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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Andy Murray saw Sport Psychologist Prior to Winning US Open

Andy Murray was able to finally break the stranglehold of Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal and win his first slam at the 2012 US Open. Afterwards Murray talked about working with Coach Ivan Lendl's former sport psychologist.

BBC article on Murray using sport psychologist

Have you been on the fence about using sport psychology, mental toughness or mental skills training? Please read the article. I think it will push you off the fence and ready to jump in to sport psychology.

Murray felt that the sport psychologist helped him more off the court than on the court. This is not unusual. Players need different things. Some players need to learn to slow down on court, take some deep breaths, and develop a between points routine. Other players are dealing with more off the court that affects them on the court. A qualified sport psychology consultant will be able to help the player determine what is most crucial to work on over time.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dr. Larry Discusses Football Bounties on ESPN Outside the Lines

Dr. Lauer discusses youth football bounties on ESPN Outside the Line 
My part is not included in the link, however...

The show re-airs Friday, December 7 at 3 pm eastern on ESPN.

The podcast is also available on itunes search Outside the Lines

Go to for my thoughts on the show

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tennis Parenting Show with Lisa Stone of Parenting Aces

Tennis Parenting Show with Lisa Stone

I had the opportunity to talk with Lisa Stone, tennis parent and writer, on the Parenting Aces show she hosts on the UR10s radio network. It was a fun and thought-provoking conversation that allowed me to summarize and discuss the tennis parenting research we have been doing at Michigan State University's Institute for the Study of Youth Sports.
Specifically, Lisa and I discussed a number of important topics including:
  • How to communicate with your child when wanting to quit tennis,
  • The reasons behind why researchers believe that tennis parents are more involved today,
  • The #1 biggest mistake a parent can make in parenting their child in tennis,
  • How to navigate the issue of sport specialization and when a tennis player should specialize,
  • How to push and challenge your child while supporting them.
Please download the show and let me know what you think. Also, share it with other parents in tennis and outside of tennis. It was focused on tennis but many of the points discussed relate to all sport parents.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Five Things a Tennis Parent Can Do Immediately to Help Their Child Play Well

Tennis parents, there are at least five ways you can help your child play better tennis in matches, immediately. And, it does not involve hitting balls with them, providing extra instruction, having them lift weights, run sprints, or do agility training.

It does involve you regulating your behavior in a way so that your parent performance is better. What, parent performance? That is correct. You have a role to perform and when you perform it effectively it helps your child relax, have fun, and play like they do in practice.

So, on to five ways to enhance your tennis parent performance.

5. Avoid getting involved in on-court disagreements if possible. You know the situation. Your child's opponent is making dubious line calls. You are sure she is cheating. You want to say something. However, remember parents become furious when adults yell at or confront their children. It is the paternal/maternal instinct to react aggressively. Even if you just plain suggest that their child is cheating and go talk to that parent you may get into trouble. Instead teach your child how to deal with cheating.

How to Play Great Tennis when Your Opponent is Cheating

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Are Sport Parents a Bigger Problem Today?

(first posted on the NWCA Youth Sport blog)

Sport parents are getting as much press as professional athletes these days. And, it is not in a positive way. "Bench the parents" (1) and "Are Parents Ruining Youth Sports" (2) reflect the mood towards sport parents in the US. Parents are often seen as crazy and the root of all issues in youth sport.

Coaches want more resources on working effectively with parents? Link to my webinar on the Resources page.

The "crazy sport parent" has become modern lingo for parents that are overinvolved, controlling, too demanding, and outright just annoying and dangerous. I talk with sport parents frequently in my work as a sport psychology consultant. It is funny to me when a parent is about to try and convince me of their decisions about their child's sport and he or she prefaces it with "I am not one of those crazy parents." There is great concern about the actions of parents on our fields and courts. But, are parents really that much worse today?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Novak Djokovic's Swagger: Why He is a Champion and Does Not Get the Respect He Deserves

What makes Novak Djokovic a champion also may make him less likeable to tennis fans across the globe. More so than probably all of the top players on the Men's ATP tour, fans either love or dislike Djokovic. Why? He has amazing skills, conditioning and mental toughness. Novak wins when he should and has proven himself to be a champion. He also has been gracious in defeat. Djokovic should be considered a proven champion with the likes of Nadal and Federer.

Detractors of Djokovic will tell you that their dislike started early in his career. They talk about tanks, breathing problems, medical timeouts for less than appropriate reasons, and cockiness as evidenced by his post-match emulations of tennis stars' routines prior to serving. Certainly Djokovic taking a medical timeout prior to Murray serving out this year's US Open will only add fuel to their opinion.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Maria Sharapova Imposes Her Will to Win at the US Open

Maria Sharapova showed us the power of attitude in her 4th round match at the US Open versus Nadia Petrova. In a back and forth match, Petrova split sets with Sharapova and went up 2-0 in the third set. Petrova was on a run and Sharapova was in deep trouble. The US Open has not been her best tournament. Sharapova has a history of losing earlier at the US Open than in other Grand Slams. This includes memorable matches where she was a huge favorite like her defeat to Melanie Oudin.

With a history of first week losses at the US Open weighing on her like a 500-lb. gorilla Sharapova refused to give in. She was fortunate that the rains came and gave her a chance to refocus and talk to her coach. Her coach and father told her to keep fighting. And, that is exactly what she did. Sharapova came out of the one-hour rain delay with energy, intensity, and purpose. She was striking the ball clean and immediately broke Petrova to 2-1. Sharapova would roll from there and win the match. She can thank her comeback to her legendary focus and tough-minded attitude.
Learn more about developing a Game Plan for Rain Delays

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Confident Sam Stosur Guts Out Win over Robson

Defending US Open champion Sam Stosur of Australia gutted out a two-set victory today at the US Open. Stosur overcame giant-killer Laura Robson who had sent Kim Clijsters in to retirement and then defeated Li Na. Despite losing serve while serving out the match, Stosur hung tough and got the job done on Sunday. The post-match interview details the thought process that kept Stosur believing and staying composed despite losing a number of match points (from

Q.  Were you thinking on those match points that she really rose to the occasion?
SAMANTHA STOSUR:  Yeah, I mean, I think out of the, what, nine that I missed, I didn't do too much wrong on at least half of them.  So that being the case, I think you got to just take it for what it is.  Okay, it's another point.  You're hopefully going to get another chance if you keep doing what you should be doing.  Kind of what I said to myself on the change of ends. Doesn't matter.  See where it gets you.  Disappointing not to have gotten in one of those other two games, but I still felt I was in a good position.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Andy Roddick's Retirement and His Career in Perspective

Andy Roddick announced Thursday that he would retire after the US Open. The announcement created a flood of polar opposite reactions, just like Andy and his game did for more than a decade. Some tennis enthusiasts will miss Andy as the stalwart of American men's tennis since Andre and Pete retired. Others will not miss him because they either think he did not live up to his potential, did not like his game, or did not like his swagger and biting wit.

For me, I will miss watching Andy Roddick after this Open. In multiple ways I feel Andy was a victim of his timing in American tennis and does not fully get the credit he deserves. Hopefully, he will be seen as a champion and get his full appreciation over the next few days. This certainly seemed to be the case in his match versus Bernard Tomic of Australia last night.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Kim Clijsters Retires, Becomes Model of Mental Toughness

Kim Clijsters' great career ended today at the 2012 US Open. British 18-year-old, Laura Robson, played an aggressive style to pull off the upset. Too bad it was in front of a small crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium. More importantly, Clijsters will be remembered as a champion and a great person - and maybe not in that order. So, you can be a great person and competitor. There is no need to be cold or unfriendly to try and intimidate your opponents.

Clijsters' attitude was not always embraced as positively as it is today. Before winning her first Slam many thought Kim was not mentally tough enough. In my opinion that statement does not give credit to the great Justine Henin who often stood in Clijsters' way for a Slam. Kim did get nervous in some early Grand Slam opportunities but she has more than overcome any issues with nerves. And, that is not a knock on Clijsters. The great Roger Federer has admitted dealing with nerves especially early in his career.

Three US Open championships later and Clijsters is now held in high regard as a competitor. It is hard to believe this but the last time Kim lost at the Open was 2003 against Henin. Twenty-two straight matches. Amazing, especially over a nine year span.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Jack Sock Dominant on Day 1 of US Open

On Day 1 of the 2012 US Open the most impressive player on the day had to be Jack Sock of Nebraska. He dominated Florian Mayer the #22 seed and won in straight sets. Sock locked confident and composed throughout the match.

I think my serve was definitely pretty reliable when I was down.  I was down Love‑30 once or twice, down Love‑40 once.  Came up with some good serves, first‑ball combos.  I think that was definitely some turning points, not letting him get a break and not letting him get some momentum back. (from
There has been talk that maybe Sock is not in the greatest shape. John McEnroe talked about it during the telecast. The interesting thing on Monday was that Sock outlasted Mayer who had to retire in the third set. Sock was convincing in the win, and looked the superior player throughout. Could that be due to the injury or fatigue of a long summer for Mayer? Quite possibly. Still, it is difficult to dominate at the professional level. A player has to have weapons to be able to beat seeded players and beat them handily. Sock has a huge serve, can back it up from the baseline and also threw in some serve and volley. His serve helped him keep the momentum on his serve and allowed Mayer very few looks at a break.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Isner Talks About Parental Support in Deuce Magazine

John Isner is the highest-ranked American male tennis player on the ATP tour. He is known for being laid back and a very good sport, and yet, he has a fiery competitive side. This is nice temperament to have for a professional tennis player. Isner competes with the best of the tour, but he also is down-to-earth, good person. John credits his family for helping him become a mature competitor.

In the ATP's Deuce magazine John talked about how his mother supported him during his junior years living in Greensboro, North Carolina.

"My mom was the perfect tennis parent," says Isner. "She was not too demanding, but always supportive. She encouraged me to practise tennis and basketball but she never forced me into any sport." (from John Isner: The Fire Within, Deuce)

Friday, August 24, 2012

10 Reasons the US Open is Must Watch TV

The 2012 US Open is nearly here, but will you be watching? In my opinion there are a multitude of reasons to be watching the Open. Here are 10 reasons why the US Open is "must-watch" TV.

1. Can Serena continue to roll this summer? After winning Wimbledon and the Olympic gold medal, Williams is positioned to pull off one of the most impressive runs in recent history. Serena has been dominant, but she is a fiery competitor and must maintain control better than she did in the last two Opens. Can Serena control her anger and emotions if things are not going her way? Should be interesting to watch.

2. The Top 3 players in the Open draw are battling for supremacy over the 2012 season. With Nadal out, both Djokovic and Federer are posed to win two majors in 2012. If one of these champions is able to win seven matches he will likely secure the #1 ranking for the year as well. Meanwhile, it would be possible for Andy Murray to make a claim for having the best 2012 if he were to win his first Slam at Flushing Meadows. It will make for high drama on the final weekend.

Monday, August 13, 2012

2012 US Open blog starts August 25, Novikov Wins Kalamazoo

On August 25th I will begin blogging about the 2012 US Open the premier tennis event in the United States and the most attended sporting event in the world. Come back to the Tennis Mental Edge blog for match analyses, quotes, and mental game lessons from the world's best as they compete for the last Grand Slam of the year.

Congratulations to 18-year-old Dennis Novikov who won USTA Hard Court Nationals at Kalamazoo by defeating Alexios Halebian 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the final. Novikov receives entry in to the main draw of the US Open and hopefully not in to the waiting arms of one of the top four men!

Serena Williams would seem to be the overwhelming favorite to win the Women's title. In the Men's draw it will be the top four again vying for another Slam. Check back here read about the mental game happening at Flushing Meadows.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Nerves of Playing in the Olympics

"Every match here for me is like a final." - Switzerland's Roger Federer

The importance of the Olympics is not lost on Roger Federer, nor his opponents in the 2012 Olympic Tennis competition. The Olympics come around once every four years and the players are treating this competition with a specialness that may surpass the Slams.

"I am just happy to go through for my country. I hope I will continue like this." - France's Jo Wilfried Tsonga
With the amount of importance placed on the Olympics there is a corresponding rise in anxiety. Many seeded players looked nervous in their first round matches. Many survived the early round nerves, but not all. Berdych and Radwanska both fell in the first round and Djokovic and Federer survived scares.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Elena Baltacha Reframes Pressure: Olympic Quote of the Day

Elena Baltacha of Great Britain discussed the pressure of playing for her country in the London Olympics. 

ELENA BALTACHA:  I was quite nervous before the match. I think once I put my GB gear on, it relaxed me more because I've been looking forward to this for such a long time. I thought, you know, I've got an amazing opportunity. That kind of relaxed me a bit more. Once I started going on court, seeing all the home support, them getting right behind me, that kind of got me more confident and kind of more relaxed. So it was lovely. (Quote from ITF website)

Baltacha's perspective on the immense pressure of representing your country in a home Olympics is an excellent example of reframing. Reframing is a mental technique where you take a situation and how you are thinking about and frame it in a different way. Baltacha was thinking about the pressure of playing in the Olympics. When putting on the GB gear she was able to frame the situation differently - "I've got an amazing opportunity".

Something else I want to point out. She said she relaxed when she put on her gear. To get your mind in control many times you need to relax, usually by taking some deep breaths and exhaling to let go of the tension, so you can focus your mind on more effective thoughts. Combining relaxation with mental techniques such as reframing allows you to take stressful situations and see them as opportunities. This in turn helps you to look forward to big matches. It is amazing how just looking forward to something is enough to allow you to play well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Andre Agassi on Focusing on Executing the Game Plan

Tennis is like a game of chess. Your opponent makes one move and you react and make your move. It is an ongoing battle of action and reaction. The ability to read your opponent and the situation is crucial to success. Those players that have great "IQ", "Smarts", "Court Awareness" are excellent at reading the situation and making good decisions.

Decision making, like many things in sport, is affected by a player's focus, stress, confidence, goals, game style to name a few things as well as by the opponent, momentum, score and so on. If a player can impose his or her game plan on an opponent chances are that he or she will win. However, if the opponent can dictate play chances are that you will lose.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Federer's Aggression the Key to Winning Wimbledon

Roger Federer won Wimbledon because he attacked the net off of his excellent groundstrokes. Craig O'Shannessy's Brain Game blog on the ATP World Tour web site reveals the numbers (and the patterns) of Federer's success at the net versus Andy Murray.

Brain Game

As I posted last night it was Roger's willingness to be aggressive and go and take the championship that allowed him to win it. This stems from his belief in his game. For example, against Julien Benneteau Federer was two points from being ousted from Wimbledon. He missed numerous backhand volleys and struggled at the net against a player that does not hit a crushing passing shot. Fed gutted out that match as he did the match against Malisse.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Federer Defeats Murray for Wimbledon Championship

About a week ago Federer was playing Xavier Malisse and he was down two sets, and his back was causing him difficulty in moving. Everyone thought he was finished. I thought he still would come through and win that match and win Wimbledon. I was right, but truly it was based on a hunch. In fact I took these notes:

Roger 2 sets down, back issues, no way he is winning Wimbledon but yet I think he will

Here are 3 reasons why I think Fed will win Wimbledon:

1. First-strike ability
2. Coming to the net, all court game
3. He is driven win #7
Anyway, doesn't matter I didn't post it prior to Federer going down in history tied for the most Wimbledon singles titles. The more important story here is that when things were looking bleak for Roger he pulled a huge comeback against Malisse. How?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Lisicki Defeats Sharapova by Going for Shots

Sabine Lisicki is on another run at Wimbledon. She upset #1 Maria Sharapova in the round of 16 in straight sets. The formula of victory was similar to what we saw in Week 1. Big serve, big groundstrokes. Believe it or not Lisicki hit her way through Sharapova and is one match win from equaling her best run at Wimbledon (in 2011).

What were Lisicki's thoughts on the victory?

"I just went for my shots. I love the surface. It's my favourite tournament."
"I'm a fighter. I fight to the last point. The last game was tough but I fought it out."
What a great attitude to have in such a big match. Like Rosol the attitude that works is to go for your shots. Now, that does not mean hitting bombs from behind the baseline, but it does mean swinging through the ball and hitting with depth, spin, and pace.

If you fear losing the victory you probably will lose. Go for the win and great things can happen. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Federer Survives Despite Down Two Sets; Djokovic Wins After Being Down Too

Are upsets contagious? It seemed for a long time on Friday that Djokovic and Federer had caught the upset virus that plagued Rafael Nadal on Thursday. Federer and Djokovic survived and moved in to the the third round of Wimbledon but not without precarious moments.

Brad Gilbert made an interesting comment that upsets can become contagious. I would agree if a top player entertains the idea of being upset and lets it gain energy. Right around the time of Gilbert's comments Djokovic lost the first set to a dangerous net rusher on grass, Radek Stepanek. Djokovic righted the ship immediately in the second set and went on to play some outstanding tennis to win in four sets. After the match Djokovic was asked if he was thinking about how Nadal was upset. He said he was not, but you have to imagine it was hard to not think "this can't be happening to me".

Friday, June 29, 2012

How Rosol Upset Nadal

Lukas Rosol shocked the tennis world yesterday defeating Rafael Nadal in the second round at Wimbledon. How did Rosol pull off the biggest win of his career? It was a combination of big tennis and fearlessness that enabled Rosol to knock Nadal out of the Championships.

Fate loves the fearless - James Russell Lowell
Rosol, ranked 100 in the world, had never won at match at Wimbledon; not in the main draw or in qualifying. Yet, he looked totally confident on Center Court. Rosol's tactics were to hit huge serves and groundstrokes and take the initiative from Nadal. Rosol's forehand and backhand were routinely clocked over 90 mph. He did not allow Nadal to control the points. Instead, Nadal was pushed back off the court in a defensive position. The "first-strike" tactic was even more effective because the grass is still slick during the first week and in the fifth set they played the match with the roof shut.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wimbledon 2012 Preview

The Wimbledon fortnight is just about upon us. Players are probably feeling nerves as I write this the night before the main draw begins. The first round is often the most nerve-wracking round, especially for the top players as they try to get in to the rhythm of the Championships. Already John Isner and Venus Williams crashed out. Who is next?

Who is going to come out with the coveted Wimbledon title? Profiles of Top 12 Contenders for Title

In my opinion Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic are the obvious favorites on the men's side. They have the confidence to go all the way. Fed especially is driven to win another Wimbledon and set himself up for a run on the same grounds for the Olympics. To say that these guys, specifically Federer, will be feeling the uber-importance of the next month is an understatement. History will be made and one of these guys could stand above the others in history if they were to win Wimbledon and then Gold at the Olympics. Who has the most pressure on him? Andy Murray of course. This could be a defining moment for Murray or more disappointment. I will be watching closely to see how he handles this huge opportunity.

On the women's side the field is open. My favorites are everybody's favorites - Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. Sharapova has the look of confidence again, and Serena can beat anyone when she brings her full game. Grass accentuates Williams' big serve and groundstrokes. Petra Kvitova will try to defend her title. Watching her in the first round she looked nervous. Hopefully she can get comfortable and give herself a great shot at repeating. Beyond those three players you have to consider Victoria Azarenka and Sam Stosur has the other players that have a great opportunity to win Wimbledon. Big games in different ways, but both can control a match with their power.

Wimbledon has a mystique and a pristine atmosphere about it. The players feel the importance of this tournament, probably more so than any other Slam. To win Wimbledon is to be etched in to history forever. However, the pursuit of the Wimbledon trophy is as anxiety-provoking as any situation you will find in tennis. From the grass and how the wear and weather affect the bounce of the ball to the difficulty of breaking serve, players are feeling the pressure. It will be exciting to watch how they handle such an awesome opportunity and the mental dynamics that they are confronted with as they pursue the Championship.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wimbledon blog begins June 25

Wimbledon qualifying has begun! The main draw starts on Monday, June 25. I will begin blogging my reactions to the events happening at Wimbledon.

Can Roger win one more? Will Rafa and Nole meet in the Final again, and has Nadal surpassed Djokovic? Will Sharapova continue her dominance? Will one of the Williams' sisters make a run? Or, will we have another surprise winner on the women's side? Can Isner breakthrough and get to the final weekend? Does Roddick have another Wimbledon run in him? So many questions waiting to be answered.

The blog will focus on key matches and the mental dynamics that occurred in those matches. I will attempt to show how players were able to mentally win or lose matches and then boil that in to lessons for junior players, coaches, and parents.

Only a few days from Wimbledon. I can't wait to see what will happen on the grass.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Nalbandian Loses Emotional Control and AEGON Championship with Kick

David Nalbandian kicked his way in to infamy Sunday at the AEGON Championships. In the second set of the final match against Marin Cilic Nalbandian was up a set but down 3-4. Nalbandian was clearly upset about losing the point as he sprinted towards the sideline. Then he kicked the barrier in front of the linesman. What Nalbandian may not have realized is that the barrier in front of linesman Andrew McDougall was not made to block anything but maybe a slightly struck tennis ball. The kick bloodied McDougall and ended with Nalbandian being disqualified from the match.

See the Nalbandian kick on YouTube

"I never intended to hit him (the line judge), it was an unfortunate reaction in which I wanted to let off steam after losing a point," Nalbandian's statement read (ESPN UK site). 

Indeed it did not seem that Nalbandian had an issue with the linesman and acted with intention to harm him. However, this is why your parents tell you to count to ten when you are angry. Acting without thinking can create real problems.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sharapova all the Way Back from Injury; Wins Career Slam

Maria Sharapova was dominant at the 2012 French Open. She handled surprise finalist Sara Errani and completed the career grand slam. The new #1 in the world has retaken her place at the top of the WTA tour and should be a threat for years to come.

The French Open site posted a brief, but very nice piece on Sharapova the champion. The post references Sharapova's excellent mental game.

Maria Sharapova, French Open Champion and All-Time Great

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Errani Defeats Stosur with Her Mind at the French Open

Sam Stosur talking about her French Open semi final loss to Sara Errani, "You're always going to be a bit nervous going into a semi - it's the semifinal of a Slam, of course you're going to be nervous." Stosur overcame those nerves to play brilliant tennis and defeat Serena Williams at the 2011 US Open. Today, however, it was her opponent than managed the nerves better.

Peter Bodo at gives an interesting take on the match between Stosur and Errani (French Open Errani d. Stosur). His opinion is that Errani won with her mind. Despite it being an up and down affair, in the end Errani held strong as she broke Stosur and then won four straight points to serve out the match. Errani held her nerve despite losing a break in the third set.

How to Serve Out a Match, Sharapova defeats Kvitova at French

Maria Sharapova provided us a clinic on how to serve out a match today at the French Open. In defeating Petra Kvitova, Sharapova won her way in to the French Open final to face Sara Errani. If you missed Sharapova serving out the match try to find it on You Tube or watch it on French Open Tonight. For a tennis mental coach it was awesome to watch!

Sharapova broke Kvitova to go up 5-4 in the second set and to serve for the match. Instead of rushing to get the balls and start the game, Sharapova turned her back, looked at her strings and prepared herself for the next game. There was no huge outburst after breaking and seemingly no doubt about it. Sharapova meant business and served it out at 15. She made four of five first serves and never looked like the outcome was in doubt.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Azarenka, Djokovic, Federer Tested on Day 8 of French Open

#1 in the Novak Djokovic was down two sets to Andreas Seppi of Italy. About that same time Roger Federer was down a set to lucky loser David Goffin. Earlier in the day Victoria Azarenka was sent packing by Dominika Cibulkova. A wild Day 8 was underway. Later in the evening both Tsonga-Wawrinka and Del Potro-Berdych would be suspended due to darkness.

Djokovic and Federer would survive the fourth round, but not without some anxious moments. Seppi was within two games of defeating Djokovic in the third set. Djokovic seemed uncomfortable with his footing at different times throughout the match. His uncertainity aided Seppi's excellent play. However, like a champion, Djokovic played with more conviction in his shots from the third set and on and hung in the match. Eventually, Seppi's play dropped just enough for Djokovic to pull away. It would not have happened though had Djokovic lost his focus and dropped his intensity.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Wawrinka-Simon; How Wawrinka Got in to the Zone in the Fifth Set

How did Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland find the zone down 2 sets to 1 and 1-3 in the fourth? Gilles Simon of France was riding the home crowd energy and pushing toward the finish line. However, Wawrinka found another gear and eventually won the match going away in the fifth set.

For much of this match Wawrinka dictated the outcome of the points having far more winners and unforced errors (in fact 82 winners to Simon's 23, and 88 unforced errors to Simon's 49). Gilles Simon attempted to play more aggressive and finish points by coming forward, but the "easy power" of Wawrinka allowed him to control the court. In particular his backhand down the line punished Simon time and time again.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Isner and Mathieu Marathon Mental Game Breakdown

Day 5 of the French Open ended with a marathon classic between John Isner and Paul Henri Mathieu. Mathieu won in over 5 hours and 40 minutes because he stay composed and made fewer mistakes. In contrast, Isner struggled with his forehand much of the match and eventually his penchant for unforced errors and ill-timed drop shots cost him.

Throughout the match both players were showing signs of frustration in their reactions and body language. Mathieu was frustrated by Isner's ability to serve away break points. Isner was just plain frustrated. He hit his racket on the ground several times and even shook his head in disgust after a winner.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Four Players that Could Beat Nadal at the French

Rafael Nadal looked unbelievable in his 6-2, 6-2, 6-0 win today over Denis Istomin. Nadal was never in trouble and finished the match on his serve with crushing forehand winners. Rafa looks ready to win his seventh French Open title to pass Bjorn Borg. Besides Federer, Djokovic, and Murray can anyone derail Rafa? Even these three players would be underdogs.

I believe there are a few guys that could catch Rafa by surprise and give him real problems. Nadal's only loss at the French was to Robin Soderling who was hitting winners off both sides. Soderling put Rafa on the defensive with an aggressive, first-strike style from the baseline. Is there anyone in this draw that can give Nadal similar headaches in the 2012 French Open?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Three Slams and the Olympics Makes it A Grueling, Pressure-Packed Summer of Tennis

Did you realize that between May 27th, the start of the French Open, until September 9th, the final of the US Open, the men and women will play three Grand Slams and the Olympics?

The French Open which started Sunday begins the trek. Then, next comes Wimbledon followed by the Olympics at Wimbledon, and finally the US Open. Do you think Rafa will show up for Davis Cup vs. the United States the week after the US Open? Don't bet on it.

If you break it down that is 6 weeks of Grand Slam tennis and at least 1 week of Olympic Tennis. In the 15 weeks or 105 days during this time period. There is the potential for players to compete in a Slam or at the Olympics in 27 matches. That is more than 1 every four days! And, that does not account for the hot summer grass court tournaments in Europe, and the usually sweltering summer stops in the United States.

I would expect upsets, retirements and injuries, and no one to run the gamut. It is asking way too much for any player to win all of these matches. Let's just hope that players can avoid bad injuries. Agassi won 24 straight matches in the US summer tour only to lose the final match at the US Open to Pete Sampras. Agassi felt drained and talked about how he really was affected for some time by losing that match.

If you a tennis fan this is the best stretch of tennis ever! Fed at Wimbledon during the Olympics? Amazing. The pressure and the stories will be off the charts.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Focus at the Forefront for Del Potro, Azarenka, Simon, Baker

Focus is the key at the French. It was the difference between players struggling but surviving, and some players like David Nalbandian getting ousted in the first round.

The first two days of the French Open mostly played to form. Seeded players handled their unseeded opponents, routinely in many cases. However, what is the future for Juan Martin Del Potro and Victoria Azarenka at the French Open? Can they reel their games in as they go along at a Slam?

Del Potro struggled mightily to get past Albert Montanes in four grueling sets. Give Montanes his due; he is an excellent clay court player. But, what does this mean for Del Potro's form? What about his physical state? He looked like he was limping and not sure of himself. Fortunately for Del Po Montanes lost his focus and his game allowing the Argentine to roll in the fourth set. Credit to Del Potro for not panicking and keeping his focus when Montanes was rolling, but he will need more to move deep in this tournament.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

David Ferrer and Four Other Sentimental Favorites at French Open

Chances are that the winner of the men's draw at the 2012 French Open will come from one of three men: Nadal, Djokovic, or Federer. Del Potro is the only man to break the top three's stranglehold on the Slams in the last seven years. Nonetheless, I am going to list some of my sentimental favorites to win this French Open.

It is hard to say who is most deserving to win an Open who has not, but David Ferrer of Spain has to be close to the top of the list. The guy works incredibly hard for every point and has a stature that the weekend player can relate to. Ferrer, however, is unable to crack the top three (like everyone else). He is a bulldog and will be there in the second week. Maybe this is his year if Rafa slips up (again this post is about "what ifs" not reality).

Another sentimental favorite has to be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Even though he did not give himself a chance to win it, if he somehow did win his home country Open it would be a spectacle. Tsonga has huge, exciting game that has not always translated to wins at the French. A remarkable win over Federer at Wimbledon should give Tsonga some belief when it comes to beating the Top 3 (although Federer did smash at the US Open).

What would this list be without Andy Murray? Murray has won more matches than anyone I can remember without winning a Slam. Could this be the time? Murray is with new coach Ivan Lendl and looked better in the Australian Open. I believe he will eventually win a Slam because he has beaten the Top 3 on many occasions, just not in a Slam final. It is hard to imagine Murray winning his first slam on clay, but Agassi won his first on grass. You never know.

Someone noted on Twitter that it is hard to believe Juan Carlos Ferrero has not advanced past the third round of the French Open since 2003. That is the year the JCF won the tournament and looked like he could be the next multiple French Open champion and successor to Gustavo Kuerten. It is has not worked out that way, and Ferrero has not even sniffed the final weekend in eight years since his win. How cool would it be if Ferrero went on a magical run at a second title?

The fifth sentimental favorite to win the French Open is David Nalbandian. Nalbandian is great to watch and has unbelievable strokes. In the last decade he is one of the best players to not win a Slam. Previously the nemesis of Roger Federer, injuries and time off have pushed Nalbandian out of the spotlight as a potential champion. No matter; of all the guys unranked lurking in the draw this is the guy you do not want to play. If he puts it together he can beat anyone.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tsonga Believes A Frenchman Won't Win Roland Garros

Many people have noted that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga bears a resemblance to the great boxer Muhammad Ali. The quote I read from the website suggesting that Tsonga believes that a Frenchman cannot win the French Open is furthest thing from resembling the ultimate self-believer, Ali.

Tsonga's quote from (story is at

"Let's be clear, there is no chance that a French win Roland Garros," he told reporters in Rome. "There is no inevitability in my comments. It's just an observation. But not to be able win a Masters 1000 clay, then a Grand Slam seems impossible."

Azarenka Dominance in 2012 Due to Adaptation of Mental Approach

Victoria Azarenka has been dominating the WTA tour for most of 2012. Her first loss came in Key Biscayne. That is in April! Azarenka did not credit a change in grip, stroke, or conditioning for her revelation. Instead it was all about perspective and mental approach.

In the June edition of Tennis magazine, Azarenka discusses the five things that have led to her success:

1. Practice with the intensity of the match
2. Stay calm - but not too calm
3. Find a teaching pro who lets you develop your way
4. Go back to basics when you're losing
5. Enjoy the game

Thursday, May 17, 2012

French Open 2012 Blog Begins May 27

The 2012 French Open is just around the corner. Qualifying begins on May 22. I will be blogging about the French Open starting May 27th.

The blog will focus on key matches and the mental dynamics that occurred in those matches. I will attempt to show how players were able to mentally win or lose matches and then boil that in to lessons for junior players, coaches, and parents.

In the meantime enjoy the Italian Open and get mentally ready for some grinding tennis from Roland Garros.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Losing a 'Tweener

A few times in a professional tennis match I have seen a player win a point on a between the legs shot. It seems to happen more often now, but how can you not help but feel embarrassed for the guy losing the point? I felt sympathy for Djokovic when Federer hit this amazing 'tweener at the 2009 US Open.

Fed 'Tweener 2009 US Open

Well guess what? As of Sunday when I was age 38 (now I am 39 and a lot wiser) I also lost a point off of a 'tweener. I was a little bit embarrassed especially since I know my friend Brad will never let me forget it. I can see reenactments coming at practice of Brad's 'tweener. Unfortunately (actually I am very happy no one recorded it)  I do not have video evidence to show you the carnage, but trust me it happened. Just ask Brad...

Now you might be thinking "Larry, you lost that point because you thought you had it won." I would agree with you, but I did not stand at the baseline as many players, at least recreational players, do. I charged the net, was in perfect position, and was ready, sort of.

What happened? I lobbed Brad who was at the net. As Brad ran back I am thinking "he is going to try a 'tweener". Brad did just that and hit the 'tweener with some stick. I was ready for a weak shot at best, but not a line drive! When he ripped the 'tweener to at my backhand I attempted a high backhand volley and hit it well, but in the net. I was ready but I was not really ready. Not for a high backhand volley off a ball that was coming hard from a "maginficent 'tweener" (Brad's addition to my perspective on the point). I remember thinking "you have got to be kidding me". "How did I miss that? How was he able to hit that over?" I think I also remember Brad laughing after he won the point. I knew I was not going to be able live it down (why I am writing about in my blog I am still not quite sure other than Brad wants this in recorded history for all to read).

Losing the 'tweener is a good reminder, as Brad pointed out to me in a text, that you have to be ready to play every ball even if your opponent clearly would have to "tree" to make it (hey Brad I know your practice that shot but, come on, that well?). Do not assume your opponent will miss the shot or even hit a weak shot. Be ready at all times. Even at age 39 you can relearn some old lessons. I am not the only one who needs to take something from this situation. Brad had this to say about what he could learn, 

“When I’ve managed to pull off the impossible and hit a ‘tweener, it’s never been a clean winner. All three times (That’s right, I’ve done it three times in match play), my opponent had a makeable volley that was blown due to being star struck by my glorious ‘tweener. Even I will admit that at the point of actually trying to hit a ‘tweener its all or nothing time, but I assume the ball isn’t coming back and never prepare for the next shot. It will happen eventually and I won’t be ready.”

Novak Djokovic, Brian Dabul and others that have been tortured by Roger Federer's 'tweener I can empathize with you now.  Losing that point reminded to be ready at all times. Good news is that losing the 'tweener point did not cost me a match. Lesson learned and I won't forget it, trust me!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Should you choose to return serve when you win the spin? Greg Moran from TennisOne

A Different Type of Percentage Play
Greg Moran
[TennisOne Classic]
I’m constantly amazed when I see a player win the pre-match spin and almost reflexively elect to serve. When I ask these players why they make this choice, they think for a moment and then say, "it’s an advantage to serve first……………..isn’t it?"
The pros almost always elect to serve first. The serve is the most important shot in the game and most professionals have a good one, so for them the decision is usually a no-brainer. However, if you're like me, you're not receiving a check for your match results on the tennis court so the subject requires a bit more thought.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Baghdatis is Outshined when it comes to Breaking Rackets

Marcos Baghdatis became a household name and a youtube favorite, with his destruction of tennis rackets at the Australian Open. Don't remember, here it is

Baghdatis breaking rackets on

I am sure Baghdatis would rather be remembered for his brilliant play that got him to an Aussie Open Final, but there is no doubt in this social media bonanza world we live in that his racket breaking brought him more attention.

While Marcos sets the record to my knowledge for the number of rackets broken in one match, all at one time, sometimes the type of break is even more impressive. This is a real man's racket breaking:

I will leave the perpetrator unnamed, but let's just say he "went all in"! Racket breaking can happen even to the best, most calm players. Remember Roger Federer's breaker at Miami in 2009?

Roger breaks a racket, for real

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Playing Tennis with your Beginning Child

So you want to play tennis with your child but you don't want to be a pushy parent? Or your child does not want to turn it into a lesson? Joe Dinoffer provides some great information about how to play tennis with a beginning child in a fun way.

Joe Dinoffer Playing Tennis with your Beginning Child

I really enjoyed the creative ideas Joe gives for engaging your beginning tennis player in a fun learning environment. You do not have to be a taskmaster for your child to learn on the court!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Trusting Your "Stuff" Essential to Performing in the Clutch

In my consultations with tennis players I will often refer back to Cliff Lee, in his first stint pitching with the Philadelphia Phillies, talking about his Game 1 World Series performance against the New York Yankees. On the road Lee shut down the strong Yankee offense. When asked afterwards how he was so calm Lee talked about having put the work in practice to be prepared - and then just trusting that he was ready.

Dan Rouhier posted about Lee's confidence under pressure and that post Game 1 interview on the Ahead in the Count blog.

How Do You Handle Pressure?

I relate this story to tennis players because they often struggle under pressure with hitting the kind of ball they normally would. If you have put the work in you can trust that the game will be there when you need it. Your balls will land in the court. Just go for it!

As a coach remind your player that all he or she needs to do is trust their stuff and play their game. While this may seem simplistic it is the kind of reassurance and simple thinking needed to excel in pressure moments.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Like Tom Brady, Roger Federer faces pressures of own success and time

Tom Brady and Roger Federer are facing similar pressures of having to live up to their own success while their careers begin to wind down.

Tom Brady is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. How, then, is it possible that Eli Manning, who has received as much skepticism as he has accolades, has beaten Brady twice in the Super Bowl? I would venture to say that Manning also outplayed Brady in those Super Bowls, was able to drive his team down the field on the last drive of the game to win each time, while Brady was not able to perform at his best in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVI.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Djokovic Outlasts Murray; Nadal Stumps Federer Again

How about the men's semi finals of the Aussie Open? Outstanding! Two high level tennis matches. The difference between the winners and losers were very small. In fact it just goes to show that the details do really matter. Small things made the difference in Djokovic and Nadal winning in the semis.

The big question in the match up between Djokovic and Murray was if Murray was ready to step up and take out Djokovic. Could he stay positive in the natural ups and downs of playing the world #1? Could he hit big enough and control the court and win this match? Well, he sort of answered these questions. He did step up and he did play aggressive. Murray took a 2 sets to 1 lead by playing first strike tennis. He lost momentum after that and then worked his way back in to the fifth set (after going down 2-5) by upping his aggression.

Did Murray answer the question many media ask, "Is he mentally tough enough to win a Slam?" Probably to some extent but not completely. There were ups and downs in Murray's energy in this match - the slow start and the fourth set. However, I remind you that mental toughness does not equal the absence of adversity - being flawless. It is defined by a player's reactions when in adverse situations. While Murray was not perfect, he was much improved compared to previous slam final matches. He was for the most part under control and even positive late in the fifth set. I saw a fist pump, a positive yell... If he plays like this, and keeps this mental attitude, he will win a Slam.

The question I have about Rafa-Roger is this, is Rafa in Roger's head? Roger had a great start and despite hanging on to win the first set it seemed the inevitable Rafa comeback was going to happen. Fed believes he can beat anyone, but it seems Rafa makes him doubt himself. I guess every Superman has his kryptonite.

What struck me about each of these matches is the ability of these players to bounce back. Djokovic lost a 2-5 lead in the fifth and rebounded to win the match. Rafa loses the first set to Federer, and bounces right back. Bouncing back is a true sign of mental toughness. Mental toughness is not a permanent quality like eye color; it is a dynamic, changing mindset and feeling based on the person and his reaction to his situation.

Murray, Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer are all mentally tough tennis players. Let us not doubt their mental toughness. What we see from them when they play each other is that the pressure of their opponent causes them to struggle more mentally. This is natural. When they play the rest of the field they are able to dominant mentally; they always feel they have the edge.

The Aussie Open Final between Djokovic and Nadal should be awesome. Novak is trying to win a third straight slam and Rafa is trying to reverse last year's disturbing pattern of Djokovic beating him in Finals. Simply, Djokovic has the edge on Rafa because he is able to push Rafa back off the court and control the points. Rafa will have to have a great night on his first serve and hit with depth. No matter what happens in this match we know for sure both players will remain resilient and bounce back from adversity.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Nadal Nervous in First Set Against Berdych; Reveals his Mental Toughness

Rafa Nadal is a very honest man. Sometimes he says things in the media about how he feels that I personally would suggest that he keep private. But, hey, how can you knock a person for telling the truth?

Nadal admitted that he was feeling nervous against Berdych in their Quarterfinal match at the 2012 Australian Open. It is not the first time he admitted to being nervous. And, I believe it confirms that he is as mentally tough as they come because it is not the absence of nerves that defines mental toughness. It is the ability to cope effectively and perform great when you are feeling nervous.

The following quotes come from

"The first set especially I felt that I started the match too nervous, no?" Nadal said. "I wasn't able to hit the ball long.  My movements weren't fast enough. I was nervous because he was playing well.  I thought that I didn't put enough balls in when I was returning, so I only had break points in second game."

"It's difficult against a player like him, because you don't have chances on return.  He hit the ball very, very hard and very flat.  Very difficult to find the rhythm." 

"I felt it was really important match for me, because quarters to semis is a big chance.  You start with very good feeling the season.  You know, quarterfinals is not a bad result, but at the same time is not a good one, no?" Nadal explained.

"That's why maybe I start the season a little bit nervous, and that's human. But my attitude was positive, which was the right way to overcome the situation. I think I finished the match playing at one of my best -- fourth set was one of my best levels on this kind of surface, returning inside the court, making a lot of winners from with the first ball."

Again, Rafa is able to accept that he gets nervous and adjusts during the match. I have the greatest respect for Nadal. He works hard, he is honest and fair, and treats the game and his opponents with respect. Rafa gets the mental game and does it better than anyone in my opinion.

Nadal identified in the middle of an intense, pressure-packed match that his ball was falling short and he was feeling pressured by Berdych's big play. By staying positive and becoming more aggressive Nadal won the next three sets and turned a disappointment into another triumph.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Azarenka gets Aggressive to beat Radwanska and Move to the Semis

Victoria Azarenka just provided a great lesson for all tennis players in her three-set victory over Agnieszka Raswanska. Azarenka lost the first set in a tiebreak 7-0. She responded by doing two mental strategies:
1. Having short-term memory, letting go of the loss and focusing on the second set, and,
2. Persuading herself to be aggressive.

I loved the way Azarenka responded to Radwanska's tie-breaker shutout. She turned up the intensity, hit with more aggression, and came to the net. On match point Azarenka crushed two overheads to finish off Radwanska. Victoria played with fearlessness and conviction. This is exactly the response you want from your player; to commit to the battle and go for the shots instead of backing down or focusing on their negative emotions.

Fearlessness and conviction to play aggressive tennis is what is needed to win a Grand Slam. If Azarenka can repeat this attitude against Clijsters or Wozniacki and then likely Kvitova she will win the Australian Open.

Clijsters Wins Mental Battle over Li

The rematch of last year's Aussie Open final between Kim Clijsters and Li Na went to Clijsters again, but it looked for certain that her time down under was up. Clijsters won because she weathered her bad patches of tennis better mentally and bounced back. Clijsters won slightly on the mental game over Li and it was enough to pull her through.

Clijsters was struggling in the first set with the ball striking of Li. She was being outplayed from the baseline totally and when she turned her ankle her body language made you think she was finished. Imagine the pressure she was feeling. Not only is she trying to win another slam, but it is her last Australian Open. Further, she is faced with doing it with a turned ankle, and even if she does win who knows how her ankle will heal for the next match?

Putting the pressures aside as best as she could Clijsters clawed her way back in to the second set and sent it to a tiebreak. Yet, it seemed like her fate would finally catch up to her. Li was ahead 5-1 in the tiebreak. Then, something unusual happened, at least in my viewpoint. Li made an unforced error on the 5-1 point and looked upset. She yelled out, probably at her husband and coach. Li's negativity belied what seemed to be a big edge. It made me think she was feeling the pressure and hoping that the match was over! When she needed to stay composed the most, Li's body language betrayed her. I'm not sure if Clijsters recognized it at the time, but when you are ahead you don't want to let your opponent know you are feeling the pressure.

Li continued to throw in unforced errors off the forehand and lost the tiebreak after having four match points! On those match points Li played tentative and did not hit the ball with conviction. Again it looked for all the world she was hoping that Clijsters would miss. She did not. Clijsters just put the ball in play and allowed Li to self-destruct. Sometimes just putting the ball in play is the best solution, but it is not when you are trying to finish a surging opponent off!

The third set was played with more nerves and more tentative ball striking. Clijsters handled the third set situation better despite the ankle issue and jumped all over Li early on. Li never seemed to recover from losing the four match points. Her shoulders were down and she played tentative; easily missing shots that she put away in the first set.

The Clijsters-Li rematch was again another reminder that the mental game becomes all-important when two evenly match competitors compete on a big stage. Clijsters won because she bounced back from her struggles. Li will look forward to defending her French Open championship by putting this tough loss behind her.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tension at the Australian Open between Players and Officials

Can you feel the tension at the Australian Open? It is not necessarily the five set matches, the heat, or the fuming Marcos Baghdatis destroying four straight rackets. The players and the officials have butted heads numerous times.

The most notable confrontation occurred in the second round match between David Nalbandian and John Isner. In the fifth set at 8-all and break point down Isner served what was first called out (correctly) but was overruled as an ace by chair umpire Kader Nouni. Nalbandian did not hear his call at first, then asked, and was told by Nouni that it was an ace. 

At that point Nalbandian checked the mark and a few seconds later asked for a replay. Nouni denied Nalbandian a replay because he said he took too long to request it. This has been an issue since replays were introduced. Players will stare at the mark, ask their friends in their box if it was in or out, and then request a replay.

In this case, however, it seemed Nalbandian was well within his time since the overrule was not at first heard by Nalbandian, and he should have had the opportunity to challenge the call. What ensued was an argument between Nalbandian and Nouni and even a discussion with the tournament supervisor to no avail. Isner won the point and held serve. Isner then immediately broke serve and won the match. To Nalbandian's credit he said that the overrule did not cost him the match, but then also doubted Nouni's ability to umpire "these kinds of matches" and called the overrule "stupid". 

There is certainly tension within the ATP Tour right now as players openly talk about striking. Players certainly do not feel they have control over the decisions being made about scheduling, for instance. So, the increased tension at the first slam should be no surprise. There has always been tension between players and officials. However, with recent incidents such as Serena Williams outbursts at the US Open it seems officials are less willing to talk the grief from players. Milos Raonic questioned a call during his second round win and immediately was reprimanded sternly by the chair umpire. It was reminiscent of major league baseball where the umpire will quickly and outwardly get defensive and react to the player. I think some umpires in baseball have gone too far with defensiveness when questioned, just as the players often go too far in the way they "show up" the umpire.

Looking forward to the rest of the Australian Open it would not be surprising if more issues between players and officials arose. The tension is there, you can feel it. Players believe that the officials are not doing their job and relying on the replay system. Players believe that the chair umpires do not want to be wrong and be overruled. And, while the officials really do not discuss these things publicly I am sure they would say that players are getting way too argumentative about calls, especially when the players are often wrong!

Cooler heads need to prevail here. The players need to respect the chair umpire and lines people, and also respect the spirit of the replay rule by quickly asking for the replay. Chair umpires should also be careful of not taking these outbursts from players personally (which may be hard to do when you have former players such as Jeff Tarango blasting them in the media). They need to avoid the defensive and emotional reactions that are commonplace in baseball now. Otherwise, the frustrations will continue to mount between players and officials leading to even more of these incidences.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Day 2, Murray Does Not Panic, Stosur Upset by Cirstea

In my Day 1 Australian Open blog I told you to look out for upsets. While some seeds lost on Day 1, two top 5 seeds were in real trouble in Day 2.

On an extremely hot and blustery day in Melbourne both Andy Murray and Samantha Stosur found themselves down a set and facing an opponent that was blasting winners. Murray was able to outlast Ryan Harrison winning by two breaks in the fourth set. However, Sam Stosur was not so fortunate. The last grand slam winner went down in straight sets fueling the notion that she wilted under the pressure of the intense Australian desire for an Australian to win the their home grand slam.

Why was Murray able to pull out his match and Stosur not? Well, Murray was playing much closer to form than Stosur. In fact, Stosur has not achieved much since the US Open victory. Therefore, it seemed Murray had a lot more confidence and trust in his game and was able to hang in there on day filled with tough conditions.

Match toughness and recent performances are not the only reasons why Murray won and Stosur did not. Sorana Cirstea of Romania deserves credit. Her level did not drop after winning the first set. She continued to be aggressive and control the court. Ryan Harrison similarly controlled the court in the first set but seemed to hit the wall in the second. Murray broke him early and his level dropped significantly. So, while we want to put all of the credit and blame on the top seeds, truly Cirstea won the match by playing aggressive, confident, intense tennis. It was nice to see because many of the matches did not embody this kind of tennis. Instead it looked like players were exhausted and worn out early in the matches.

Another reason why Andy Murray defeated Ryan Harrison is that he did not hit the panic button. Too often players panic when they meet a hot player; they give up on the game plan and look lost or try ineffective plays. It was interesting commentary during the changeover between the first and second set. The question the commentator had was, and I'm paraphrasing, "Does Murray change his game or continue to play the way he is and hope his opponent's level drops?"

Maybe Murray became more aggressive, but for the most part it seemed he stuck to his game plan and it paid off. Will that work against Djokovic, Nadal or Federer? Likely he will have to be more aggressive to beat these guys but what we know about Andy Murray is that he can play in different ways and yet has the fortitude to stick with his game plan against a hot opponent.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rust Showing for Men's Seeds on First Day of Aussie Open

The Australian Open kicked off Monday and true to its tradition surprises are frequent. Del Potro struggled in the first set before waking up and battling to a four set win over Mannarino. This match was up in the air even in the fourth set. Tomas Berdych lost the second set before pulling out a four set win over Albert Ramos. Fernando Verdasco was not so lucky. He started fast up 2 sets to love but succumbed to Bernard Tomic's variety of pace and shots in five sets.

The Aussie Open is the first slam and starts on the third week of the season. The timing of it makes it interesting. The training players have done in the offseason, as short as it is, is clearly revealed in the heat of the Australian summer. While no one has retired at the writing of this sentence you can bet the retirements are sure to come, maybe even in Day 1 (after writing this several players did retire).

Agassi used the off season to train hard and prepare for the Aussie Open. This enabled him to outlast and outperform his opponents to the count of four Australian Open championships. Rafa Nadal recently has dominated the Open, partially due to his dedication to training and being ready for the start of the season.

The court and the heat play a role in the surprises. The court is a slower hard court which levels the playing fields - not allowing the top players to dominate as much with a big serve or forehand.

Another issue, however, is that players don't have as much match play and so don't come into the Open feeling match tough. Basically, players have little recent experience being put in pressure situations and working their way out of them. Because of this you will see wild swings in momentum, and just plain performance catastrophes. 

Give credit to Mardy Fish. He had a tough match against Gilles Muller. Fish's workmanlike attitude and trust in his conditioning and game allowed him to work through very few rough patches of tennis and finish off Muller in straight sets.

It is important in the heat of Melbourne to get through matches as fast as possible. Otherwise, the heat can take your legs and eventually get to you late in week 1 or in week 2. Del Potro, Tomic, and Berdych will be looking for a quicker win in the second round, but must beware of rushing things. Take care of your business on court today or there is no tomorrow!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Four Steps for Improving Your Coaching in 2012: PTR TennisPro Magazine

Coaches, in the latest TennisPro Magazine I present in the lead article how you can improve your coaching by reflecting on 2011 and making plans to improve in 2012. You can check it out by clicking this link. This article is available with permission of the Professional Tennis Registry.

Looking Back to Move Forward: Four Steps for Improving your Coaching in 2012

Don't forget to check out the resource page for more useful resources.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Australian Open Blog Starting January 16

The 2012 Australian Open qualifying has started and Sunday night here in the United States the first round of the main singles draws will begin. I will be watching and blogging about key match-ups during the two weeks of the Aussie Open. Keep coming back for the latest on the mental game happening in Melbourne!

Friday, January 6, 2012

2012 ATP Tour Preview: The Top 4 Battle to Gain a Mental Edge

Alright. Professional tennis is back. I missed it for the less than two months it was on break. If you are like me it is truly interesting to see the story lines of a season play out. Last year the big story on the ATP Tour obviously was Novak Djokovic's impressive run of wins and just unbelievable season. On the WTA Tour maybe the most interesting story was the three new grand slam champions that emerged in 2011. I think in many ways you will see more of the same in 2012.

Regarding the ATP Tour - the top 4 are the top 4. Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray have set themselves above the competition. And, while Tsonga, Berdych, Ferrer and Fish to name a few had their moments where they challenged the top 4, in the Slams the top 4 were still dominating. For me the most interesting questions on the ATP tour are this:

Who will step out of the top 4 men to gain an edge this year? 

It is like a horse race with Nadal edging in front in 2010, then Djokovic grabbing the lead in 2011. And, a late surge by Federer has him poised to challenge Nadal and Djokovic. Which of these guys will go back to the practice court and find a way to get better at some atmospheric level? Djokovic clearly found the edge on Nadal in 2011 by improving his serve and getting his groundstrokes to such a level that he can dominate anyone from the baseline.

The big question for Nadal, can he overcome a string of losses to Djokovic and regain his air of dominance? Losing the #1 ranking, Wimbledon and the US Open to Djokovic had to sting Rafa. However, what do we know about Rafa? He will find a solution to the Djokovic block and battle back. I would expect Rafa to win at least one slam, if not two. My prediction is that he will end 2012 with the #1 ranking. The key is his health. For sure winning the Davis Cup has prepared him for 2012.

Will Novak follow up his unbelievable 2011 with an impressive 2012? I think he will. His game is solid and isn't going anywhere. He wins at least one slam, if not two. For sure he is my favorite at the Australian Open. He seems to have a mental edge on the other top 3 players and I think his self belief pulls him through tough moments. Djokovic has a massive amount of points to defend which can be a burden especially when you drop some along the way. It will be important for Novak to stay focused on the big picture and not get hung up on some losses that did not happen in 2011. Adding the Olympics to the calendar in July makes 2012 a very demanding schedule. Djokovic will have to accept losing some matches to win the big ones. It seems unrealistic that anyone can dominate as Djokovic but who knows. It is probably foolish to doubt Djokovic based on what he has exhibited in the past 12 months.

What about Fed? Can he win another slam? I think he can. He proved that in any given match he can raise his game to a level that is good enough to beat anyone. Remember his French Open win over Djokovic? Recently in the slams Roger has seem poised to make another run but he was unable to breakthrough. To me the Wimbledon loss to Tsonga after being up to 2 sets to love had to be disheartening. So, it was great to see Fed finish the season strong. With the clock ticking on his career, and the Olympics looming, 2012 shapes up to be a long season for Roger and it will be interesting to see if he can peak and play his best tennis this summer. The pressure will be there for Roger to win the Olympics and another Wimbledon so he will have to learn from some tough losses last year, and he will. An aggressive Federer will be a very dangerous player.

And, what about Andy Murray? Is 2012 the year Murray breaks through and wins his first slam? I think it is very possible, especially if Murray, like Novak did prior to the 2011 season, finds ways to fine tune and amp up his game. Can you imagine an Andy Murray-Roger Federer Wimbledon final or Olympic Gold Medal Match? Wow, what an amazing situation that would be. However, Murray has to find a way to play his best tennis in big matches. Being 0-for in grand slam finals probably has become a huge burden. Especially the way that Murray lost the three finals, being negative and really struggling to compete with Fed or Djokovic. A positive mindset based on the belief that his game is built to win a grand slam is a must for Murray. He will have to push aside the distractions of being the British hope and not having fulfilled lofty expectations. The responsibility is now on his new coach Ivan Lendl to find a way to get Andy to the next level (he knows a thing or two about mental toughness for sure). The time is now for Murray to get his first, but it will take great perseverance and positive belief. You do not beat Federer, Djokovic or Nadal in a slam final without great confidence. With Lendl in his camp I think Murray is back in a slam final and this time wins.

Will anyone outside the Top 4 win a Slam?

I am also very interested to see who can crack the top 4. But, to answer the question I think it is unlikely anyone will break the Top 4 and win a slam. All four are seriously motivated and have something to prove.
If I had to choose my favorite to do so though it would be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. However, can Tsonga display consistency throughout the season and for two weeks at a Slam to breakthrough? I think Tsonga is a real threat at the Aussie. This is the guy that can break through and win a slam. However, lapses in focus and injuries have kept Tsonga from finishing off strong starts. The US Open loss to Federer was particularly surprising. Fed outhit him in every way. Nonetheless, Tsonga has the talent and big game to bring it together and win a slam.

Does Ferrer have the firepower to win a slam? In my opinion Ferrer is just about as mentally tough as any guy on the tour. And you know he is going to work as hard as ever. If Rafa's stranglehold slips on the French look out for Ferrer. Unfortunately for Ferrer it seems at every turn there is another player with bigger weapons. Pulling together seven straight victories against the likes of the top 4, but also Berdych, Soderling, Dolgopolov, and Tsonga has made it too large of a task to overcome. Ferrer is capable of knocking off a top player, remember Nadal at the US Open, but following it up and doing it again has been the issue.

For any of the guys trying to crack through and win a slam there is the barrier of belief. Do they believe they can beat at least two of the top 4? Because that is what it is going to take to win a Slam. The top guys are not going anywhere in 2012 so the rest of tour needs to find a way to compete and believe in the big matches. Certainly Soderling, Berdych, Isner, Cilic, and Del Potro have big enough games but do they have the consistency and health to get it done? Del Potro is not the same yet since his surgery, but I love his game. He needs to get that mental edge back where he believes he can beat anyone.

The guys that are interesting to me because they have the potential but have not found a way to hit with the bigger players are France's Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon. It seems that Monfils has the athleticism to be more aggressive but likes to rely on his movement and defense. Simon is steady and drives his opponents nuts with a variety of shots and a mixture of pace. Neither player however has shown the weapons needed to beat the top 4 in a slam. Can Monfils or Simon develop a weapon and become more aggressive? Do they trust themselves enough to win a Slam? It will be a monumental task for either player.

Finally, don't forget about American top players Fish, Isner, Querrey, and Roddick. Fish and Isner made great strides in 2011 and seem poised to challenge the top 4. Querrey will be coming back from injury so let's hope he can find his form. And, Roddick... Does he have another slam in him? I would love to see it. I think he would appreciate it more than anyone. Again, the question becomes can these guys pull the trigger and make the shots, in a semi and then a final for over 4 hours? That is what it is going to take to wrestle a slam from Djokovic, Nadal or Federer.

How will the Olympics affect the ATP Tour?

Entering the Olympics in to the middle of a jammed US summer swing makes 2012 even more interesting. The Olympics start about three weeks after the Wimbledon final. How will players manage their schedules? What tournaments will they peak for, and which ones will they not attend? Will some players not go to American tournaments and stay in Europe - I bet this will happen. And, how will these adjustments affect their readiness to play at the slams specifically the US Open? It's hard to say. I think what you will see is the top players being very choosy about their tournaments in an attempt to pace themselves in the summer. Take Nadal for example. He plays so much tennis by the time the ATP tour hits July that he needs a break to gear up for the US Open. Likely, Nadal does not come to the US until the Olympics are over. This will give him only a few weeks to gear up on hard courts for the US Open. Rest is probably more important than matches for Nadal, but it does through in the question of readiness for the last slam of the year.

The players will have to battle not only the physical fatigue of a long stretch from the beginning of the clay season to the end of the US Open, but also the mental and emotional fatigue. So, we may see surprises in some of these tournaments. It could be a great opportunity for one of the players outside the top 4 to grab a big tournament win or maybe even the Olympics. Marc Rosset and Nicolas Massu have Olympic gold medals so surprises are common in the Olympics. The top 4 are going to have to pick and choose so opportunities will be there to win Masters 1000 tournaments.

2012 sets up to be interesting because of the battle between the top players. Who will come out on top in 2012? Don't be surprised if the verdict is still out until the US Open final. How great would that be? I look forward to an awesome stretch of tennis between May and September.