At the collegiate level, while it is the overall team effort that acquires a win or loss, tennis is still very much an individual sport.
More than anything else, this is true in singles. At this level, most players have the ability to strike the ball well, serve big and move well, plus the conditioning to go the distance in their matches.
What can often make the difference is the mental game, the player’s tenacity to keep fighting even when not playing his best tennis.
“I think we shouldn’t expect to play at our best level, everybody is tight. What is going to make the difference between the winner and loser is mental,” said junior Adrien Puget.
“One is going to be tight and negative about it, and the other is going to be positive about it. If you keep being negative, you will not take the small opportunities you have. That small difference is key.”
Puget believes this mental game will really make the difference for the No. 3 Bruins heading into the postseason, giving them the edge they need to make a deep run and hopefully win the NCAA championship.
Players said they need to have both a positive and a composed attitude on the court, getting fired up when momentum swings their way, but not letting periods of poor play make them overly emotional.
The Bruins found themselves struggling with this positivity against USC, when the players came out with a poor mentality in singles after losing in doubles.
“I thought we looked really tentative, maybe it was the crowd, or whatever it might be, I just felt that we didn’t look sharp (in doubles),” said coach Billy Martin.
“I felt our ability level was much better. I told them we have to get out there and be fired up from the first point. I didn’t want us to get ourselves in a hole after losing the doubles point.”
They ultimately beat No. 4 USC, finishing the season with a 22-1 record and a perfect 7-0 finish in conference play.
But as they face tougher opponents in the upcoming NCAA tournament, players will attempt to keep this mental toughness more consistent.
“I think we feel pretty good, but sometimes at the end of doubles matches when you are up quite a bit you can get a little more relaxed,” said sophomore Marcos Giron. “We need to work on making sure that we not only start strong … but finish strong. We can’t let that happen against the top-ranked teams where we know it’s decided by just one or two points.”