By Evan Valeri
In my previous article I discussed which ATP players in the modern game have the most desirable strokes. As we have all seen before, the player with the superior technique is not always the winner. In this article we will take a look at which players have a strong mentality on court as well as other supporting aspects of the mental game.
Man with a Plan – Roger Federer
You don’t become number one in the world for more than 300 weeks without having a plan when you step on court for battle. Not only plan “a” but also plans b, c, and d. Federer has the ability to dissect a player and exploit their weaknesses while playing to his strength. He moves opponents around all areas of the court better than anyone and it appears as though he often has them on a string, playing a well conceived game of cat and mouse. You can often see Federer pull opponents into the net with a short slice backhand, forcing a weak approach, which allows him to blast a ball which they are unable to handle. Roger is smart and adaptable on court. If his first plan isn’t working he changes gears so he can stay ahead of any foe.
Winning the Clutch Moments – Novak Djokovic
Having a better deciding fifth set record (.721 win percentage) than any of the other players in the top ten says it all. When the pressure moment arrives, Novak knows how to win and that is why he has won the most majors the last few years and is the number one player in the world. Novak knows what points he can afford to lose and save energy if need be. He can also understand which points and games of each set are the most important. At these times he elevates his game and makes his opponent crack under the pressure. Djokovic flat out knows what it takes to win and how to play his highest level of tennis during the biggest moments.
Mental Toughness – Rafael Nadal
This category represents a variety of aspects of the mental game combined into one. Level headedness is the ability for someone to glance at you, and whether you are ahead 5-0 or down 0-5, they won’t be able to tell. Mental toughness also includes the ability to front run and not relax if you are ahead, and not stress out if you’re behind in a match. There is one man on the ATP tour who is better than anyone else at keeping the pressure on, fighting his way back, and keeping his cool. That man is Rafael Nadal. Rafa has an amazing .827 career winning percentage because he is the most mentally tough player on tour.
Physical Fitness – David Ferrer
Being in the best possible physical shape on a tennis court gives a player a huge advantage mentally. David Ferrer is not only one of the fastest players on tour but can play at the highest level for longer than anyone else out there. This is a huge advantage during a five set match. Knowing that even if your opponent is winning, if you can force a fifth set your victory is almost inevitable. David knows this and embraces it with twice as many five set wins throughout his career as losses. Just as important as being fast and having superior stamina is the ability to avoid injury and David has done a great job staying healthy during his years on tour.
Court Coverage – Andy Murray
You won’t find a player who can cover more of the court during a match than Scot Andy Murray. Murray is fast on the tennis court but more importantly he knows how and where to recover. Like a great chess player, he is fantastic at anticipating his opponent’s next shot. Murray has been known for being content at playing rallies from 30-50 hits in length and move better side to side as well as forward and back than anyone out there.
A player who has the best strokes in the world and a complete mental game would be difficult to beat. No matter how efficient your technique or how mentally strong you are, a player still needs to know how to execute on court. The ability to play a winning style of game is pivotal in defeating your opponent. In the final article in this series I will take a look at the different game styles and which players excel at putting them into play.