Tennis is full of "down time", or moments when you are not actually playing the point and hitting the ball. It is during these moments that players tend to lose focus and check out mentally. One of the most common issues players want help with is having consistent performance during matches. Most players engage DURING the point but bring a different level of focus IN-BETWEEN points. So how can you level out your mental performance and maintain high levels of play? Do the work in between points. For every minute of actual physical performance you will spend about 4-5 minutes having to mentally perform. This time is often unstructured and scattered, thus explaining the up and down play. Most players have certain routines or rituals to help them reset and refocus, but it is more than just going to the towel and looking at the strings. Here are a few ways to work more efficiently between points and level out your performance:
Take your time to get ready. Every player is different in terms of how much time they like to use in between points. Andy Roddick was a notoriously fast-paced player, whereas Rafael Nadal would consistently get time violations. Most players will take more time after longer points or before a big moment in the match (i.e., facing break point). A general rule of thumb: take more time when you are 1) frustrated, 2) not playing well, 3) behind in the score, 4) after long points, and 5) before the important points. Play at your normal pace of play when things are going well or the opponent is struggling.
Have a strong walk. Make your opponent feel your court presence in between points by "walking strong". Walk with a purpose; head up, shoulders back, racket in a strong position. Jog to the chair on changeovers and back to the court when it is time to play again; make them see that you are in control regardless of the score. What do you want your opponent to see when he/she looks at you from across the net?
Match or exceed their intensity. When you get behind the worst thing you can do with your time is be flat or negative, especially when the opponent is bouncing around and looking strong. At a minimum you have to match your opponent's intensity; if they are bouncing between points then you do the same. When you get ahead, maintaining your focus is much easier when you are continuing to be positive after good points and showing positive body language. Match their intensity when behind, exceed their intensity when ahead.
Develop your on-court presence and start to do the mental work in between points. In doing so, you will find your inconsistent play will begin to level out. Train hard. Dream big.