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'Tennis- best played one point at a time'

Learning to play one point at a time
By: P.Dent K.Reynolds

Mental Skills Drills

Tennis is best played one point at a time'

Learning Outcome: Learning to play one point at a time

“If you can nail it down and play point by point, shot by shot. It is absolutely, I believe, the ingredient you need”    Tim Henman

Teach It

Invite the players to think of a player who is higher ranked/rated and perhaps whom they lost against relatively easily last time - an opponent who seems just out of reach.

Using a tennis ball to represent 10% they place a number of balls in a row on the court representing their chance of winning the match against this opponent.

Now say, “Taking the very first point of the match as a stand-alone, one-off point, place another row of balls under the original row showing your chances of winning this one single point.
Then ask the players to do the same for the second point of the match as a stand-alone event.

You can see from the diagram that when a player can contest the match one point at a time, his perception of his chances of being successful increase by 100simonsball%!


1st point   

2nd point

3rd point

Ask your players to identify how many points make up an average tennis match.

The following point information from the 2008 Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final might help players to accept that one match is made of many points and points are collected by both players. In the match lasting 4hours and 48 minutes with Rafael Nadal beating Roger Federer 9-7 in the 5th set in the 2008 Wimbledon Final only 5 points separated the two with Nadal winning 209 points to Federer’s 204 points. Therefore Federer only needed to have won three more points for him to have won more points than Nadal!

The mental fitness of both these players allowed them to view and play the contest as not one entire match but as 413 individual, stand alone matches.

A tennis match, rather like a boxing match is about taking blows. In boxing these are literally blows, whereas in tennis the blow is the loss of a point. Imagine, a young boxer who thought that he was the only one in the ring who had the right to hit the other, being hit on the nose! When young tennis players understand the nature of the scoring system in tennis and can accept losing points they are better equipped to win more points.

Train It
Percentage Tennis

Before serving, whilst rehearsing competitive points, players are invited to use the two balls in their hand as a ‘trigger’ to play one point at a time. The two balls represent a choice – selecting one of the balls with which to hit your first serve reflects a mindset of ‘one point at a time’ and a higher percentage chance of being successful, whilst selecting the other ball says you are choosing to play the point with negative emotional baggage and a lower percentage chance of having a successful outcome. If the higher percentage tennis choice is made and the serve is missed, the player simply looks at the remaining ball and mentally splits it in two. The player again has two choices and rolls the ball so that the half they choose is face up.

Test It

The player identifies a behaviour which they associate with having ‘got to the next point’, indicating they have a ‘one point at a time’ mindset. The purpose of the charting system is to provide the player with some supporting evidence that when he plays with a ‘one point at a time’ mentality he not only performs well but he also wins more points!


Score before the event

Reason previous point was won or lost

Presence of one point at a time ‘trigger’ behaviour


Performance/Effectiveness in the next point (1-5)

Next Point


1-4, 0-30


FH attacking ue





4-4, 30-30



BH ue







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