Gluten-free diets, strict fitness regimes, fine-tuned playing techniques and the most advanced technology in equipment have taken the modern-day tennis professional to a level beyond comparison with the players of old.
And while significant inroads have been made cracking the mental aspect of competing on the big stage, the battle between the ears is the one area still separating many a talked-about talent from the elite champions.
Linda LeClaire, a sport psychology consultant who has worked with top tennis players and golfers, addressed a host of coaches on Thursday at the Australian Grand Slam Coaches’ Conference at Melbourne Park with husband Dr. Bryce Young. The pair spoke about the confidence factor and how, once tennis is thrown onto the big stage, it changes from being a game to a life situation.
“We see it in the top players on the tour who normally have so much confidence in things they do, and then they get in a match and they get pushed to a certain place and you can almost see the confidence dwindling in them,” LeClaire said.
On the eve of another assault on the Australian Open, Sam Stosur finds herself dealing with the all-too familiar pressure of being a Grand Slam champion finding it difficult to juggle the pressures of an expectant home crowd.
LeClaire spoke to australianopen.com after her address about the importance of breaking the thought pattern that a player “can’t perform at home”.
“I’ve used energy techniques with other athletes that releases the old. If we don’t do that, when she gets under pressure in a match, she might come out there and look good for a while (but) when it comes down to finishing the job, that old pattern will return – ‘I don’t do well in front of my home crowd’ – and that will take over,” she said.
“It might be a fluke where we push through those thought patterns once, but then it’ll go back to the old pattern. First, Sam needs to get rid of that anxiety that she has at home – make the connection that you’re in charge of that feeling. That’s the main thing.”
The good news for players like Stosur, LeClaire said, was that the hurdle didn’t necessarily become higher with each failed attempt at home.
“It doesn’t become harder, but it might take a little longer with more things to overcome. It’s a matter of energy techniques; they’re easy to do and they work,” she said.
“Working with someone like Sam who has the talent (and) the physical attributes; it’s a matter of dissolving those energy patterns.
“When you’re playing, you want your mind to be quiet and then your body will do what you’ve trained it to do. In effect, it will do more than what you’ve consciously trained it to do because it’s picked up so much information just from experience. “
It’s an experience Stosur can draw on, doing what few players can claim to have achieved – denying Serena Williams in a final to crack the Grand Slam winners’ code.
The Australian Grand Slam Coaches’ Conference continues on Friday, with Andy Murray’s mother Judy to speak on the journey from the junior to professional ranks.