sports psychologist & clinical psychology

THE MENTAL SIDE OF THE 1999 AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Feb 1, 1999 – Dr. John F. Murray – I hope you all enjoyed the Australian Open, whether up close in person or via satellite. This month, we’ll take a look at a few of the psychological skills displayed in the finals. See how these might relate to your game. You may not have the firepower of Kafelnikov or the court coverage of Hingis, but you can still acquire the tenacity and mental skills of a master. Even the best players in the world win and lose on the quality of their mental equipment.

Women’s Final (Martina Hingis def. Amelie Maueresmo 6-2, 6-3)
What a great run this Australian was for the unseeded player from France! She possessed much more than a powerful backhand and laser sharp serve to make it all the way through to the finals – she also showed unusual mental toughness for a player ranked # 29 prior to the event. Nevertheless, the powerful groundstrokes were not quite enough against the more experienced Hingis.

Most notable in this match was the low first serve percentage of Mauresmo (46%). When she raises this to 66%, world beware! Shoulder and back muscles are often affected first when a player becomes tense – disrupting the service. She admitted that the pressure in this match was high. If you can relate to these sensations, you’ll benefit from reviewing: Competitive Pressure in Tennis & Stress Relief in Tennis.

Give Hingis credit for remaining confident and calm (See the Art Of Confidence) and having the killer instinct (See Developing the Killer Instinct). She turned it up a notch when needed and had the guts to take chances at the right time — like that incredible drop shot from the baseline. Don’t try this unless you’re a pro! Hingis also counterpunched beautifully, and covered the court like a king-sized blanket.

Perhaps the final game was the best lesson in mental skills. Mauresmo refused to quit. She played even more aggressively when behind, and erased 6 match points. She went to her favorite weapon, her stunning backhand, and rather than worry about the outcome, she stayed focused in the moment (See Attentional Control in Tennis). She repeatedly crushed winners when most mortals would have been overcome by fear of an error (See Confronting Fear in Tennis). Despite her brilliance, Hingis outlasted her with her own brand of never-say-die competitiveness (See Competitiveness in Tennis).

Men’s Final (Yevgeny Kafelnikov def. Thomas Enqvist 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 7-6)

From a psychological perspective, this was a classic match. After a slow start, Kafelnikov outlasted the Swede with his experience and consistency, and this consisted mostly of mental skills. Yevgeny was quoted after the match as saying “I broke Thomas mentally.” It’s hard to disagree, as Enqvist uncharacteristically committed 61 unforced errors to Kafelnikov’s 35.

Enqvist played very well in the 4th set, but appeared to become increasingly angry as the match progressed (If you can relate, See Understand and Conquering Anger!). At 6-5, he appeared to become unsettled when he floated a forehand long.

The obvious mental contrast, however, was most apparent in the 4th set tiebreaker. After questioning a call that went against him, he hit his worst shot of the day, a shanked forehand long. The relationship between this shot and his reduced focus was clear (See Attention Control in Tennis). He dropped his racket and never recovered. Here is what followed: two backhands very wide, double fault (looking frustrated), easy backhand approach into the net, and a double fault. Kafelnikov, on the other hand, gained confidence as his lead increased, and polished a great angled volley for a 6-1 lead before the final double fault.

In this battle of nerves, Enqvist was no match for the steady Russian. Thomas is a talented player who will most likely return. On this Australian day, however, he appeared to allow his frustration and energy levels to rise dangerously high (See Optimizing Arousal in Tennis). The result was distractibility and loss of control.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed this brief look at the mind games down under. See you next month …

Last Chance: Who is the Most Creative Tennis Player in History?
Thanks to all who voted for the most creative tennis player in history (See last month’s article). The response has been excellent, but so close that I’ve decided to give you some feedback and extend the contest one final month. I want to hear from ALL OF YOU! Vote now by sending me a message using this form.
Here are your responses to date:

First Place: John McEnroe — 26% of all votes
Second Place: Jimmy Connors — 11% of all votes

Trailing most closely behind McEnroe and Connors are the following creative players: Ilie Nastase, Martina Navratilova, Mansour Bahrami, Stefan Edberg, Gabriela Sabatini, Michael Chang, Arthur Ashe, Boris Becker, Johan Kriek, Bobby Riggs, Gustavo Kuerten, and Martina Hingis.

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