In tennis, how many times have you won the first set easily, were leading in the second by a large margin, only to inexplicably lose the second, and then the third set?
Let’s be honest. The frustration of losing after having a seemingly insurmountable lead is unbelievable. You start doubting your ability. Even worse, you don’t want to go near a tennis court for a few days, weeks, and in extreme cases, for a month or so.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned problem seems to happen more to beginner or intermediate players than they do to advanced players, who have more skills. That’s not to say that advanced players never give up big leads, because they do at times.
Usually when a player loses a match that he or she should have easily won it is because of three main reasons: 1. They have stopped using the serves or shots that were winning for them. 2. They have failed to try different shots or strategies when it has become evident that the momentum, unfortunately, has swung back to their opponent. 3. They have become so nervous that they can’t correctly execute the serves or shots that had been winning for them earlier.
How then, can you return to winning when you feel the match slipping away?
Once you feel your huge lead is slipping away, you should concentrate on hitting the two or three shots that you feel the most comfortable with. For instance, when you were serving and winning, you may have been hitting many first serves in that were scoring outright points or giving you easy returns. Suddenly, your first serve is missing and you are forced to hit a much easier second serve and your opponent is keeping you on the defensive with hard returns. Now is the time to hit a well placed spin serve that clears the net with plenty of room to spare and goes deep and into the corners on your first serve. Although you won’t be getting many aces you will be putting pressure on your opponent to return a much better serve than what you have been hitting. In addition, you won’t be pressured by having to hit a second serve. If you do have to hit a second serve be sure to clear the net with plenty of height to spare.
As for your ground strokes you should concentrate on being as steady as you can. This means that you should be hitting them as deep as you can with heavy topspin or deep slices, while clearing the net at a good height to keep your opponent deep in the back court. Don’t try to put your return of serves away. Hit the returns deep into the server’s court and concentrate on keeping the ball in play. Many players feel that they should slightly clear the net on their ground strokes to give their opponent a lower bouncing ball. Although this strategy has some merits you are not leaving yourself much margin of error.
Other tips to avoid giving up a big lead are as follows: 1. You don’t want to bounce the ball 12-15 times before you serve like Novak Djokovic does. However, bouncing the ball only once or twice could cause nervousness or force you to serve before you are ready. My advice is to bounce ball slowly 4-5 times before you serve. This seems to have a soothing effect and should allow you to serve much better. Why? First, you are slowing down the game and helping yourself to become more relaxed. Second, you could be frustrating your opponent. He realizes that he has made a great comeback and wants to play each point as soon as possible.
Other tips that may help are taking deep breaths in between points, watching the server bounce the ball, trying to see the ball hit his strings as he serves, following the ball from the time he strikes it, and then following the flight of the ball all the way until you hit it. Finally, if at all possible, try to keep your shots out of his comfort zone.
By following the aforementioned tips you should show improved play when you have a big lead that is being threatened by your opponent.