There are many things that you can do to ensure that you start the match playing the best tennis possible. These are a couple of things that will help you start the match strong.
- Pre Match Routines - Establish clearly defined pre-match routines. These could start the night before when you get your outfit ready or start to properly hydrate, or could start the morning of the match with a nutritious and well balanced breakfast. The routines can continue throughout the day until the start of the match. I went to same bathroom stall before my matches during an entire tournament.
- Arrive Early - Arriving early for your matches is critical to starting a match playing well. You can not rush in to your match and expect to be ready to play.
- Connect with your partner - Ideally, you know the person you are playing with and have some form of connection. You might be friends or practice partners. If you are paired with a player you don't know, I would suggest you ask your captain for your partner's email address and send her a short note to introduce yourself. The note can simply state you are looking forward to playing the upcoming match. You might also include your receiving side preference and suggest you each arrive 30 minutes early to warm up if possible and get to know each other a little. Once the match starts you should form a connection with your partner before each point. This could be telling them where you are serving, or if you plan to return and come in. It can also be a high five, or just a friendly nod and a few words of encouragement. It can be verbal or non-verbal. Natasha and I communicated after almost every point. Before serves it was important that the communication be verbal as we each needed to know where the serve was being aimed. If verbal communication wasn't necessary, as in the case of some returns, we would make eye contact, nod heads or simply slapping our thighs while saying "come on" from our respective positions. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple gesture.
- Have serve and return routines - A routine is a series of steps that help you get into the optimal state of mind. The routine should be performed before each point. Routines are very important in tennis because they help you get into the optimal state of mind. Most players have serve routines, but many overlook routines when you are in the three other positions of doubles, returning, returner's partner or the server's partner. Serve routines in doubles are different than in singles because they should include communication with your partner. Before you approach the line to serve, you should have a discussion with your partner about the plan for the next point move. Be decisive with your choice and when in doubt go with your first instinct.
- Have a Plan - A very important step to playing successfully is to have a plan, stick to it when it's working and change it to Plan B when its not. To establish a plan you must understand your team's strengths and weakness as well as your opponents' good and bad shots. Formulate the plan with your partner so you are both on the same page.
- Playing to win vs. playing not to lose - There is a major distinction between playing to win and playing not to lose. Playing to win means hitting shots that will help you compete as effectively as possible - the shots you have been working to hone for years. Playing not to lose is hitting the ball much softer than usual and just hoping the other team will hand points to you. You should always start a match playing to win. Have a game plan and implement it. Don't hope to win because your opponents had a bad day or had to default. You should want to win because you played your best tennis that day and it was good enough to beat your opponents. All you can ever do on a tennis court is try 100 percent on each shot. The rest, you have no control over. Playing tentative and not to lose is not giving 100 percent. It is hoping your opponents roll over and hand you the match. If they happen to give it to you, great -- but don't play waiting for it to happen.
These very easy to implement tips should help you start your match playing your best.