John McEnroe Tennis Academy
  | By Miguel Cervantes III

In this article, I will cover two of the psychological aspects of tennis … particularly doubles tennis. The topics up for discussion here are attitude and accountability. Attitude on the tennis court is of vital importance. The reason is that attitude will often dictate how well you play. Tennis is as much mental as it is physical. In order to have more success, you will need to have a good attitude. One thing I tell my students is that if you want to succeed, you have to start with the expectation that all of your shots are going to be great, that all your serves will be excellent, and that you will have one of the best tennis days of your life. When you start with this expectation, you’ll find that a good day can turn into a great day and even a bad day can turn into an okay day. It’s like the old saying goes, “Whether you think you can or you cannot, you’re probably right either way.” Along with this winning attitude, it’s important to visualize everything you do before you do it. In your mind, try to see the cross-court lob, try to imagine that drop volley catching the line, and try to see that serve hit the box and curl out into the side curtain. If you can imagine it in your head, chances are that you can make it happen. All you really need is the courage to know that you’re capable of it.

The other side of the mental game in doubles is accountability. Part of playing good doubles tennis is being able to take responsibility for everything. It seems illogical that you should take responsibility for everything in a doubles match, since on average, you will only be in control of 25 percent of the variables. With this attitude of accountability, you’ll find that good shots by your opponents and bad shots by you are easier to accept. I was once playing doubles with three other players who were at least two levels higher than me. Although my team won, I found myself apologizing to my partner every game for the mistakes I was making. I had lost him his service game due to my poor volleys and even worse overheads. He responded in a way I’ll never forget. Without sarcasm or malice, he said it was his fault and that he should have served harder. What he meant was that, although I might have been a large liability on the court, his service game was his responsibility. He put the pressure on himself to serve better. If he serves better, it takes me out of the equation. If he hits the serve harder or with better placement, I wouldn’t have to put away a volley at all. This level of accountability he held himself to astounded me and it turned my thinking around completely.

From that point forward, I decided to take accountability myself of everything that happens on the court in my doubles matches. If my partner is having a bad day, it’s up to me to figure out a solution. I have to help pick up our team and make something happen, and if we lose, then it’ll be my fault for not having the ability to compensate for the things that are outside of my control. It seems like a completely irrational idea, but in truth, it is also brilliant. 

Holding yourself accountable makes you work harder, smarter and better. I suspect that this is one of the reasons that Rafael Nadal is as successful as he is. Whether it’s a bad bounce or crazy wind, Nadal’s attitude is that he should have been able to overcome the variables through hard work and practice. Like many people, I have walked off a court thinking to myself that we lost because my partner played poorly. It’s a hard thing to get over and even harder to put the blame on yourself, so apologies to all the partners that I might have blamed in the past.

Although the mental aspect of tennis is as difficult to master as the physical aspects, there are things we can do to increase our chances of success on the court. Having a good attitude and starting from the expectation that we’re going to play amazing tennis makes a difference that has to be seen to believe. Just as important, we need to start holding ourselves accountable for everything that happens in a match. Only when we can accept the responsibility of our team’s success, will we find success at the end of our matches.

Miguel Cervantes III

Miguel Cervantes III teaches at Carefree Racquet Club and privately outdoors. Miguel specializes in teaching beginners, training juniors and coaching doubles. He may be reached by e-mail at UnderstandingTennis@gmail.com.