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Have you ever been in the position of trying to serve out a match and for some reason you just haven’t been able to do it? You are not alone. This is a common mental struggle for many tennis players of all levels.

Why is this so difficult? What often happens during these times is players change their focus and what they are thinking. You might start thinking “I just need to win the next 4 points” or “what will happen if I lose this point.” If you get behind in the game you might think: “I need to play better and win this set” or “I don’t think I can close this out, he is going to win this game.” You lose focus on the process of playing well and focus on the outcome instead. The win seems so close and it can be difficult not to count down the points or feel like you have already won.

A change in mindset like this distracts you and causes nerves and tension. You don’t know what to focus on. If you make a few mistakes, the self-doubt creeps in and you get even more tense. This can lead to choking. Tennis players have told me during these times they feel like they can’t move as fast, their legs are heavy or their shoulders/arms are tight and it affects their shots.

If you can’t close out the match at your first opportunity you let the opponent back in, you have even more nerves and lower confidence. Worse of all you are less likely to win and you feel disappointed as you didn’t make the most of your opportunity.

To avoid this and close out matches with confidence follow the 3 Mental Muscle Training Tips below:

1. Focus on what you have already been doing well: Don’t change anything. You may feel like you need to do something different or special but, really you need to keep doing what got you in the winning position of closing out a match. It is important not to change how you play.

Players during this situation often hold back because they are afraid of making mistakes or losing the match. This leads to them playing more timid and making more mistakes. This is the opposite of what you need to do. You want to keep playing aggressive and go for your shots. Don't worry about making mistakes; be confident that you can bounce back if there are mistakes.

2. Focus on the process of playing well not the outcome: As described in the introduction it is easy when closing out a match to focus on the score or how much you want to win. This is especially true if you get behind in the game. Remember you can’t control the score or your opponent. You can only control you and your play. The best use of your energy is to focus on the process of playing well and on things in your control. This can be your game plan, specific focus points or your goals for the match.

What do you focus on when you are playing your best? It could be nothing, your breathing, a few technical points or few positive/helpful thoughts. Figure this out ahead of time (maybe during practice or from one of your best matches) and use this to refocus whenever you become distracted by the outcome/score.

3. Focus on playing one point at a time: Don’t get ahead of yourself. Let go of mistakes quickly as you don’t have time or points to waste. Focus on playing your best for every single point. This way you will achieve peak performance as your mind is completely focused.

How can you do this? Use a refocusing routine if you get distracted by the past/future or can’t let things go. This is a mental routine containing specific steps that quickly help you refocus and play one point at a time. Use a pre-serve routine so that you can focus on serving your best for each point. This should be a well-developed mental and physical routine that gets you in the zone before each serve and enables you to serve your best when you need it.


If you follow these tips you will have a winning mindset. This mindset should give you the confidence you need to close out the match. Confidence is very important especially if you get behind in the game and self doubt creeps in. Instead of starting to think you can’t close it out, have confidence in your mental game plan.

Key Points

  • Focus on playing one point at a time

  • Use a pre-serve routine

  • Use a refocusing routine

  • Focus on what has already been going well in the match

  • Don’t change how you have been playing

  • Focus on the process of how to play well

  • Ignore the outcome/score

Bonus Tip:

Put these 3 tips on a coping card to keep in your tennis bag. Coping cards are index cards containing key tips and strategy you can use during a match. Be creative with this and write them down in a way that is going to help you most. You can look at this between games and right before you have to serve to close out the match. This will remind you of the mindset you need and you will be more likely to apply these tips successfully. I do these with clients regularly and have found it to be very effective.

If you would like more customized tips and an individualized mental training plan you can Contact Me here. You can also find out more about my services and why you should work with me on my Services Page here.

If you want to get more tips and exercises, sign up for my free newsletter here. You will receive my free e-book: Top Ten Mental Mistakes Athletes Make In Competition: What Every Athlete, Coach and Parent Need To Avoid To Improve Mental Toughness. Plus you get the strategies top athletes use to become mentally tough and get an edge over their opponents.

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Zoe Littlewood, M.A. -
Sport Psychology Consultant & Mental Skills Coach

Zoe specializes in working with individuals, teams, parents and coaches to produce performance enhancement, mental toughness and a winning mindset.

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