STEP 3: Keep the Stress Levels Low in the Early Going
Have you ever noticed how quickly your nerves dissipate once you get through a few games and your mind is fully absorbed on the task at hand? Why not try to accelerate that process, so you can swing a little more freely right from the first point?
Start with that most basic of bodily tasks: Breathing. During the day of your match, take some deep breaths—breathe through your nose, and down into your stomach. “Stomach and diaphragmatic breaths will kick in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is designed to chill us out,” says Jeff Greenwald, a California sports psychologist and author of The Best Tennis of Your Life: 50 Mental Strategies for Fearless Performance. As you get ready for a match, take a few minutes to clear your mind and visualize how you want to play as you take half a dozen full breaths. Continue this on court by inhaling slowly and deeply, through your nose, as you recover between points.
If you can, hit some balls and work up a light sweat before your match, and keep the blood flowing through the warm-up. Once play begins, don’t add extra pressure by trying risky or overly aggressive shots in the early going. Take a little pace off and get some first serves in; make a few returns safely down the middle of the court; concentrate on holding your first service game: These small successes should help settle your nerves and put you in a positive frame of mind.