It is one thing the area’s top high school tennis players agree on as the best way to stay focused during a match, no matter the odds.
Accept that double fault and get past it. Accept the umpire’s call. Accept a winner is not going to be struck every time.

As the region playoffs continue Friday and with the state tournaments scheduled for four sites in Seminole County next week, tennis provides a true test of one’s mental toughness.\ “You’re out there by yourself against the opponent, and you have to stay in control,” said Jenna Doerfler, Winter Park’s No.1 singles player who qualified for the state tournament from Class 4A, District 3.

Said Gabi Celi of Lake Howell: “You get to a certain level when everyone is equal in talent. It becomes 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental.”

Gabi Celi is teaming with her sister, Daniela, as Lake Howell’s No.1 doubles state qualifier from 3A-6.

Central Florida’s best tennis players have their own way of dealing with pressure.

Gabi Celi remembers when she was down 5-2 in the last set of a singles match against Lake Mary Prep this season.

“I started getting angry at myself but realized I had to accept that I was down, come up with a game plan and try to execute it,” she said. “A lot of people fall into the trap of getting angry and let their emotions take over.”

Gabi said she got back on track by focusing on what she had done correctly in the match, such as hitting forehands down the line for winners. From there, she cruised to win the set 8-5 and the match.
Lake Highland Prep’s No.1 singles player, Adam Leavitt, is a state qualifier from 2A-7 and agrees with Gabi.

“When I’m in a hole, I focus on one thing that’s working for me and try to build off that,” he said.

When Lake Highland Prep was down against Lake Mary, Leavitt knew he would have to produce with his doubles partner, Jonathan Neumayer, if they were to amount a comeback.

“We were losing 7-6 in the last set but we stayed calm instead of getting on each other about our mistakes,” he said. “We came back and won 9-7 to take the match.”

Although Lake Mary took the team victory, Leavitt and his teammate showed what it takes to be successful tennis players.

“You can’t put too much pressure on each individual point,” Leavitt said. “The bigger scheme of the match is what counts.”

The main problems tennis players face are a lack of focus and confidence, said Dr. John F. Murray, a licensed sports psychologist from Palm Beach Gardens. Murray, a former player, has coached tennis professionals.

“At the high school level, there is a lot of variability in the mental toughness of the players,” he said. “There is a lot of room for progress because they are not very experienced and may not be trained well, but their opponents are usually in the same situation.”
Said Daniela Celi: “It’s all about keeping a positive attitude. I pump myself up constantly during the match by saying, ‘I can do this.”
Gabi Celi even goes so far as to say to herself, “I am invincible.” “It’s tough to beat that resistance that comes over you every single day,” Gabi said. “You wonder if your slice or volleys are going to work today. Even if you warm up fine, you still wonder.”

Olympia’s Levan Clark, a No.?1 state qualifier from 4A-4, used to get down on himself but now treats tennis like a game.

“I started doing better when I played freely without thinking too much about each point,” he said. “I know if I do something wrong, I can work on it in practice the next day to avoid it from happening again.”

The calm and relaxed approach of Clark is similar to many of the other players before the match. They said a jog to warm up while listening to their iPod relaxes them and puts their nerves at ease.
Doerfler said she has to envision everything beforehand to be ready to play.\ “I’m not too social before the match,” she said. “[During each game,] I just keep positive and visualize myself winning each point. When you’re in the heat of the moment, it really helps.”
Said Gabi: “You can have the most beautiful stroke, the best footwork and the best stride, but if you don’t believe you can beat that girl, you won’t do it.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

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