Posts Tagged ‘Rafael Nadal’

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.

I hope you enjoyed this article on sports psychology.

A change would do Federer good if he wants to shed Nadal curse

CBS Sports – Lesley Visser – March 30, 2009 – KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Nick Bollettieri, who has coached 10 No. 1 players in the world — from Becker to Agassi to Seles to Sharapova –- didn’t mince words when reflecting on what Roger Federer has to do to regain the form that made him dominant for most of the decade.

“I think he has to change his game completely,” Bollettieri said. “He’s got to serve and volley, he’s got to take chances to come in and he’s got to do something about his confidence.”

Federer is often voted fan favorite and cited for his sportsmanship, but his game has lost its gentlemanly swagger. It’s well documented that he lost his No. 1 ranking to Rafael Nadal, who has now won 13 of the 19 matches they’ve played, including epic battles at Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

For the first time in five years, Federer isn’t seeded first here at the Sony Ericsson Open, and it has been two years since he won a Masters Series event, the tournaments listed just below the Grand Slams. Federer, always dangerous but lately less damaging, could face Andy Roddick in a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal, where Roddick stunned the Swiss legend. Moving on, he would likely face Andy Murray or Nadal, both of whom have his number.

“Roger’s such a laid-back kid,” said Bollettieri, who, at 77, looks at someone 27 as still in his boyhood. “He has problems with Murray (who is 6-2 against Federer), but his major hurdle is Nadal. Roger has got to improve his backhand when Nadal hits that heavy topspin crosscourt. Roger should aim for the middle of the court.”

Nadal is hungry now, playing with breathtaking speed and power. The world No. 1, the French and Australian Open champion, the Wimbledon champion, the man who saved five match points just weeks ago against David Nalbandian  in the fourth round at Indian Wells, which he won, has nothing missing in his game.

“He’s got everything,” said legend Bud Collins. “He can play offense or defense, he can serve, he has strength, he can control the game from the baseline and he has the best inside-out forehand since Jim Courier.”

Nadal has already won six Grand Slams, an Olympic gold medal and a Davis Cup championship. He also has Toni Nadal, his uncle and coach, a position Federer has not filled since severing his relationship with Tony Roche two years ago.

“I think Roger needs a coach,” said Collins. “He told me once years ago, ‘I want to hear my own voice,’ but Nadal has crawled into his head, like a worm.”

Federer spoiled us with his gorgeous, unstoppable tennis, but he has now lost five straight matches to the Spaniard Nadal. Federer has been the overachieving perfectionist, effortless on the court. But now he needs a mental tune-up.

“Nadal is in his head,” said Collins, “the way Bjorn Borg couldn’t beat John McEnroe at the U.S. Open. This is an incredible rivalry, but Roger has lost his confidence.”

Is Federer’s run over? Will he ever win another Grand Slam? Or does he just need Dr. Phil?

“Well maybe not Dr. Phil,” said longtime sports psychologist Dr. John Murray who traveled with Vince Spadea to the Australian Open. “There is no doubt that mental coaching can have an enormous effect on confidence, and, for Roger, the clock is ticking. He should be talking regularly — 30- to 60-minute sessions, to someone who’s done a full assessment of him and his game, someone who’s actively getting him ready for matches, not just a sit down with a therapist.”

At 2-2 of the fifth and final set at Wimbledon, during the second rain delay, Nadal talked to his coach, Toni, and his trainer, Rafael Maymo, in the locker room. After two successive losses to Federer on the lawn at SW19, Nadal told his team he knew he was going to win this one. In January, Nadal brought Federer to exhausted, emotional tears after winning the Australian Open 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 3-6, 6-2 and accepting the trophy from Rod Laver. The Sony Ericsson is scheduled to be their next encounter.

“I know this is a big week for me,” said Federer after his second-round win over Kevin Kim. “Last season was very, very tough. I’ve been struggling against Rafa, and Murray, too. I have to get wins against them to turn it around.”

Nadal is 22 and will try to prevent Federer from capturing a record-tying 14th Grand Slam. But the mighty lefty, Nadal, and the gossamer righty, Federer, have given us magnificent memories.

“Tennis has not had a period like this, with two such gentlemen at the top, since Don Budge and Gottfried Von Cramm,” said Collins of the two rivals known for their courtesy in the 1930s. “They’re both so unselfish — we’re in a golden period.”