As a director of tennis at clubs and programs for more than 20 years, I’ve seen all the sides of tournament play … as a player, coach, tournament director and USTA official. Unfortunately, the number of players participating in tournaments these days is lower than in year’s past. Part of the issue is players having a bad tournament experience, so this article is designed to provide players with some ideas on maximizing their experience and find the road to tournament happiness.
One of the best quotes about why you should play tennis tournaments is from Hall of Famer Bill Tilden: “Play tennis for the game’s sake. Play it for the people you meet, the friends you make, and the pleasure you may give to the public by the hard-working, yet sporting game, that is owed them by their presence at the match.”
Competing one-on-one can be difficult. The players that are successful understand that and embrace this as part of the whole tournament experience. Here are a few things to remember that are beyond your control. Know what they are and be prepared to focus on the things you are able to control.
Here’s a list of the good and the bad:
►No one goes undefeated, only one player per tournament is the champion.
►It’s not always fair—from a bad draw to rain delay or a player’s bad calls, it’s all part of tournaments.
►Be prepared to hurry up and wait, it’s all part of tournament play. Matches have no time limit, so delays are very common.
►You have no control over your opponent, their effort, their sportsmanship or their attitude.
►Spectators act of their own accord, which in some cases, can be annoying. Remember you can seek the tournament director’s help if they are involving themselves directly in your match.
►Unless you are playing on a stadium court, the court next door may distract you with stray balls, banter and even outbursts.
►Everyone has a bad match. From the top-ranked to the novice player, there is always one you want to forget.
Pure excitement is the difference between a practice match and the adrenaline rush of competition. You cannot reach your highest level of achievement without tournament play. Playing tournaments is good for you, win or lose. It’s always fun to win, but losing is sometimes more powerful. Playing tournaments help hone your skills under fire against different opponents, and under varying conditions and pressure. Learning self-control, sportsmanship and etiquette is all done through tournament participation. Experience, friendships and contact with players who share your enthusiasm for tennis. Play tournaments as often as you can. It’s only through this type of competition that you will truly learn to compete.
Be prepared with a game plan, no matter the outcome. Before you decide what tournament to play, determine the best competitive situation for you to have the best chance to enjoy the game. This will result in more success in the long run. Do some research about court surface, tournament reviews from other players and practice court availability. A little effort in this area goes a long way. Prepare with focus as the tournament draws closer. Increase practice sessions and don’t forget to make them more match-oriented. By including practice matches into your preparation, you’ll be ready. On the day of the tournament, do some early warm-up at least three hours before for 30 minutes being such you hit all your strokes in a rally format. Read the entry form as you’d be surprised how many players miss important info regarding format, scoring, venue, date and time. I suggest having a hard copy, or a digital copy with you to reference.
Don’t pack lightly. Parents would always ask me if I was taking the whole house with me when I played as a junior. Here is a list of items I suggest you bring with you to a tournament:
►At last one extra racquet
►Two to three extra shirts
►Extra pairs of socks
►Folding/portable chair for changeovers
►Food/fuel–bagels, bananas or power bars
►Ibuprofen or similar for arches and pains
►Hat or visor
►Plastic bag for wet clothes
►Friend at Court—the USTA’s rule book/player code
►Notepad/appointment book; or these days a smartphone works best
►Umbrella for outdoor rain delays
►Book or other entertainment for waiting between matches or rain delays
Now its tournament day and you need to follow a pre-match routine. Be sure to get a good night’s sleep the night before. Be thinking about meals and hydration prior to your match. I suggest having a light meal/snack and drinking at least 20 ounces of water about two to three hours beforehand. Come early and check in immediately; if you arrive 20-25 minutes before match time that should suffice. Loosen up and start to get focused. Use a dynamic warm-up and start to put on your game face based on your personal style; you can start to become the tennis animal, or the silent warrior. Always meet your opponent as an equal to establish mutual respect. Too many times players underestimate their opponent or are overconfident which usually leads to an emotional letdown when the match does not go your way.
When match time arrives, you need to lower the hype and nerves you might be feeling at the outset. Breathe deeply and loosen up, and you start the 10-minute warm-up. Use it wisely—trying to warm-up your shots and observe your opponent’s skills & tendencies. Establish courtesy with your neighbors on the adjacent courts as soon as possible. Take the spin seriously as most players do not take advantage. Do what is best for you and don’t be afraid to choose to receive, pick a side or have the opponent pick first. Live by the rules/code and avoid any possible disputes. Don’t rush, take your time. Be ready to play because, with no time limit, you’ll need to be prepared for the long haul. Remember you can always comeback but so can your opponent, so no lead is safe until the final point is played. Finally, know the tie-break and don’t forget the second set.
Following your match remember to report your scores promptly and get the time for your next match. Now it’s time to stretch, cool down and, if needed, refuel. What’s truly important is to win with grace and lose with dignity. I hope you can use this article to help you know what to expect and be prepared for you next tournament.
Good luck and have fun playing this great game!
Geoffrey Jagdfeld is USPTA Eastern President and currently Tennis Director of Solaris Sports Clubs. He is a USPTA Elite Professional and USTA High-Performance Coach who serves as USTA Junior Team Tennis League Coordinator for Westchester. He is the Head Coach of the Men’s and Women’s Tennis Teams at St. John Fisher College, and played collegiate tennis at Michigan State University.