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.
What can all of us learn from Sharapova? First, Maria clearly had a plan for dealing with the situation of serving out a match. You might think this is a ridiculous statement since she has won hundreds of matches and all tennis players, if they play for much time at all, are faced with the situation. However, many tennis players have no plan for how they want to work through the serving out situation. It seems players without a plan have a chance to serve it out and they think "oh wow, here I am what now?" Who knows what happens next. If you do not have a plan you leave your hopes of winning to chance. Sharapova leaves nothing to chance. She immediately went to a pre-planned routine. What she was thinking, I don't know. Just as important, though, is the fact that she had a plan to compose herself and to be ready to serve it out.
The next thing I liked about Sharapova's serve it out game was that she took her time. She did not rush to get the balls or to step up to the line. She took her time. Sharapova went at a pace that was comfortable to her in the situation. Her pace created a composure that you could feel through the screen. Just watching her made me believe she would serve it out.
Along with that last point was Sharapova's body language, very confident and controlled. Her face looked determined but not agitated or nervous. She stood tall and looked strong. Sharapova seemed loose and not tense, and at the same time intense and focused.
Finally, and the thing that I look for to determine a player's focus, Sharapova focused her eyes in select points of the court. Prior to serving she looked down at the racket, up at the other service box, then back down as she was bouncing the ball, and then as she was raising the racket to serve she almost rolled her eyes back. Then, boom, she cracked the serve and her focus was narrow and external - on the ball.
Even between points Maria kept her eyes on her strings and within her area behind the baseline. No looking around at the crowd. No looking to her box. It was an exhibition of great confidence. She knew what she had to do and knew she was going to do it. She did not need moral support from her player's box. Sharapova trusted in her game and controlled the service game with the pace she wanted. Her approach was not affected by the emotion of the situation. Furthermore, her body language was sending the message of total confidence and her eye control kept the distractions out of her field of focus.
What a great exhibition of confidence and focus. All because Sharapova had a planned routine that she has practiced.