The Power of Mind Games (Tennis)

Mind games. This is a phrase often used derogatorily in any setting in life. It connotes manipulation, an action which people often take to be as bad as sin itself. However, in a competitive setting when the stakes are incredibly high, to say the least, equipping yourself with something in order to gain that crucial, no matter how dubious, is in our opinions excusable and understandable. The greatest strategist in war would definitely agree with me on this. It is he (Sun Tzu) who said that deception is the highest art of warfare. What are some incidences of strategic deception in the world of professional tennis? Read on to find out!

2016 US Open Men's Singles Semi-Final

This match looked extremely weird to us the moment we were watching it, to say the least. A semi-final match does not deserve to be played at such quality, particularly on Monfils' side. His deliberate refusal to not put in any effort, for huge stretches of the match, was totally incomprehensible to us. That is, until we reflected on this during a discussion among ourselves shortly afterwards. We watched a Yotube replay of the match, and observed that most of this effortlessness was carried out (carefully chosen phrase) in the earlier stages of the match. Djokovic's rhythm was clearly disrupted, and he played as bad as Monfils' game-play was effortless. That Djokovic was taken in mentally was especially obvious in how he threw away three games in the first set when he should have closed out in six straight games. Monfils knew that Djokovic, being a counter-puncher, sends his opponent's devastation back at him. He thus neutralized this preference of Djokovic by simply giving the ball no pace. He knew he could never beat Djokovic the standard way, through back-to-back hard rallies, so there was no harm in trying this alternative strategy out.

2014 Gerry Weber Open Men's Singles Second Round

This is another match in which one party knew he could not defeat his opponent the conventional way, chose an alternative more mental strategy as a result, and ended up beating his opponent who he supposedly should lose to. For those of you who have not heard of him, meet Dustin Brown, one of the most unorthodox players on the tour. He holds the unheard-of distinction of having beaten Nadal in all their matches thus far. What exactly were his mind games against Nadal then? He attacked every single ball, and we mean every single one of them. How is this psychological then? Well, your overall approach to the game is a function of your psychological attitudes towards your game, and a base of comfort within which you are used to playing certain styles of play, or going up against certain styles of play. Nadal is mentally comfortable in rallies, the longer the better, and hates disruption. By taking away this element of comfort in Nadal completely, you put his mind in chaos. Do not be fooled by the constant look of fortitude in Nadal's expression, such is merely a poker face we believe, hiding a tendency for emotional turmoil within. Just how easily disrupted is Nadal to mental disturbances - the need for his bottles to be aligned in a certain way throughout the match says a lot about this.

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