sports psychologist & clinical psychology

Ericsson Open Winners Emphasize Mental Game

Florida Tennis Magazine – By John F. Murray, PhD – www.JohnFMurray.com – As a contributing editor to Florida Tennis magazine for over 10 years, you’ve heard from me countless times about the mental game and mental training for top junior tennis players hoping to earn a college scholarship, or perhaps ATP or WTA Tour success. What about players who have already made it? Does the mental game still matter for them? Let’s glance back at the men’s side of the 2010 Ericsson Open – from quarterfinals to Andy Roddick’s impressive win – and listen closely as the pros describe their mental keys to their success. We’ll cover the women exclusively in a future article.

This Key Biscayne Masters series gem continues to rank as the 5th most important tournament on the tour. Mark it official and just call it a grand slam, on par with Wimbledon and Roland Garros. Why not? It’s the biggest and baddest tennis in Florida, the Caribbean and South America, and my prediction is that it will eventually become the second US Open in some future decade as the Latin population of American and South Florida continues to grow beyond expectations. I love it because it is so close and I get to meet with players I am working with and see them play too.

By the quarterfinals of the 2010 event, 8 of the current top 20 ranked players in the world were still standing, so you had the cream of the crop for sure! In parentheses after their names are their current ATP Tour rankings: Rafael Nadal of Spain (1), Robin Sonderling of Sweden (5), Thomas Berdych of Czechoslovakia (8), Andy Roddick of USA (9), Fernando Verdasco of Spain (10), Jo Wilfried Tsonga of France (11), Mikhail Youzny of Russia (14), and Nicolas Almagro (20) of Spain. With Spain just winning the World Cup too, you wonder what they are drinking over there!

Let’s listen to the winner’s post-match comments from the mental perspective, with the key mental principle(s) underlined as a header:

QUARTERFINALS

CONFIDENCE
Berdych d. Verdasco 4-6, 7-6, 6-4: Berdych after the match stated: “I brought many positive things even though I was tired.â€? He explained in the press conference how beating Roger Federer in the previous round gave him confidence. He showed just that in saving 7 of 9 break points. Rather than getting defeated in adversity or reacting to a difficult situation in a negative way, Berdych hung in there, knew that he could do it, and did it.

QUICKNESS
Sonderling d. Youzny 6-1, 6-4: Robin Sonderling explained in the interview how taking the initiative and dictating play with his flat groundstrokes worked like a charm. He also talked about how he won with quickness, and we know from research how important mental processes are in anticipatory quickness. It’s actually equally about physical movement as it is about getting a jump mentally and reading cues properly. Sonderling beat his rival to the punch with better anticipation skills, by taking the ball earlier, and through lightning fast shot-making, and these all begin in the brain.

AUTOMATICITY
Roddick d. Almagro 6-3, 6-3: Roddick, off to one of his fastest career starts, described this match in a way that shows he was in a state of pure focus and automatic play or automaticity. He already had played and won a lot in 2010, and described in this match how “things slowed down and muscle memory took over.â€? This is classic in higher stages of learning where auto-pilot predominates. It defines simplicity and perfect focus. Andy found it in this match and he felt like he could do no wrong.

CROWD SUPPORT AND PASSION
Nadal d. Tsonga 6-3, 6-2: Never neglect the influence of the environment in performance, and social facilitation is a psychological state caused by crowd support. Nadal credited the crowd when he said after the match “I was inspired by the full and passionate crowd.â€? He added, “the crowd is always very emotional here.â€? There is no doubt that despite Nadal’s fatigue, he got a second and third wind from this special social element.

SEMIFINALS

GOALS
Berdych d. Sonderling 6-2, 6-2: Thomas Berdych knew that he was in trouble if he tried to out-steady the Swede. It’s actually a somewhat absurd concept to try to out-steady a Swede ever since Bjorn Borg hit the scene. Berdych used his noggin to set a couple clear goals: (1) play more aggressively, and (2) reduce mistakes. This combination proved lethal to Robin when packed his bags and went back to the ice bar in Stockholm (I went there a couple years ago and can only imagine that is where Swedes go after they lose a match to cool). Humor aside, Berdych used his frontal lobe well in this match by setting goals to perfection. He had 17 winners and only 15 unforced errors compared with Sonderlings 10 winners and 31 unforced errors.

RISK-TAKING MINDSET
Roddick d. Nadal 4-6, 6-3, 6-3: Mindsets are crucial in sports. They reflect how you view a problem and solution. I often help players get ready for matches with particular sentences that capture a needed mindset. In this case, Andy knew he was in trouble against Nadal if he played it safe. Playing consistently against Nadal is like trying to beat a wall. So he changed his mindset to high risk/high reward and it drastically changed the course of the match mid way through the second set. Andy showed high intelligence in making this needed risky change and going on the attack. He went on to win 15 of 25 net approaches, found his flat risky forehand, and Nadal went home wondering what had happened.

FINAL
CRATIVITY AND PRESSURE MANAGEMENT
Roddick d. Berdych 7-5, 6-4: Andy used two important mental skills to take his 2nd career Ericsson title. He won by being creative and stated after the match, “I was smart in chipping and mixing paces which kept him guessing.â€? He also said, “I had a lot of pressure to win this one because I had a pretty good opportunity at Indian Wells.â€? In reflecting on the entire tournament, Roddick said “I haven’t had an off day mentally in this tournament.â€? The end result was the he held serve perfectly and did not even face a break point in this match. By combining smart creative play with urgency on every point (rather than negativity as often happens in pressure) Andy Roddick, the lone American in a draw with 3 fierce Spaniards and all top 20 players by the quarterfinals, showed that he was the mental champion of the week.

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