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Player Advice
The First Four Games

It's happened to everyone at one point or another. You lose a match to a player that just seemed to be "in the zone" only to watch them play terrible in the next round. It leaves you wondering; why didn't they play like that against me? Over the years I have read countless articles detailing the many ways of how to win a tennis match. Although most of them are accurate with their point construction, mental preparation and so forth, they often fail to mention the most important part of the match itself: the beginning.

Chris Johnson, Liberty men's and women's tennis
courtesy, Liberty Athletics
The beginning of the match is critical for several reasons. Most players come into a match somewhat nervous. They settle down as the blood starts to flow and as they start to see where they stand in the match. If there is any way you can start a match ahead 3-1 or even 2-2, the pressure your opponent feels remains there. Good players just don't take enough risk to give the amount of unforced errors you need to win a match, unless there is consistent pressure on them. Too many players have the idea that the only way to put pressure on their opponent is with winners. However, the truth is that your opponent feels the most pressure not when you are hitting winners, but when they are making unforced errors and, more importantly when they are losing. Conversely, they regain their confidence and momentum shifts through your own unforced errors... not their winners.

The message you send at the beginning of the match is usually what they remember through the entirety of it. If you send the message in the first 4 games that you will continue trying to blast careless winners from anywhere then your opponent will settle right into their comfort zone of down-the-middle tennis. However, if you send the message that you are willing to hit 30 balls every point and you are not going to beat yourself you are now telling them that they will have to take more risk and open their game in order to beat you. Now, they may be able to easily rise to this level or they may not but you have to promise yourself that you are going to find out.

Learning how to start a match will prepare you for closing out a match as well. How many times have we seen a lower ranked player up a break 4-3, only to lose the set 7-5. If you learn how to recognize big points (30-30) in the first few games and make an effort to play those points correctly, you will have the confidence needed to play big points well when it's time to close the set and the match. If serving up 5-4 is the first time you have purposely played a pressure point in the match, you will probably be nervous and the chances of conversion will go down considerably.

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