In TQT 007, I talk about match momentum – what it is, how to keep it when you have it, and how to get it when you don't. Below is an edited version of the transcript for this episode that you can read through if you want to get notes or keep a checklist on match momentum tips.
Have you ever played a tennis match that moves way too fast? You think you’ll warm up any minute now and get a rhythm going. Next thing you know, you’re down a set, its match point and you just lost by hitting your return WAY out! Did two sets really go by that quickly?
Or maybe you’ve found yourself in this scenario. You’ve just lost the first set of your match 0-6. Your opponent then wants to take a bathroom break and of course you do too, grateful to have a breather. You come back for the second set and suddenly, it’s a real battle. In fact, you end up winning that set in a close tiebreaker and go on to win the third set 6-0. What just happened? How did you win that match after being crushed in the first set?
If you’ve ever had the feeling that you’ve been “rushed” through a match, or if you’ve had the feeling that somehow a match that you thought you were winning just got off track, or if you’ve somehow magically made an incredible comeback in a match you thought you would lose, then you’ve experienced match momentum. And controlling match momentum can be a very important part of playing winning tennis.
So just what is match momentum?
According to dictionary.com, momentum is defined as the impetus of a course of events. In a tennis match, momentum is that perceived feeling that things are or aren’t going your way. When you have momentum, you’re usually winning or mounting a great comeback. You feel unstoppable, like things are going your way and are going to keep going your way. When you don’t have momentum, you feel like you’ve lost control, like everything is going against you and you can’t seem to get a grip on what’s happening on court.
In a tennis match, momentum comes into play whether you’re winning or you’re losing. And, whether you’re winning or losing, it is important to figure out how to gain, regain and ultimately maintain control of the momentum of your tennis match.
Now, before we go any further, let me say that I’m not talking about controlling momentum through any type of gamesmanship or rule breaking. Rather, I’m talking about taking advantage of those opportunities that you are afforded in any match, whether by the rules of tennis, the rules or regulations governing your league or tournament, or just common tennis etiquette.
So, first, let’s talk about what to do when you have no momentum in a match and you’re looking to gain it from your opponent. When a match feels like its quickly slipping away from you, you need to give yourself a chance to take a breath, regain your composure, and figure out what’s happening on court. In this situation, to regain momentum, or to at least try to take it away from your opponent, you want to slow things down.
So how exactly do you slow a match down?
Well, to start with, look no further than the Rules of Tennis. I’m guessing that whatever match you’re playing, the International Tennis Federation’s Rules of Tennis apply. You probably know that Rule 21 provides that the server shall not serve until the receiver is ready and the receiver must play “to the reasonable pace of the server and shall be ready to receive within a reasonable time of the server being ready.”
So when you’re the server, you set the pace and it should be a “reasonable” pace. When you’re the receiver, you play to the pace of the server and you have to be ready within a “reasonable” time of the server being ready. But really, telling you to be “reasonable” is not too helpful.
So let’s look at Rule 29. This rule states that “play should be continuous” and, to accomplish this, players are allowed a maximum of 20 seconds between points and 90 seconds when changing ends between games.
What does this mean for you? Well, if you want to slow things down, make sure you’re taking your full 20 seconds between points and 90 seconds on changeovers. I know this doesn’t sound like much time, but you’d be surprised how long 20 seconds is when you’re trying to get a grip on yourself and come up with a game plan. Other acceptable ways to slow things down a little include these:
- Slowly and deliberately work your way through your service ritual. And if you’re not sure what a service ritual is, check out Tennis Quick Tips Episode 4. I’ll include a link to that in my show notes for this episode.
- Adjust your strings while looking at your racquet between points.
- Walk to your spot to receive, with your back to the server so it’s clear you’re not yet prepared to receive.
- In fact, take your time by walking, not running or jogging, everywhere between points.
- Take a drink of water between games and on changeovers.
- In doubles, talk to your partner after each game or at least on changeovers. Even a word or two between points is acceptable.
- Tie your shoes if you need to.
- Retrieve stray balls, return balls to other courts and just generally keep your side of the court clear of loose balls.
In all of these situations, when you create these opportunities to slow the pace of the match down, use the time to calm yourself and come up with a new, improved plan to respond to your opponent’s game.
Now, if you’re in the position of having match momentum on your side, you want to keep the match moving along at your pace which should be a pace that is not only comfortable for you, but is also leaning towards brisk. I’m not saying that you want your pace to be fast, but you do want to move the match along in a way that prevents your opponent from taking a breather, regaining THEIR composure and coming up with a plan of attack against you. First, to keep the match moving, that you do not need to take the full 20 seconds between points or 90 seconds on changeovers that the rules give you. Just take the time you need, no more. Other great ways to keep the match moving include:
- Quickly take your place at the baseline and begin your service ritual even if your opponent is not prepared to receive (with the obvious caveat that you will only serve when the receiver is ready).
- Quickly take your place at the baseline and always be ready when you are receiving. Do not wait on the server.
- Move quickly to your place on the other side of the court during changeovers.
- Keep chit chat with your opponents to the bare minimum, or even better, avoid it altogether.
- In doubles, maintain focus with your partner on the match and what is happening on court. Do not start making your lunch plans during the match.
In these situations, where you are trying to keep the momentum going, the important thing is to always appear energetic and ready. You must let your opponent know that you have no intention of slowing down or taking a break and giving them a chance to regroup.
I think if you apply these tips in your tennis matches, you’ll find yourself not only gaining control of the match momentum, but also producing better match results for yourself. You’ll be able to more easily close out those matches that you seem to be dominating and you’ll give yourself a way back in to those matches that seem to be slipping away.
Here are the links to the resources I mentioned in this episode:
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Thanks for listening and, as always, Happy Tennis!