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How to finish off matches from winning situations


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

Poor old Marat Safin. [Poor? Do me a favour… Ed] The former world No.1 cant seem to put a match to bed right now.

Tuesday witnessed the Russians latest spectacular collapse from a winning situation when let a 6-2, 4-1 30-love lead against Spains Tommy Robredo slip away. He lost 6-2 in the third set. Doh.

The double Grand Slam champions latest disaster comes after defeats in Monte Carlo and Miami when he lost matches after having match points.

He led Gael Monfils 5-2 in the third set and let two match points slip away on his way to losing 7-6 in the decider at the Sony Ericsson Open and missed another two match points as again he fell 7-6 in the decider against Nicolas Lapentti in Monaco.

Weve all been there of course played well to build up a healthy lead then watched helplessly as our advantage crumbles like a soggy Digestive biscuit.

It happens to everyone, so here are some pointers to help us all close out matches

Guard against complacency. Just because youre on top, doesnt mean your opponent is done for. The match isnt over until the last point has been played play every point as if its match point.

Take your time
Its easy to start to rush, particularly as you near the finish line. Think between each point and step up to the line with a clear plan of what youre trying to achieve on serve or with your return.

One point at a time
Count the points down one at a time when trying to serve out the match it will help you avoid focusing too much on what the point score is, particularly if you go 0-15 or 15-30 behind.

Stay positive
If you start to wobble, think positively and keep body language positive. Dont give your opponents ANY signs that things are going pear-shaped at your end of the court. And dont waste emotional energy by beating yourself up over missed chances. Stay in the present.

Stick to a winning gameplan
Remind yourself of the tactics you used to build your lead and stick to them. In tight situations remember your strengths and use them.

Dont forget that if youre feeling nervous, your opponent is probably feeling just as bad.

Top players have pre-point routines for a reason it keeps them calm and focused before big points, so develop some of your own and stick to them. Know your own strengths and use them under pressure and also understand your own weaknesses and know how to protect them.

Play the percentages
On big points play clever tennis dont go for too much. Andy Murray is someone who does this well. On break points, set points and match points do the simple things well. The percentage shot when rallying from the back is cross-court (where the net is slightly lower and the court slightly longer).

Exhale when you hit the ball. Breathing is an antidote to choking.


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.