There is a big difference between hitting a tennis ball and playing a point. There is also a big difference between practicing and playing an actual match. When I am working with a player, I do my best to emphasize technique and simple key thoughts while structuring the practice situation to simulate an actual point.
If you only work on hitting the ball without considering the different issues you face in a match, the practice will not be a good preparation for the competition. Adding consequences for winning or losing a point can help, even though you cannot exactly replicate all the feelings of a match.
One of the best things for a player to do is to use some of their practice drill ideas during a point. For instance, hitting two or three crosscourt groundstrokes and then changing the direction to down the line, can be a great thought once the player has gotten into the point. I use a drill emphasizing the first four shots-a player serves, opponent returns serve to the opposite side of the court from where the server is, and server and returner both hit their first shots crosscourt.
This is another great mental thought when you are starting a point in a match. If a player can play a lot of points in a match like they have been practicing, their play will be more instinctive and automatic, producing a better result.
Structure your practices with this idea in mind and play like you practice!
Steve Annacone, USPTA Elite Pro, is the Director of Annacone Tennis, www.annaconetennis.com and MyHamptonsPro, www.myhamptonspro.com throughout the Hamptons, NY. In addition, Steve and Miguel Coelho have introduced the JET (Junior Elite Tennis) program at the Tucson Jewish Community Center (Tucson, AZ) for high level players ages 8-18. Please contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org