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What Ana Ivanovic Learned From French Open Loss

What Ana Ivanovic Learned From French Open Loss

Ana Ivanovic and Justine Henin played a very one-sided final of the French Open yesterday. Justine was playing her usual high level tennis, but Ana did not play her best.

In her official interview after the match she spoke very honestly about her nerves and how they affected her.

Ivanovic and Henin

Photo by FFT

She also mentioned some other very interesting parts of the mental game so let’s see what she learned for the future and what you can learn from her.

ANA IVANOVIC: Yes, in the beginning of the match, I felt okay. I was trying to put the nerves aside, emotions aside. But then, in the first service game, it’s, all of a sudden, from one point to another. It just — it just hit me, I guess. And I had so much trouble with my ball toss, first serve. It was going everywhere. It was very hard to control it.

First, Ana was aware that she was nervous and she was working on putting emotions aside. The key here is that you don’t get even more nervous because you are nervous. 😉

When you play a big match for the first time you will very likely get nervous. (I’ll stick to this word although you can also talk about being anxious, doubtful, fearful, over-excited and similar.)

Here is another thought – you will very likely get nervous EVEN if this is your 3rd or 4th Grand Slam final and you have won many matches!

Here is what Rafael Nadal said in the last year’s interview (2006) after he won the French Open against Roger Federer:
I was beginning very nervous, no? I begin bad, a lot of mistakes. Roger is playing good, but nothing special, no? He’s playing his level, and he beat me 5 0, 6 1 very easy because I was playing very bad.

After, maybe he has the control of the game, but he give me a good chance, no, because he had 1 0 for me in the second, but 40 Love for him, and he is playing better than me, no?

I feel nervous. I don’t feel very good the legs for the nervous. After, he have three consecutive mistakes no, two consecutive mistakes.

I play one good point and I can do the break. When I have the break in the second set, 2 0, I improve in my confidence, no, because I was thinking, Now is my chance. I was playing very bad, but now I need to take my opportunity.

So I play a little bit more aggressive with my forehand. I feel I am trying with my forehand put pressure on his backhand. And maybe he was nervous, too, no? He play with nervous, too, in the second, in the third. In the first set, maybe he don’t feel the pression because I play very bad.

But when the match little bit closer, he and me, we feel very nervous. And, finally, is not easy play with because Roger play today for be in the top of the history, no? So this pression is a lot, no?

As you can see, there is almost no escaping this nervous state. But what you can do is to fight it. You don’t have to be a victim of it. Breathe, jump, get your legs moving, play aggressive tennis, exhale when you hit and run for every ball.

That way you can shake off your nervousness.

Ana Ivanovic

Photo by FFT

ANA IVANOVIC: But then, at some point I just realized what was happening, and that slowed me down a little bit. And then the nerves came into my serve, especially.

What Ana says here that as soon as she started THINKING (realized what was happening), she got nervous.

This where inner game methods help you get rid of thoughts. Focusing on the ball, staying “here and now” and focusing on your breathing will help you let go of your thoughts.

It wasn’t the French Open final that made her nervous. It were the thoughts about it.

ANA IVANOVIC: No, I think that was just she broke me back, and I thought I was okay. Just that, on 40-15, in that game, I, all of a sudden, started feeling nervous, and my ball toss was going everywhere. So I couldn’t really control it. So I start to think more about that instead of my game.

And also, I was too much focused on the serve, trying to toss the ball right, so I didn’t totally think about moving well or where should I play. And then she could use that well, she stepped up a little bit.

3 very important things here that Ana mentions:

1. I was too much focused on the serve, trying to toss the ball right.
She has tossed the ball for the serve probably 1 million times. She doesn’t have to think about it. It is already automatic. The reason why the toss was gone was because she was nervous. She needed to deal with her nerves and the toss would come back.

Instead she started to consciously control her arm and that always makes things worse.

2. I didn’t totally think about moving well
You can of course focus on having “happy feet” and moving quickly. Don’t think about HOW to move, just feel and imagine quick steps and movements. Nadal mentions in the above interview how his legs are slow when he is nervous…

3. … or where should I play
Yes, that’s how you play tennis – you imagine WHERE you will play. Not HOW you will play or toss the ball. By “how” I refer to technique – get under the ball, finish over your left shoulder and similar technical instructions.

There shouldn’t be any technical ideas in your mind when you play. You only need images of how and where you want the ball to go: deep cross court with top spin 1 meter above the net.

Of course reading this takes you half a second but imagining is 100 times faster.

Ana Ivanovic Tennis Serve

Photo by FFT

ANA IVANOVIC: I would say experience. She’s been there before, and she won Grand Slams many times before. So she knew how to deal with the nerves. And for me, that was the first time. And obviously, I wanted to perform well.

And I — I felt really good through the whole tournament, so I wanted to show my best again today. And I was little bit overexcited, and maybe even trying to do too much.

Two things that you need to notice here:

I wanted to perform well
Maybe even trying to do too much
Ana quickly realized how much pressure she put on herself and how this affected her performance. Although you want to play your best you need to stay within your abilities otherwise you will make too many unforced errors.

And when you start seeing those errors that makes you even more nervous.

Play the best you can and don’t attempt superhuman play. (unless you are 5:0 behind…)

ANA IVANOVIC: So it was frustrating for me to see that happening. Because I was expecting a good match, and tough match, and I was really hoping it could be much closer.

But again, as I said, it was the first time I was in that situation, and it was many emotions. So, yeah, I guess I can just learn from this, and maybe I can watch a match again, and see what I did wrong.

Ana recognizes that she was frustrated and that she was emotional. This will help her become aware of frustration and other emotions sooner – while still in the match – and let go of them.

Everyone of course needs to go through losses like this. No one can tell how it is and what you need to do. You need to experience it, feel it and know how damaging frustration and similar emotions are to your performance.

ANA IVANOVIC: Well, I still think I did everything I could. Just — I had a really good practice yesterday, and good preparation today, and I was really feeling comfortable coming into a final. But I just, I guess, just, once I was on the court and I was in the situation, I was thinking more about the occasion than about my game. And that’s what I was afraid of for today’s match.

But looking back, it just, basically, nothing you can really control. You can just try to learn. And now I know the feeling. So next time, probably, when that feeling comes, I will know how to deal with it better. And I can just learn from this. And looking back, I can’t regret anything I did.

What can you control in a tennis match?

Nothing. And that’s a very advanced level of thinking what Ana demonstrates here. If she can really understand that nothing is under her control, she can let go of pressure and play her best.

Again, she says: once I was on the court and I was in the situation, I was thinking more about the occasion than about my game.

So she is learning from this and I hope you are too, without any comment on this one.

ANA IVANOVIC: Well, for sure, I have ambitions to win Grand Slams and reach a position of No. 1. But I think this was a great experience for me. And in order to reach that, I have to go through this situations and through lot of tough matches, and also dealing with the nerves and the pressure.

Again, very mature and realistic thinking from Ana. She knows that she has to go through these situations, experience them, learn from mistakes and improve.

It’s much easier to accept your mistakes as a part of the learning process than if you see them as mistakes that will forever define who you are.

ANA IVANOVIC: And on the end of the day, we are alone on the court and we have to find a way to win on our own.

Very true. Tennis coaches and players need to be aware of this fact. Tennis coaches can be too helpful many times, feeling the responsibility for the player and helping them at every occasion and thus they prevent the player from developing problem solving skills.

And players must not rely on their coaches, look into the stands and look for answers outside of them. There are many more problems out there on a tennis court than a coach can solve for a player.

The role of a coach is to teach the player how to think, how to analyze and how to approach the problem. And the player must become actively engaged in solving tennis problems instead of waiting for someone to help them.

ANA IVANOVIC: Yeah, I was a little bit — little bit angry with myself, because I knew I could perform better. And I knew I should have taken maybe a little bit more time. But still, I was maybe even rushing too much. So that’s — that was really frustrating to realize that after the match.

That’s one of the main differences between experienced players and younger players. Experienced player realizes that she is nervous and deliberately takes more time between points to calm down and avoid rushing.

When you are for example 1:4 down you obviously don’t want to be there. And you also want to get back on track as soon as possible. The set ends at 6 and you don’t have too much time to get back.

Ana Ivanovic Fighting
Photo by FFT
But as you already learned there is nothing you can control in a match. There is nothing more that you can do except focus on your mental and strategy game and play.

And rushing actually hurts you since you try to hit winners and forcing shots when it’s not the right time.

ANA IVANOVIC: I was just trying to relax, to move little bit better. Because once you start to get nervous, you get tense, and you can’t really move.

And just every mistake, you take too emotional. So I was just trying to relax, to breathe deep. And maybe I should have taken even more time between points.

And for the end, Ana nicely summarized her lessons learned and perhaps taught you a lesson in the mental tennis game too.

You can read the full interview with Ana on the official Roland Garros website.

Related posts:

Interview Insights – Ana Ivanovic at US Open 2009
My Daughter Is Nervous When Serving, Help!
Tennis Serve Toss Expectations And The Reality Of It
How Can Tennis Parents Help Their Children With The Mental Game?
Winning Is NOT Your Responsibility

Essential Tennis Instruction – FREE Video Lessons on How to Improve Your Serve

This entry was posted on Sunday, June 10th, 2007 at 4:10 am and is filed under Ana Ivanovic, French Open, Mental Tennis. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “What Ana Ivanovic Learned From French Open Loss”
george Says:
June 30th, 2007 at 7:50 am
We all stand for Anna,Jelena and Novak.

[Reply]

Tennis Forehand Says:
October 14th, 2009 at 4:13 am
It seems that they will play again in summer 2010. If Henin will make a good comeback offcourse!

[Reply]

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