When Vitas Gerulaitis came off court having broken a 16-game losing streak against Jimmy Connors, he proceeded to make one of the great quotes in tennis history. It was a simple quote, but in the following years, it has resonated with so many people. When asked how he had finally beaten Connors, he replied: “because nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.”
Perhaps these were just the tongue in cheek words of one of tennis’ most flamboyant characters, but these words have real significance. Whether you’re losing to the same opponent over and over again or you just can’t win at all, there has to be a point where you say enough is enough. As Vitas did, you’ve got to make a change to see a change.
It’s the reason that so many of us love tennis, and it’s the reason why there are moments we hate it. Tennis is hard. You’re out there on your own, with no teammates to take some of the slack. It’s just you and your opponent, and when things go wrong, they can seem to snowball out of control.
Most of the time, we find ways to tame the snowball and bring everything back under control, but occasionally, the snowball becomes an avalanche and we find ourselves on a terrible losing streak. When you’re on one of these losing streaks, it can feel like the most awful thing in the world; a plight from which you see no escape.
However, as the saying goes, “there is always light at the end of the tunnel” and the fact is that virtually every famous losing streak in history has ended… with a win. Unless you’re worse than the worst teams and individuals in the entire history of world sport, then your losing run will end too, but it’s not enough to simply let time take its course and believe that eventually you’re going to win, you’ve got to make changes.
Vitas Gerulaitis didn’t simply walk on court that day against Jimmy Connors and decide nobody beats Vitas 17 times in a row. Breaking a habit (losing) is something that happens over time and change doesn’t happen overnight. Perhaps Gerulaitis started out by saying nobody beats Vitas 12 times in a row, perhaps it was 8, but the important thing was; Vitas made up his mind that eventually, he was going to win.
Why am I not Winning?
Obviously, everyone wants to win, and everyone can somewhat convince themselves that they can win. Few people take the steps that are required to know (with as much certainty as humanly possible) that eventually they are going to win though.
When we are losing over and over again it is easy to retreat into an emotional state on court. The lows are so low that they consume our thoughts and take control of what we do. A few lost points quickly turns our mood to anger. Then, the more games we lose, is turned to sadness. We win a few quick points and we’re back in the game. Now we become aggressive, but we get so pumped up we also become tight.
Emotions in tennis can be a positive thing but riding the emotional rollercoaster on every point stops us from thinking clearly. Logical thinking can be pushed out by emotion and before you know it there’s no real reason behind the decisions you’re making on court.
The first step to turning around a losing streak is being able to stay calm enough to be able to analyze what’s gone wrong. Ideally, you can do this during the game, but at the very least, you need to be able to do it after the game. Reasons like “it just didn’t work out,” “the luck didn’t go my way,” are not good enough. You need to be able to pinpoint specific moments in the match which turned the game and also tactical decisions that turned out to be poor choices.
If you’re too emotional on court, then you won’t be thinking clearly enough to remember these details, leading us into making emotional excuses about why we lost. Instead, what we need is a logical analysis of what contributed to each defeat.
Once we can start to understand the reasons why we are losing, we have taken the first step towards winning. Only when you have identified the problem can you fix it. Don’t just understand that you keep losing, understand why you keep losing.
Look at the Big Picture
Analyzing why you are losing shouldn’t be confined to the match court. Take a look at everything related to your tennis. Preparation is a huge part in sport and as they say, “if you fail to prepare you prepare to fail”. Think about your training, your pre-match routine, your lifestyle. Are they contributing to your losing streak?
I remember when I was in college, I would tend to lose my matches in the morning much more often than in the afternoons. Not wanting to think about the root causes, I put it down to not being a morning person. Well, when I took a second to analyze it, it turns out a McDonalds breakfast, a 2-hour sleep on the van ride to any away match and a 10-minute warmup aren’t the ideal way to prepare for a tennis match. Obviously, I was going to lose because I was preparing to fail.
As Volt Athletics recounts, Grigor Dimitrov struggled early in his career to progress as he should in the Grand Slam events. Instead of looking at the small picture – that he was losing early in Grand Slams, he looked at the big picture – it gave him more time to practice what was going wrong.
Dimitrov recognized that his losses were as much to do with his performance on the practice court as they were his performances on the match court. The fact that he was losing early in the Grand Slams just gave him more time to work on what he needed to on the practice court. As he said “you’re either getting closer to the answer, or you are getting further away. You never stay in the same place.”
By answering questions with emotional answers, such as my “I’m just not a morning person,” you’re moving further away from the real answer. Instead, you have to approach all aspects of your tennis with logic and honesty. Find the problems and then address them.
Do You Believe You Can Win?
We all say we think we can win, but deep down, do we believe it?
The truth is, we’ve lost our last 11 games, so the evidence suggests that we are going to lose the next one too. We mostly base our beliefs on evidence, so what we have to do is find the evidence that suggests we will win.
I remember once when I was a youngster, I came up against one of the best players in Europe from the school year above in the second round of a big tournament. When I had played this kid previously, I had pushed him really close, but this particular time, I was on a bad run of results. The tournament provided a nice brochure with the draw in and my Dad happened to leaf through it before I went on court, only to find that I had already filled the other kid’s name in as the winner of our match.
My chances of winning that match on any given day might have been 1 in 100, but one thing is for sure, my chances of winning that day were 0. In order to win, you first have to believe that you can win, until eventually, you know you will win. That day, I had convinced myself that I was going to lose and once you reach that point, you simply aren’t going to win.
This is where being able to accurately analyze your previous games come in. If you can pinpoint moments and decisions that contribute to your losses then you can build evidence to suggest that if you get those decisions right, then you can win.
If you look at a 6-3 6-3 loss, it’s easy to say that you got beaten pretty comfortably, but that 6-3 6-3 loss won’t say that you had 7 break points. It won’t say that you missed the return on 4 of those 7 break points, and an easy overhead on one of them. If you play purely with emotion, these facts can easily be overlooked. If you stay calm and analyze your losses in a logical manner, however, you will find that there is evidence you can win.
Tennis is a game where it is possible to win the same number of points in a match as your opponent but lose 6-3 6-3. The end results might say that you are losing, but it is guaranteed you can find good evidence to suggest you can win.
Do the Things You Do Well
This is another point that requires you to be self-aware. It’s important to know where things are going wrong during your matches, but it’s also important to understand where things go right. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is one of the most undervalued strengths a tennis player can have.
Too often, we can lose sight of what actually wins us matches. We go onto court without a game plan or tailor our plan around our opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. When things aren’t going well, it’s even more important to be playing the shots we are good at. To do this, you’ve really got to understand your game.
When I realized I was losing all my morning matches, I also noticed that I started each match terribly. The answer was quite simple, I wasn’t understanding my game well enough. My forehand is my best-attacking stroke, so naturally, I tried to get play onto my forehand as much as possible. The problem was, my forehand is also the shot where I hit the most unforced errors.
When I started trying to dominate points off my forehand side from early on in the match, I was hitting too many errors because I was tight and not yet settled into the game. The fix was easy. I played a lot more backhands early on in matches, put more balls in court while my opponent was easing into the match and allowed my forehand to build into the match.
This was a tiny tactical change, but it brought me huge benefits, all because I understood my game better. When things are going wrong, you’ve really got to understand what things you do well and start doing them. Think hard about your tennis, write down your strengths and weaknesses and then play to those strengths!
Leave Nothing Out There
This is something we should strive to do every time we go out on the court, but in reality, it’s not that easy. It’s very easy to just go through the motions on a tennis court and this is particularly true when you’re on a losing streak.
Occasionally it can be less painful to accept a defeat when deep down you know you’ve only given 80%. It’s an attempt at fabricating evidence that you can win by allowing yourself to believe that if you gave 100% you could have won. Your brain is not that easily fooled though and it’s actually a much better use of time to give 100% and prove you can win.
Small differences can make a big impact in tennis, things always seem to go your way when you’re winning, and everything seems to go against you when you’re constantly losing. So, this is the time when you have to maximize the small differences you can control.
Don’t give 97%, give 100% every single time. Chase lost causes, make your opponent work for it, even if they’re up 5-0, 40-0. You never know what is going to happen, so make every point count, the next point might just be the point that turns around your losing streak.
Sometimes, you just must refuse to lose, in order to turn around a losing streak. Don’t be afraid of losing, but refuse to give the match away, make your opponent fight for every single point. If you can turn just a few of the points you lose through not being mentally focused into a battle, this can make all the difference to your results.
Sooner or later, your losing streak is going to come to an end! You might not believe it right now, but I know it will. That’s because there’s plenty of evidence that suggests you are fully capable of winning, you’ve just got to look in the right places for that evidence.
The first step is to make sure you are not being ruled by your emotions on court. In order to find evidence that you can win, you’ve got to be able to analyze what’s happening in your matches with a clear head. Once you do this, you give yourself the ability to correct your mistakes.
By analyzing your matches in a logical manner, you will find there are a lot of matches where you are just a few small adjustments from winning. Your analysis should provide you with cold hard evidence that you can win, and that in time, you will win.
Learn more about your tennis and begin to better understand what you do well. You might find that when it comes to match time, you spend too much of your time doing things you don’t do well. Use your analytical skills to give yourself the best chance of winning every time you play and make sure you’re playing a game you’re comfortable playing. When things get tight, rely on your best shots.
Lastly, take your fighting spirit and double that every single time you go onto the court. Refuse to give up, refuse to give anything away easily, and refuse to be beaten. Sure, you may end up getting beaten anyway, but make sure your opponent has had to fight tooth and nail for that victory. You’re going to come up against plenty of players who don’t want to fight that hard, and soon enough, you’re going to turn those losses into victories.
You’ve taken the first steps, now all you have to do is make the same decision Vitas did and decide that your losing streak is going to come to an end. It may be at 16, it may be more, but one thing is for sure, it is going to end.
Article by: Will