Uncovering Agassi’s Mental Edge - article

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by RadekStepanekTheKing, Nov 20, 2006.

  1. RadekStepanekTheKing

    RadekStepanekTheKing Hall of Fame

    Feb 11, 2006
    Uncovering Agassi’s Mental Edge

    By John F. Murray, Ph.D

    He gave his absolute best on the court, played with a flair and grace that few will match, and kept giving fans what they wanted long after his body said stop. In a grateful spirit for his many lessons of passion and competitiveness, let’s have one more tribute to the legend that was Agassi.

    I was always aware of how great Andre was. He appeared calm under pressure, ripped the ball from corner to corner with amazing power and precision, and displayed tremendous sportsmanship. But I had never spoke with him nor coached against him until this year – his last year on the tour - at the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships.

    I was working that week with Ramon Delgado from Paraguay. Ramon beat Bobby Reynolds in the first round before we both looked up on the large drawsheet and saw the name “Andre Agassi” as the upcoming opponent. Time to get to work!

    Delgado was a great mental training student. He kept cool, stayed resilient and focused on each and every point win or lose, and fought like crazy. Ramon won the first set over Andre and had two match points leading 6-5 in the second set. It was at this point that Agassi put on his superman cape and showed why he is legendary. He had done it so many times before, but this was the first time I had viewed it as a competitor … and it was simply awesome! Facing repeat match points against the Davis Cup star, Andre narrowed his focus to a laser-beam quality, surprised Ramon by serving-and-volleying when he had stayed back all match, and hit consecutive winning volleys on the outside of the lines for winners. Andre won the match. Ramon was devastated … and I was heartbroken for him. But inside I also knew that I had just seen one of the greatest tennis players of all time do it again.

    After the tournament, Delgado thanked me for the coaching, and said he played well, but no sport psychology in the world that day was going to overcome this legend. The only thing Ramon could say when I saw him later, and asked him about Agassi’s play on those two match points was “unbelievable…just unbelievable,” and those words just about sum up Andre! In my eyes, he is right up there with Joe Montana, Jack Nicklaus, and Michael Jordan.

    But why was he so great? He did not have Ivo Karlovic’s height or Pete Sampras’ serve. A significant part of his greatness can from his mind. Let’s take a closer look at what made Agassi so mentally refined.

    Reviewing Agassi’s on-court performances and listening to some of his post-match comments sheds light on the mindset of a very rare player who constantly found ways to play smart tennis.

    Agassi’s service and groundstroke accuracy were usually dominant. He did not serve with the velocity of Roddick, but he found the corners, hit aces and winners, and reduced errors. Coaches are right in saying that consistency is still a huge weapon in tennis! Consistency in making the correct decision on where to hit the serve. Consistency in executing the shot. Consistency in hitting more winners than unforced errors. Consistency in being Agassi.

    Agassi was also more aggressive than most opponents on his groundstrokes, more accurate on his approach shots, and dominant once he got to the net. The bottom line is that Agassi played better tennis. But what was going on in his mind? What attitudes did he take to his matches — long before he hit any balls? This is the unseen advantage that is often forgotten.

    Let’s examine some comments he made in post-match interviews:

    Turning Adversity into Advantage

    Agassi viewed strong wind and other potential distractions as advantages. He once said, "today was certainly a great day for me, serving-wise. I think specifically because it was breezy. Any time you can get a good percentage of first serves in, especially on key points, in windy conditions, it's a big advantage. I did that well today." What an amazing attitude. Something we can all learn from. Rather than making excuses, he realized there is indeed a silver lining in every cloud!

    Staying Hopeful and Confident

    The way we frame things is often more important than the supposed reality. Agassi stayed very positive in his thinking. Once, asked about the upcoming clay season, he said, "I feel great about how I feel mentally … very positive going on to the clay season, hopeful that everything is going to stay together." Henry Ford once said "whether you think you can or think you can’t — you are right." Most people in Ford’s day asked why cars were necessary when there were horses all around. Agassi thought like Ford did, and how you should too.

    Not Over-thinking in a Match

    Despite all the great mental tips and suggestions, once a match begins it’s auto-pilot time. It’s much better to just play tennis and let habits take over than to over-think. Agassi once said, "I try not to assess how I’m playing until after the fact. And then after the fact, I can look at it and be objective."

    Focusing without Fear

    Agassi knew what it meant to stay focused without letting fear intrude. In discussing the number of matches he had to play in a row once, he said, "there's nothing really about it that you worry about getting through so many matches, so you just focus on executing opportunities that you do get and try to create as many as possible." So many players worry. Keep it simple and keep the focus on what you are doing now.

    Remaining Extremely Confident

    Agassi assumed that someone else was going to have to play well to beat him. Listen to his comment: "I'm thinking about preparing myself properly to be at my best for Paris; to make somebody play a great match to beat me. It's as simple as that." Wow. Enough said.

    Working Hard

    Throw out all the mental tips in the world if you don’t work! When asked if he had found the fountain of youth and was just not telling anyone, Agassi smiled and said, "No, no, it's hard work."

    Agassi won our hearts and minds throughout his career. He blew away opponents with both physical and mental superiority, and he seemed like a good guy on top of all of that! He loved his fans and so his fans loved him back. If you look at his accuracy and consistency in executing shots, then review his attitudes and insights, you realize that the mental game is much more than a few clever tips to play smart tennis. The thoughts, feelings, habits and sensations always control the actions. When it all works together brilliantly, you get that one-in-a-million guy named Agassi. He was a legend. I was fortunate to meet and try to out-coach him, without success. His example lives in all our future lessons. Thanks Andre!

  2. tennisboy87

    tennisboy87 Guest

    Great article. Thanks for posting it.
  3. BaseLineBash

    BaseLineBash Hall of Fame

    Jan 12, 2005
    Great find, and a different perspective on things.
  4. scotus

    scotus Legend

    Jul 5, 2005
    I like Andre as much as anyone, but when it comes to the mental edge, I must say that Sampras clearly had the upperhand (and that's in addition to having the superior serve and volley).
  5. stormholloway

    stormholloway Legend

    Nov 30, 2005
    New York City
    Not at the French or Australian he didn't.
  6. joe sch

    joe sch Hall of Fame

    Feb 19, 2004
    Hotel CA
    Great stuff ! Many of the tenets of Zennis.
  7. Bjorn99

    Bjorn99 Professional

    Oct 21, 2006
    Agassi will never reveal his secrets.

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