Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – May 1, 2000 – Dr. John F. Murray – Since many of you expressed your enjoyment of last month’s glimpse into men’s tennis at the Citrix Championships in Delray Beach (see: “Focused at the Citrix”), I thought you’d enjoy the mental side of the women’s final of the recent Ericcson Open. Bring along your suntan lotion and a wide brimmed hat, and we’ll enjoy the hugest rivalry in tennis today, Lindsay Davenport versus Martina Hingis.
The Ericcson (formerly the Liptons) is such a huge tournament that it’s known as the 5th Grand Slam. Key Biscayne has a rich tennis history and each year the city turns into a tennis paradise with the best tennis players in the world and social events to match. Cruising the causeway bridge from Miami Beach to Key Biscayne, I wondered how Hingis could possibly survive Lindsay’s growing confidence, punishing groundstrokes, and laser precise serves. Davenport had just seized the #1 ranking and seemed ready to extend her lead even more over the Swiss Miss.
A tennis match is greatly influenced by the quality of the practice session preceding it. Since I arrived early, I attended and studied each player’s practices two hours before the match. Hingis was all business on this hot afternoon. She grunted with every shot, and her mother/coach carefully monitored the session from the net, feeding in balls as needed (if only all our mothers took this level of interest in our games!). As Hingis left the court to return to the player’s lounge, she exuded raw determination and intense focus, as well as sincere apprehension. Healthy fear and respect is to be expected from a player about to face Lindsay!
Over on the other court, Davenport looked quite focused and relaxed (we can all learn from studying these masters!). The one difference I could see was that Davenport appeared to hit many more balls than Hingis, and stayed out on the court much longer. While there is no formula for an ideal practice session, and each player must discover what works for him or her, was it possible that Lindsay left some of her energy and focus this day out on the practice court?
Hingis broke Davenport’s serve twice to roar off to a 4-0 lead before Davenport counterattacked to bring the match to 4-3. From the outset, Davenport went for her shots but never quite found her mark, while Hingis’ determination and focus seemed to carry over from the practice. With Davenport serving on an important point at 3-4, she appeared to rush her service motion. While Davenport usually bounces the ball three times before serving, on this important point she bounced the ball once, possibly indicating over-intensity or nervousness (which is related to unforced errors). Hingis won this first set 6-3 with fewer winners but many fewer unforced errors too! Hingis served better in the first set (70% first service percentage to Davenport’s 54%, and Davenport had 3 double faults to Hingis’ 0).
Davenport began the 2nd set by holding serve with gorgeous winners off the backhand, forehand and serve. At 2-2, however, Hingis broke serve after Davenport made three backhand unforced errors. Hingis served even better in the second set and Davenport again struggled. The end result was a convincing 6-3, 6-2 victory for Hingis when many expected that Davenport had Hingis’ number.
This match helped illustrate the age-old wisdom that if you serve well (high first serve percentage, winners/aces, few double faults) and make less unforced errors than your opponent, you usually win. Davenport’s power was of little use because on this day her shots always seemed to land a half inch long or low. While Hingis hit many fewer winners, her steadiness and determination combined with Lindsay’s errors resulted in a convincing win. Martina’s overall first serve percentage advantage (74% to 52%) was telling.
Only a very few players at any level are able to hit more winners than unforced errors on a regular basis. Most recreational players have neither the time nor training to be able to hit winners with accuracy. “Keep the ball in play” is solid advice, and Hingis showed that it worked wonders at the pro level too when the opponent is off their game.
I’m sure that Lindsay cannot wait until the rematch with Martina because she is such a class act and great competitor. Congratulations to Hingis on this sunny day for a huge win. Congratulations to Lindsay for regaining the top spot in the world. One of the hottest rivalries in tennis got a little bit better in Key Biscayne this year.
The Smart Tennis/Sport Psychology Tour 2000
I will be presenting a series of sport psychology/performance enhancement workshops this summer in Austria, Germany and Switzerland between early and mid-August. If you know of a tennis club, sport hotel, or other group in these counties that would like to host a workshop, please let me know by using this form. I’ll be in touch later with greater detail.