What really does go on inside the mind of a junior tennis player before a tournament? This is something that every coach and parent wonders. I decided to interview three up-and-coming players at Gotham Tennis Academy to find out. The juniors I interviewed included, Jordan Jordan (14s), Zachary Lieb (12s) and Evan Lieberman (14s).
What was your first tournament experience like?
Jordan Jordan: I was very nervous, but once the match started, every time I hit the ball, I released some of that nervous energy until it was all gone.
Zachary Lieb: I felt very nervous and tight and thought I was going to get sick! It was hard to execute my game plan.
Evan Lieberman: My first tournament was unforgettable. I was so nervous that I was actually shaking! It definitely showed on the court when I lost badly in the first round!
How long did it take you to feel comfortable performing in tournaments?
Jordan: It took me a few months. The more I played, the more I started to win and the more confidence I had.
Lieb: It took me about six to eight months to start feeling comfortable and performing better at tournaments.
Lieberman: It took me about a year of playing tournaments in order to start feeling comfortable.
Do you have any pre-match rituals or superstitions?
Jordan: I take my racquet out of my bag and adjust the strings. I make sure I have my watch on and my towel.
Lieb: I eat a Clif Bar, drink my water, stretch, and wear long pants and a jacket in the winter!
Lieberman: Yes … before my matches, I run and try to find a quiet place to calm my mind. This allows me to focus better. Furthermore, I stretch and jump rope to warm up my muscles. I always try to also get on the court with enough time before my match.
How do you prepare differently the week before a tournament, physically and mentally?
Jordan: I try to play a lot of points and make sure I’m staying consistent. I also load up on carbs and proteins and make sure I get plenty of rest. I relax by playing games.
Lieb: I try to focus on how to beat my first round opponent. I establish a game plan early and make sure I eat well too.
Lieberman: Mentally, I prepare for a tournament by working hard every second on the court. Off the court, I relax my mind. Physically, I make sure I have plenty of rest and take ice showers.
Do you feel differently when you are a favorite going into a match compared to being an underdog?
Jordan: I love being the underdog because it gives me a big boost of confidence. It makes me feel good to show that I can beat the best.
Lieb: Being the favorite going into a match puts pressure on me, but being the underdog enables me to hit more freely.
Lieberman: When I’m the favorite, I feel confident. When I’m the underdog, I feel somewhat nervous, but have less to lose than the favorite.
What advice would you give players who are about to play their first tournament?
Jordan: Stay calm, keep confident, and work your hardest for every single point no matter what the score is. Practice makes perfect.
Lieb: Stay composed, play YOUR game, do your rituals and have fun.
Lieberman: EAT! Food gives you energy and you need a lot of energy to play a match.