How to Not Choke in Tennis

Serving for the match is classic choke time.
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Many Nestie tennis players can relate to this scenario: You've been playing a three-hour match in the hot sun; your energy has long been drained. You finally have match point, and the pressure is on. If you lose this point, there's no telling how much longer the match could last. You have to win the point, but you double fault. You have just choked, meaning you threw away the advantage of being ahead in a match by making an unforced error. Instead of berating yourself, learn never to choke in a tennis match again.

Fool Yourself

    If you are freaked out because you have match point, don't think about the score. Play a little mind game with yourself by pretending the score is one you prefer. Many people play their best when they are behind love-40 because they feel they have to play their best to turn the game around. If that works for you, pretend you are behind. Dennis Van der Meer of Van der Meer Tennis in Hilton Head, South Carolina, recommends that tactic. Another suggestion is not to think about the score at all. Play the ball instead, meaning to concentrate only on the ball, and play the point out as if it is just another point.

Calm Down

    Keep cool under pressure, recommends tennis coach Paul Gold. Choking comes from anxiety or fear. When those emotions take hold, it's difficult to play your best. When you feel the telltale signs of anxiety, such as an increased heartbeat, take control. Slow down and take relaxation breaths. Inhale deeply through your nose and slowly exhale through your mouth. Do this a few times until you feel calmer. The next time you practice, pretend to be in a pressure match situation. Make it a regular drill to play a tiebreak against your hitting partner. When you are faced with a real tiebreak in a match, you will feel more in control and calmer because you have practiced that scenario in drills.

Talk Positively to Yourself

    If you are serving to win at match point, don't say to yourself, "Please don't double fault." That is talking negatively to yourself, which is more likely to cause you to choke. Talk positively to yourself instead by saying, "I will get my first serve in and win this point." You don't want to play not to lose; you want to play to win, writes Lindy Lou in the United States Tennis Association's question-and-answer page, "Improve Your Game." You won't win every match, but you will make your opponent beat you; don't beat yourself by letting yourself lose through choking.

Understand Your Strengths

    Sometimes you don't necessarily choke at match point, but you lose it anyway because your opponent stepped up her game. You need not only to avoid choking; you need to close out the point and match. Do that by focusing on your strengths. Think about what got you to the position of getting to match point by visualizing yourself playing your best right before you serve for the match. Understand that the last point or points leading up to the end of the match will likely be the most difficult. Being prepared for the challenge and concentrating on your strengths will help you not to choke.

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