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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ferrer, Almagro and the Mental Game at the Australian Open

David Ferrer's 12-0 record versus Nicolas Almagro may have kept Almagro from having his finest day. Almagro was two points from his first Slam semifinal at the Australian Open. Three times Almagro served for the match in the third and fourth sets, and three times Ferrer broke Almagro. Eventually Ferrer won by two breaks in the fifth set.

Is Ferrer Almagro's worst nightmare? Ferrer now is 13-0 versus his fellow Spaniard, and I think that dominance kept Almagro from his first semifinal in a Slam.

Ferrer Defeats Almagro in Grueling Five-Set Match to make Aussie Open Semis (

Just imagine for a moment that you played tennis against someone often, but when you played a match when it mattered they always beat you. Then, at the most important tournament of your life you played them again and you were beating them. How good would it feel? But, the specter of never beating the person reveals itself as you are about to close them out. How emotional would you be? How hard would it be to focus on just hitting the ball?

Almagro lost the mental game against Ferrer, and it is understandable. 

Unfortunately for Almagro David Ferrer played his best when he was down. So, while Almgaro would have benefited greatly from a few free points, he got nothing. This is Ferrer tennis, though. You are going to have to hit winners.

While David Ferrer mentioned post-match that it was his fighting attitude that allowed him to win in such an improbably way, Almagro seemed lost to understand how it happened again - losing to Ferrer.

“I think I tried to play my best tennis today,” Almagro said. “I say few days ago with my last press conference I will try to play aggressive, I will try to play my best tennis, and I think I did today. Is not enough to beat David. But we'll see what happen in the future."

So, Almagro's thinking is that he tried to play his best but his best is still not good enough to beat Ferrer? Almagro is attributing the loss to something stable and permanent. This is not a good thing for Almagro. It suggests that he cannot change what he is doing to create a positive outcome against Ferrer. This thinking will carry over to the next time he plays Ferrer, and it will not help him.

Almagro went on to address his mental game.

“I don't want think that it's a mentality problem. If I have mentality problem, I think I didn't win the first two sets.”

This is partially true, but I think Almagro is looking at this from an unhelpful view. Ferrer is 13-0 against you, and you had him beaten. You were the better man on January 22, 2013, even with adductor pain. The first sentence is the key, "I don't want to think that it's a mentality problem". Now duly note that English is not Almagro's first language, but still something changed when he tried to serve it out. Yes, Ferrer buckled down and played more consistently. However, Almagro seemed less sure of himself, and less aggressive. So, my impression from the match was that Almagro lost the mental game on this one day because he has never beaten Ferrer. Too much burden along with trying to make your first Slam semi.

I, personally, would not view this as a mentality problem. That makes you think of a personality flaw for which closing out matches is not. Instead, Almagro should look at it as something to work on that he can improve. So, he did not close out the match. Crap happens. Figure out why and work on it. Otherwise, you will be doomed to suffer it again. Hitting more backhands, forehands, and serves is not going to solve this issue.

I have argued this over and over again. Mental toughness is not a trait. It comes and goes. It is something you can develop, and also you need to constantly sharpen and refine it. Almagro is not mentally weak by nature. Instead, he needs to work on closing out matches against the top players and really believing he will win. We all must take this step to become the best in our profession. The question becomes does Almagro really focus on his mental game and improve it, or disregard it and hopes that by doing the same thing he will get a different result next time? My advice, you are 0-13 versus Ferrer; somehow find a mental edge.

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