Pre-match tips: Preparing like a champion

May 21, 2015 03:43 PM
By Dr. Larry Lauer & USTA Player Development Coaches, special to
Preparing to play a tennis match with positive energy is similar to entering the highway when driving. You don’t want to enter the highway at 30 mph; you may get run over! Instead, if the speed limit is 65 mph, accelerate to 55-60 mph as you enter the highway. 
As you prepare for a match, use the time to mentally and physically get close to match speed with your shots, movement and mind. This will help you get off to a fast start and compete with your game plan immediately.
Prepare your game to compete
  1. Practice the way you want to play. This includes practicing between-points routines.
  2. Have your bag/equipment ready – racquets strung and gripped, healthy snacks, lots of water, sports drink if needed, extra clothes, extra pair of shoes, towel, hat, sunscreen, etc.
Prepare your body to compete
  1. Rest: Follow a consistent schedule of at least eight consecutive hours.
  2. Wake up: Rise a minimum of two hours before the match (if match is at 8 a.m.). The optimal wake-up time is three before the start of a match to be alert at match time. 
  3. Breakfast: Choose juices, fruits, yogurts with cereals, toast, etc. (no milk, cheeses, butter, pastries).
  4. Hydration: Drink 1.5 liters of water with electrolytes two hours before the match begins and continue to drink during the match. 
  5. Training before the match: 
    • Physical warm up: 15 minutes. 
    • Technical warm up “on court” 30-45 minutes, including specific plays/situations in preparation for opponent. For example, being aggressive on second-serve returns, midcourt forehands, etc.
Prepare your mind to compete
  1. Choose three “how to play the game” goals to focus on before and during the match. These are usually things you have been working in practice; focus on tactical and competitive goals such as following your routine, running for every ball, dictating with your forehand, etc.
  2. Rest seated alone in a quiet and cool place the final 15-30 minutes prior to your match (without talking to other players), listen to music or read (no distractions, phones, computers, etc., these things require mental energy and can make you mentally tired prior to the match). 
  3. Visualize mentally the match that you will play (and be prepared for positive outcomes as well as adverse situations).
Prepare to be at match speed
  1. Physical activation: Once you have been assigned a court, do three to five minutes of physical activation before going out to the match (i.e., sprints, quick feet drills, reaction drills, shadows with racquet, etc.).
  2. Mental activation: Focus on your process goals and become excited about the match.
  3. Warm-up with opponent: Move and hit the ball vigorously. Feel like you have started the match.
Professional tennis players are professional off the court; they prepare their game, body and mind to be at their best. Check out our tips from the pros to be professional in your preparation.
Professionalism is one of the most important values of a great tennis player. An important component of it is being prepared for matches, physically and mentally. Take our 90-day challenge. Review our best methods for preparing for matches. Choose three things you will do for the next 90 days and make it a habit!
Three Essential Ways to Prepare for Matches Like the Pros
  1. Be vigorous in the warm-up. Move your feet and hit out on the ball. Hit your shots big and miss, and then bring it back in to the court. You want to know what you can do with your shots on that day.
  2. Set three process or “how to play the game” goals for your match. Then visualize how you will play your match for 5-10 minutes with or without music. That way you will be focused on playing the way you have practiced, which takes the pressure off of focusing on winning and losing.
  3. Twenty to 30 minutes before your match, get focused by putting away your phone and stop socializing with friends and family. Do dynamic movements to get the body and mind warmed up


Dr. Larry Lauer is the Mental Skills Specialist for USTA Player Development.