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How to Start The Second Set

The scoring system in tennis is unlike any other sport. Although one could argue every point is important, not every point is valued equally. Recall some of your toughest matches, some points were more stressful than others. Especially in a tight match, where each player is losing every other point. Down the final stretch towards the final points of the set, each point seems larger than life. The mountain of tension builds and finally explodes when one player is halfway to victory and the other has to start back at zero. In no other sport does a player or team have to go back to zero halfway through the match. How crushing! Usually the most stressful point of the set is the last point.

For the player who squeaked through the first set by the narrowest of margins, his/her spirits are sitting pretty good. The natural reaction is to relax and enjoy the good feelings for a few minutes. However, a few minutes can't be afforded against a good player. This is the optimum time to bury your opponent and double-up your efforts. This is when your opponent is liable to fold and hand you a 7-6, 6-1 victory. You see it all the time when you look at draws. 6-4, 6-1 or 7-5, 6-2. A proactive player will be weary of this "letdown" after a hard fought first set and start the second set with increased effort. This is not the time to relax, this is the time to put all your returns in the court, keep the pressure on by making balls, and make every point miserable on your opponent. This is when your opponent is most vulnerable because they are down in spirits and might just "let go of the rope" if you give them a reason to. A rookie mistake is to take this situation lightly and play loosely giving away cheap errors.

For the player who is down in the dumps, this is not the time to sulk. With all your hard work erased to zero on the score sheet, this is not the time to sulk and feel angry. This is the time to take advantage of your opponent relaxing after a hard fought set. Try to catch your opponent off guard, pouncing on their complacent attitude. If the first set was determined by a few points, I suggest not changing your strategy at all. Keep the pressure on and keep working on their mind. Keep delivering body blows, trying to mentally tire your opponent. Right away, send a message that you aren't rattled and you want to go the distance.

Often times losers of the first set panic and change their strategy. Often times this results in a quick 6-1 loss in the second. Parents, coaches, and players often overthink strategy as the answer to winning matches. Most of the time, the matches have nothing to do with strategy, but everything to do with working on your opponents head. Sometimes the original strategy was the best, especially if the first was determined by a few shots. The key is to not let your opponent off the hook and try to do something dumb. Plan A with a few minor tweaks is much better than your not-as-consistent Plan B. Try to work on their head, find their breaking point, and keep delivering body blows. Often times there is no clear roadmap to winning the match and if you are patient enough and persistent enough- a good player will want to escape the stress and eventually hand you the second set.


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