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Dave Sammel: dealing with pressure


Originally published on: 26/02/10 16:32

Choking is prominent in all areas of competitive tennis from club standard to the professional circuit.

We thought it was high-time we asked our coaching editor and MCTA Managing Director Dave Sammel to discuss this issue.

The lowdown
The subject of choking is very interesting and I hope to shed some light on an experience that happens to every person on the planet when confronted with taking action to get something they really want and definitely dont want to lose.

Moving feels heavy, like the beginning of a freeze, breathing gets shallower and the desire to go into a shell is high.

Dave on the choking basics
It will always target your weaknesses and exaggerate your insecurities. For instance if you tend to miss forehands under pressure this will generally show up when you are tight and can possibly fall apart.

The finest antidote is competence. If a player is secure in their game they can still perform well when choking. Practice does not make perfect under pressure (no human is) but it can go a long way to producing quality under stress.

A fine example: Andy Murray
Andy Murray used to get very uptight on court especially during longer matches or when he felt he ought to be winning easily but was not, which meant he had to be out there longer so was afraid of the knock on effect and being tired in later rounds.

If he felt he was being overpowered he stressed because he was weaker than many pros. He did not trust his physical abilities enough and this was where stress hit hardest until he took it upon himself to do the extra work and get the right help to attack this weakness and turn it into strength.

He can now focus on playing without a nagging doubt in the background, and therefore no longer chokes because of a weakness. He thus moves and performs better under pressure.

Dave on mentality
Mentally there are two major factors in tackling a choke. Firstly, you need discipline to bring aggression to the table, and secondly the discipline to move and bring energy to the court is crucial.

Dave on Rafa
Here is what Novak Djokovic had to say about Rafael Nadal after their 2009 Monte Carlo final: You could see him at 5-1 up in the third set, he played like it was 5-all. He really doesnt care about the result. He just wants to give his best every point.

Rafa has worked out that aggression and work rate on every point is the best antidote to choking. It is a way of life for him, when he is tight he still has most of this at his disposal. He also continually works hard to improve so his competence is growing all the time.

Dave on discipline
A great competitor is a normal person having the discipline to live in a special way. Nowhere is this mental control more obvious than in the


Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.