In men’s tennis, the serve is a big weapon for many players. If you have broken your opponent’s serve, a key skill is to refocus effectively between games and between points, in order that they are given as little chance as possible to break back. Routines are crucial here, to stop your mind wandering onto unhelpful thoughts such as errors made on earlier points. This type of mental skill needs to be rehearsed regularly, just as the serve itself needs frequent practice.
On 22 March 2017 in the Masters 1000 event in Miami, Benoit Paire had attained a 5-4 lead in the first set against Martin Klizan. Paire is known to be a little unpredictable in his behaviour, and there had already been signs that he was on edge. Nonetheless, he has a good serve, and was looking a strong favourite for the set against an opponent who was also not at his best. The game progressed something like this:
– a rally ensues on the first point. Paire plays a high drop shot, giving Klizan plenty of time to hit a backhand pass which Paire cannot return.(0-15)
– double fault. (0-30)
– misses first serve, then energetically smashes his racquet on the court (umpire awards code violation-warning). After fetching a new racquet, makes a reasonable second serve. When the ball is returned, Paire plays a drop-shot from a poor position, which dies weakly in the net. (0-40)
– smashes another racquet, seemingly attempting to exceed the force he used the first time. The umpire gives a second code violation which, as Paire must have expected, results in a point penalty. (Game awarded to Klizan).
Paire therefore did a fantastic job of showing exactly what not to do. Each error he made compounded the previous one- there was no indication of his even attempting to clear his mind between points. However, this was not in this case an irredeemable situation. He pulled himself together sufficiently to win the first set in a tie-break, and eased steadily away from an injured and out of sorts Klizan to clinch a straight-sets victory. So he progressed in the tournament, but this incident emphasised the need for him to put in some work on his mental skills!Embed from Getty Images