions, you may not be at your very best. Most of the time you cannot expect to be performing at your absolute peak. 

Your body is not a machine. You should expect it to move well, but not perfectly all the time. Be content with not playing your best tennis. If you have good fundamentals plus fitness and tactics, you should be able to close out a match even on a bad day. 

Take Responsibility 

When things do not go to plan during a match, one possible response is to blame everyone and everything except yourself. Tennis is an individual sport. While others can advise, guide, and support you, what you achieve is mostly down to your efforts. 

If you have spent many hours in the gym and on the practice courts, then you have fewer reasons to blame yourself when something goes wrong. You will feel satisfied with your preparations and actually enjoy playing the match regardless of the final result. 

Adopt Positive Thinking 

Much of tennis consists of you waiting to play the next point. Learn to use that time effectively by thinking clearly about the next point or game. It is easy to dwell on an unforced error or unfavorable conditions, but that will only make you play worse. Learning to stay away from such thoughts will help you greatly. 

Fire Yourself Up 

Perhaps all you need is a little inspiration to turn a match around in your favor. After winning an important point or hitting a nice shot, give yourself words of encouragement plus a mental round of applause. 

Basic actions like this can completely change your mood and attitude towards the match. You may start hitting more winners as a result, which can fire you up even more.

You can read more about playing under pressure in this post.

Fred Simonsson

I'm Fred, the guy behind TennisPredict. Apart from writing here, I play tennis on a semi-professional level and coach upcoming talents.

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