On Monday when I was contemplating the strengths and weaknesses of my own tennis game, here comes Devin Britton, college soph and current NCAA men’s singles tennis champ, to play the US Open first round against (wait for it…) Roger Federer.
If you are not a tennis fan, don’t worry. All you have to know is (a) while Britton is ranked No. 1,364 in the world, Federer is ranked No. 1, (b) while losing to Federer in straight sets, Britton did actually get a couple of serves past him and even won 9 games to Federer’s 19, (c) while commentators including John McEnroe (himself a former NCAA champ) rattled on about Britton’s nerves, shaky legs, and slow sprint speed, all they could say when he started to show some strength against Federer was “Is Roger facing the wind?”
The day when wind significantly influences my tennis game is the day I start cutting my grass with nail clippers.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the mental side of a lot of my activities. Tennis, bowling, musical performance—there’s some mental focus/distraction and practice/spontaneity issues going on. As I’m doing these activities, I find myself thinking, “I’m really in the groove right now,” and then I jinx myself into throwing a gutter ball. Or I get so carried away by the music that I myself am playing that I run the musical train right into a brick wall at full speed. Or, on the bright side, I come off of a lousy tennis week easing up on the energy and actually faring pretty darn well.
How does one conquer the mental game? I’m looking at Devin Britton, and I’m thinking that whatever I’m doing, I should play it like I have nothing to lose. Relax. Remember the basics. When it speeds up, slow it down. When it’s going badly, start over at no score. Keep thinking that losing to Roger-freaking-Federer is the most genuine “it’s an honor just to be nominated” moment. Entertain for half a second that beating Roger Federer would rock like a caveman convention in a quarry, but know that this, too, would be deemed by McEnroe et al to be the fluke of all flukes, especially if you go down in Round 2 to Johann von Nobody.
As for Devin Britton, he may be out of the Open, but he’s still got his NCAA title, his future tennis career, and a $19,000 paycheck for 88 minutes of play securely in his court. Not bad at all.