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5 Tips to Win a Tiebreaker

Victor Fraile / Getty Images

You might have landed yourself a tiebreaker with a monster comeback and are feeling strong, or you might have blown a lead and are beyond frustration. Whatever the reason or state of mind, here’s the reality: You’re not winning. You’re not losing. You’re tied. Here’s what you need to do to untie things in your favor.

1. Take a chance.

You don’t want to be stupid, but look for an opportunity to pressure your opponent. The tendency in a tiebreaker is to play it safe and merely put balls back into play. That dynamic is ripe for coming in off a serve and picking off a casual return. You have to assess your own tolerance but keep in mind that increasing your aggressiveness means going from 60-70 rather 60-90, says Brad Dancer, University of Illinois men’s head tennis coach.

2. Manufacture stress.

 Pick a safe spot on the court and increase your pace to it by 20 percent. “It’s fake pressure,” Dancer says. But it keeps you swinging and loose, and may just in fact put actual pressure on the other guy. “It’s the mental game of tennis. A strong player won’t be affected but a less savvy player could be,” he says.

3. Use spin.

You can generate more racquet head speed with lower risk for error. When your racquet head slows, your muscles tend to tighten up. The result is either pushing the ball, or, if you try to hit flat, sending it out. Hitting either slice or topspin will take the pressure off and will force your opponent to have to make decisions about how to handle heavy, high bounces or low, short shots, says Justyn Schelver, co-director at the Van Der Meer Tennis Academy.

4. Serve like it’s doubles.

Hit at about 80 percent of normal pace and focus on making a high percentage of first serves. Using spin works here as well and can provide an unexpected change-up. Even with reduced pace, you’re still putting in a first serve and your opponent will have to respect it, but you’re also avoiding the pressure of having to hit a second serve. Going into his body is an effective target. It’s a big area of the box, and, when the pressure mounts, the feet stop moving, making it harder to get into a good return position, Schelver says.

5. Stay with your routines.

They bring consistency and calmness, and are especially good for crisis situations. Throw in some deep breathing as well. It’s an often repeated tip, but it remains simple and effective for putting you in the present moment and, because there are no free points in a tiebreaker, immediately focusing on what’s under your control, which is not the score but sticking with what’s been effective. When you rush, you tend to forget that your opponent’s inability to hit a backhand return still holds true. Along with that, play to your strengths and hit him balls that will feed your strengths. You’ll have more confidence and make it easier on yourself dealing with shots that you like. “There’s not a lot of guesswork,” Schelver says.

Steve Calechman has written for Men’s Health magazine, Natural Health, Philadelphia, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, The Robb Report, and Women’s Health magazine. Learn more at SteveCalechman.com.

Tags: Tennis, Focus, Outdoor Recreation