Watching the U.S. Open and all the Grand Slams are so much fun! What always stands out to me is the moment in every match when the players win or lose based on how they handle turning points. More specifically, how the champions handle pressure!
Pressure will pose this question to you before, during and after your matches: “are you any good?”
To me, dealing with this foe called “pressure” is the greatest challenge.
Tennis is a simple game played by very complex individuals. My brother, Murphy, tells tennis players this all the time before he talks about tactics or techniques. It is the complexity of the competitor that makes us all difficult to coach. What works for Roger Federer may not work for Roger Rabbit.
The coaching approach to every student is an art, and the best coaches find a way to connect their players to the best approaches to dealing with pressure. The bottom line is that the player must decide what kind of pressure player they are: Do they lean into pressure or fold under it?
I feel all of my success came down to tremendous coaching. My parents were a critical component as my life coaches to give me a healthy approach to competition and pressure. I was very lucky to have my parents as former ultra-competitive athletes, but also coaches at the high school level. I grew up in an environment that was always based on an extraordinarily positive mental approach towards the pressure of competition. The tough work ethic reflected the price that had to be paid to be great.
No matter what the result was, success was always built around effort and attitude. If I won that battle every time in practice and in matches, I always gained approval from my parents and coaches. As my skills grew on the court, another aspect entered into my effort and attitude approach. This was a great addition that really turned my performances into more consistent wins. As soon as I began putting more balls in play from the serves, groundies and volleys in practice, my parents and coaches added consistency to my winning formula. It was made clear that making a ton of errors was not acceptable in matches. It was tough for me at first because I was a big hitter and many of my shots were more like home runs than productive tennis shots. Back then, every massive winner was at the cost of hitting four to five errors in the process. Nothing frustrated my parents and coaches more than a bad attitude, followed by spraying the ball all over the court.
It was drilled into me that my game followed my attitude. If I had a positive approach, my game would respond positively. If I would get mad and frustrated, my game would follow that downward approach. When the best players compete under pressure, it is a consistent approach that wins the day. Accepting the pressures that come with big matches produces big results. For you to become a better pressure player defines what makes you a great pressure player. Know that even Roger Federer feels nerves and those butterflies are normal.
So the next time you watch the pros and high performers, count the length of the rally. You would be amazed that even with the enormous pace being hit, that the rallies can go for long periods of time. Once you do, take your rally length research and hit the practice courts and count the number of balls you put in play. Even in doubles, where the rallies are short, keep a count of your shots between misses. You will be amazed that focusing on making shots helps you create more winning points. Always remember our game is lost, not won, so keep your errors lower than your opponent and you will win more pressure-packed matches.
The best ways to approach pressure is with a confidence that does not depend on the outcome of the point. I have always believed I was a positive pressure player. I can win or lose, but my pressure approach is still a positive one.
Build that mindset into your game and you will win more pressure points!
Raised in Ludington , Mich., Luke Jensen’s resume includes 10 ATP Tour doubles titles and singles/doubles victories against Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Jim Courier, Patrick Rafter, Michael Stitch. Jensen and his brother, Murphy, won the 1993 French Open doubles title. He was also a member of the US Davis Cup Teams that reaches the finals in 1991 and won in 1992. His ambidextrous play, including his ability to serve the ball with either hand at 130 mph, earned him the nickname “Dual Hand Luke.” Luke is currently director of racquet sports at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, N.Y.. He may be reached by phone at (315) 403-0752 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.