Sunday, June 16, 2013



You see it more clearly when the players are young and new to competition, but it’s common to all levels of tennis. Two players are locked in an on-court battle for varying lengths of time and then one player wins the battle of wills that takes place in the head and the match is essentially over. Don’t be fooled by appearances, the remainder of the match may seem competitive and the points may be exciting, but the match was over once the battle of wills was decided.

That early “arm wrestle” decided the outcome of the match. Think about that for a moment. “THE ARM WRESTLE DECIDES THE OUTCOME OF A MATCH”.

In a majority of cases both players start matches believing they can win. Both players can even start the match believing that they will win. Something changes that self-belief during the contest for one of those players.

Is the importance of winning the game of wills really anything new to us? Haven’t people been saying that tennis is 90% mental for a long time now? If we believe that tennis is 90% mental then why do players still contest matches focusing solely on the quality of their “Game”, meaning strokes and strategy? I’m not saying technique and tactics are not important, I’m simply saying we may be missing an important point here, that the arm wrestle is the key to unlocking our opponents resolve and eventually you winning the match.

During this year’s French Open Rafael Nadal repeated a pattern throughout his matches that emphasized his belief in winning the arm wrestle first. In all his matches he played relatively conservative tennis in the early stages of a match, never going for too much, maintaining a cross-court pattern and putting a great deal of effort into defense when he needed to defend the point. Later, when he had won the arm wrestle and his opponent began to make errors Nadal would start hitting his forehand down the line more and come to net to finish the point when he could. He could sense his opponent’s will had been broken.

This “breaking of wills” can take varying lengths of time. With Ferrer in the final of the French Open it happened within the first 4 games. Some players take longer.

It’s no coincidence that the other great exponent of the early arm wrestle is Novak Djokovic. Djokovic won an epic match against Wawrinka at the Australian Open this year in a match that saw Wawrinka throw everything at Djokovic for 5 sets, only for his game to break down in the dying stages and lose the match.

Andy Murray and Roger Federer are two players who perhaps expect to play sublime tennis and win matches.  Sometimes this works with the other players but with Djokovic and Nadal, who are programmed to think in terms of the arm wrestle first, it’s not working.

I have heard it said that “The final tactic is Guts”. I believe the first tactic is guts. Tactics and technique create a platform, but the arm wrestle is god. Change your mindset and start putting the arm wrestle as your primary job, particulary in the beginning of matches until the battle of wills has been decided.