Mental Toughness In Tennis: Best Way To Build & Conquer It!

Have you ever thought why the “King of Clay”, Rafael Nadal is so determined and hard when playing on the tennis court? Or why John Isner is so good at tiebreaks? If you ask yourself this question to your coach, there is a strong possibility that they will say, “practice of years and years”.

What if I say, this answer is partially true and it is missing something very important which is “Mental Toughness in Tennis”? If you are a beginner-level player, you may have not heard of this term before, or if you are an experienced player, you may have heard about it rarely.

That’s why I have decided to explore this topic in detail for you so you can eliminate all the hurdles to achieving your tennis goals.

Before we move further, let me define what is mental toughness in tennis for those who are learning about it for the first time.

What is Mental Toughness in Tennis?

mental toughness in tennis
Excited Novak Djokovic

You may have faced a situation multiple times where you feel yourself under pressure and start losing self-confidence when the game gets competitive. As a result, you start losing more and more points and even the match.

This is what we call a lack of mental toughness. In other words, we call a player mentally tough when he/she can easily take tough and straightforward decisions when the game gets competitive or when the player is under pressure.

In simple words, the ability to take quick and right decisions with ultimate focus under pressure is called mental toughness.

For example, we all have seen that Rafael Nadal is so confident till the end of the game even when he faces challenging situations. This is the level of focus you should aim for.

Gaining mental toughness with time is a great benefit of tennis.

Various reasons may put you under pressure and unforced errors are one of them. The good news is, I have already written a detailed article for you on unforced errors in tennis. Do read it as well.

Now coming back to the answer from other coaches, which is “practice more and more”. This answer is now complete from all aspects of tennis training. But it doesn’t end this here.

By now you know what is mental toughness in tennis, let me share the proper ways how to improve mental toughness.

In a summary, you need a strong mindset besides being physically strong to overcome the tough situations in tennis.

How to Determine Who is Mentally Tough in Tennis?

Determine Who is Mentally Tough in Tennis
Katie Swan Looking Confused

First, clear your mind that there is no straightforward formula to determine mental toughness in tennis. Did you notice I have used the word “clear your mind” at the start of this paragraph while this word is not necessary?

When I say “clear your mind”, you have prepared your mind to accept the fact by clearing all previous assumptions. This is the same technique we are going to use later in this article to improve our mental toughness.

Now, things are getting interesting. Let’s move forward without further ado.

So, the one way to determine who is tough in his/her mind in tennis is to see who makes more points at a pressure point. You can take pressure points as the situation when both players are trying their best to win the point. For example, a tiebreaker game.

A few examples of mentally tough tennis players include; Novak Djokovic is good at mental toughness against any opponent. While in female tennis player, Chrissy Evert is mentally tough when she comes against Serena Williams.

So, we can say that a player who manages pressure well under a tough situation is mentally tough, no matter how tough the situation is.

Note: Don’t take me wrong here. I am not saying that professional players don’t feel pressure. We all feel under pressure, the mental toughness defines who manages the pressure well in a tough situation.

So, the mentally tough player is the one who feels the pressure but manages it at the best level without losing any confidence instead of the one who says I don’t feel pressure.

Now finally, we are ready to learn about tennis mental toughness improvement.

Mental Toughness in Tennis: How to develop and improve it?

By now you know enough about mental toughness, let’s find out how to improve mental toughness in tennis and how to maintain it.

1. Live in the Moment

Live in the Moment
Happy Roger Federer

The human mind works strangely. If you feed it one word, it will generate hundreds of lines of text in a short period. The same thing happens when you are on the tennis court.

Being a tennis coach, when I say live in the moment, I mean forget about the best shot that you just stroke or the worst shot. Just focus on the shot that you are going to hit and prepare yourself for it.

The reason is when you start thinking about your best stroke, your mind goes into self-praising mode and you may become overconfident and miss or hit the next shot in a bad way.

On the other hand, if you start complaining that you couldn’t hit the last shot properly, you start losing confidence and undervaluing your skills.

That’s why I say live in the moment. Don’t let your mind go into an overexcitement or demotivating state. I know it feels good in theory but tough in practice, you can achieve it with a lot of practice. One way is to start practicing alone more and more and work on your mind as well to take your mental toughness in tennis to the next level.

2. Keep Moving and Breathing

This technique works well for me. The idea is to keep your movement pattern unpredictable, it helps lose stress and pressure as well. Another benefit of this technique is that it puts your opponent under pressure because they have to be very alert about your movement.

Have you ever noticed that whenever you are under pressure your breathing pattern changes? This is where we start making mistakes and in tennis, we start losing points.

What you have to do is take long breaths and try to keep breathing in a normal routine because your body needs air to do proper functions, and think about the right decisions.

There are different breathing patterns to keep yourself calm under a pressure. Read more about breathing patterns here.

3. Try Different Affirmations

Affirmations for Mental Toughness
Happy Elina Svitolina

Affirmations work wonders when it comes to improving or building mental toughness in tennis. This tactic works great for me whenever I feel under pressure during the game. First, keep breathing and look around and appreciate the things around you. Don’t use any negative words when using affirmations.

For example, look around and say, “Today the weather is very beautiful and I am feeling so calm and my mind is getting relaxed” or something like this “Tennis is great fun to play on the court, especially on a day like today”, etc.

These are just examples of some affirmations, but you can find more and even develop your affirmations. Remember, don’t use any negative words in your affirmations.

This method has helped me to a greater extent to improve my mental toughness in the last few months.

Note: Your affirmations should talk about the present moment, neither past nor future. For example, affirmations like “I will perform well in the next stroke”, or “I did very well in the last shot”, will simply not work.

Because in this way, your mind is going into self-praising or self-demotivation mode based on assumptions. Rather you need to modify your affirmations based on reality and logic.

For example, I would modify the above-mentioned affirmation like this, “It’s a great day and I am performing very well according to my skills”.

Don’t blame your equipment rather praise it like “I have the best tennis racquet and it’s going to help me win the match”.

4. Practice Like You’re in a Tournament

Practice Tennis Like Real
Yana Koroleva Playing Wholeheartedly

No matter if you are practicing alone or doing some tennis drills with your partner, don’t take it as practice. Always practice like you’re playing in a tournament where your ultimate goal is to win.

It means you need to bring some intensity and aggressiveness to your tennis training sessions. Try to create a pressurized situation by increasing the pace of the game or any other way that works well for you.

Once you are successful to create a pressure point, this is where your actual pressure begins which is pressure management.

After mastering pressure management, you can do whatever you want to do on the court. You can also use this pressure against your opponent and put him/her on toes.

Remember, it will not work overnights. You have to practice a lot to achieve this level of pressure management.

5. Envision a Strong YOU!

think like strong
Happy Rafael Nadal

Once you have admitted that you are strong and can do whatever you want to do on the tennis court, you can achieve a good level of mental toughness in tennis.

What you have to do is envision a strong image of yourself and now try to make your existing body up to that level.

When I say strong, I am not referring to big biceps, chest, etc. I am referring to a mentally strong person who is good at taking tough but right decisions in any situation.

Our mind works in a way where it reacts the same that you feed it. If you see yourself as a weak player, you will be a weak player.

On the other hand, if you keep praising your skills and have a strong image of YOU in your mind, you are going to be strong. It will also increase your work productivity.

6. Don’t Get Confused by External Factors

Stay Focused
Confused Maria Sharapova

My first point was “Live in the moment”, but let’s make it more meaningful. Live in the moment, but within yourself only.

In daily life, there is always YOU and there is always an audience or crowd. When it comes to tennis, there is a third person, your opponent.

Never let the crowd or your opponent control you. Don’t worry the crowd is going to pass some good and some bad comments. All you have to do is ignore it and just focus on your ultimate goal – winning the match.

In the same way, if you let your opponent control you, you will be playing more like a reactive game instead of an aggressive one according to your strategy. A reactive game means you are playing their game not yours.

It’s good to react to your opponent but differently. So, you will be closely monitoring your opponent and understanding his/her weaknesses. And then use those weaknesses against him/her.

7. Learn or Stress – Choice is Yours

Learn or Lose
Maria Sharapova Sitting on Tennis Court

We all face stressful situations in tennis and our daily life as well. Stress is good because if you don’t get stressful situations, how would you get experience or learn about new tactics?

There are two types of players in tennis. One who faces tough situations and learns something new from them and makes this stressful moment in their favor.

You guessed it right! The other one gets stressed and completely submits himself/herself to the bad situation and ends up in more stressful situations instead of focusing on the ways of getting out of this stressful moment.

What I am trying to say is not just focus on the effect but rather focus on the cause. It’s more like the cause-effect formula.

Once you are affected, I mean lost a point in tennis, now it’s time to focus on the cause. You need to figure out what caused you to lose the point and learn from it, and you should aim that you are going to improve this next time.

This is how we, as tennis players, learn and improve our skills moment by moment.

8. Practice! Practice! Practice!

At the start of this article, I mentioned that the other tennis coaches are going to say, just do a lot of practice and I disagreed with that statement.

Now I agree with that statement because after adding this much information to that answer, now that answer is complete.

You must have heard this proverb,

“Practice makes a man perfect”.

I simply don’t agree with this statement. Because imperfect humans can never achieve perfection. With this statement, we are setting the wrong goal, which is perfection.

When it comes to tennis, all you have to do is perform better than your opponent. PERIOD!

So to do this, you have to practice a lot.

But how to practice a lot? Are you going to pick up a racquet and start smashing the balls days and nights?

Of course not.

What you have to do is understand the weaknesses of your opponent and prepare the right strategy. For example, if your opponent is weak at groundstrokes, you have to practice groundstrokes a lot.

I know you must have this statement in your mind, “I don’t know about my opponent because I may have a completely unseen player whom I never played with.”

The right solution to this problem is, always do your practice sessions with different tennis partners instead of practicing for months with only one partner whom you have studied well in the last few sessions.

If possible, add an experienced tennis player to your team. You will learn a lot about your weaknesses as well.

Now you know what is meant by practicing a lot in the right direction. Let’s move to the conclusion.

Conclusion: Key Takeaways for Improving Your Mental Toughness in Tennis

It’s true that we all face tough situations in daily life and more frequently in tennis. This happens due to various factors that we can’t control. But what we can do is learn from it and make the right strategy to get out of it.

It’s possible only when we keep ourselves calm and full of positive thoughts whenever we are in a stressful situation.

Keeping yourself calm is again linked to how strong you are mentally and how strongly you are prepared for a bad situation. It means you have to work on your mental toughness in tennis to win more and more points, games, and matches.

I hope you have learned a new thing, or at least, learned how to improve your mental toughness further. Am I right? Let me know in the comments section below.

Don’t forget to share this article with your friends, family, or tennis colleagues who you think need mental toughness.

Best of Luck!


What is mental toughness in tennis?

Mental toughness means staying calm in tough and stressful situations and taking the right decisions even under pressure. So, in tennis, mental toughness means continuously working to achieve the ultimate goal by keeping the original strategy.

Why is tennis so mentally difficult?

In general, tennis is not mentally tough. However, there are some points where situations get tough like when the pace of the game gets fast and you have to work hard on your mind to win the match. In other words, you have to keep building or modifying the strategy in a very shorter period of time or even in seconds. This is where tennis gets mentally tough.

How can I improve my mental toughness in tennis?

The idea behind all methods of mental toughness is to make your mind strong enough that even under press you make the right and quick decisions. Different methods include:

  • Focusing on your match only instead of the environment.
  • Keep moving and breathing normally.
  • Add daily and on-court affirmations to your routine.
  • Practice like you play a real match.
  • Don’t get confused by external factors.
  • Always have a learning mind even if you lose the match.
  • A lot of practice.

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