How to find the zone when you need it?

TeamOB

Professional
It happens very rarely in a tennis players career. You play a match where you find your VERY BEST tennis at the moment when you NEED IT THE MOST. Happened to me about 2 weeks ago in a tournament. I was playing a kid almost exactly at my level. What made the difference in the match was that I was able to find an untouchable "tree-mode" in the most critical moments in the match (namely, when he served at 4-4 in both sets). I just started pulling out shots even I didn't know I could hit. Painting lines all over the place. Flick BH passing shots. Running forehand angles. Diving drop-volleys. I even overran a ball and still managed to improvise a running forward-facing tweener and win the point. It was absolutely incredible. My mood in those critical moments was one of calmness and confidence and supreme focus. I played average for the rest of the match, but at the tail end of both sets I just took my game to a completely different level (and won the match 6-4 6-4). My problem is that I am incapable of replicating this more often. I very rarely find that mode in pressure situations like that. Does anyone have any tips or experiences to share on this topic?
 

Supertegwyn

Hall of Fame
I'm the opposite; I play my God mode tennis when the points don't count and choke away the tail end of sets. You haven't faced true despair until you have lost a 5-2 lead twice in a match.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
For me, a good night of sleep has usually been a prerequisite for achieving a flow state -- playing in the zone. There have been a few times where I have been in the zone with something less than optimal sleep. However, in these cases, the flow state was fleeting -- it did not last very long at all. Meditation prior to tennis often appeared to help quite a bit as well. However, it is not a substitute for adequate sleep.

I would also perform 10-20 minutes of cardio prior to tennis. This pre-tennis cardio would often help to get me to a runner's high (endorphins?) while playing tennis. This high appears to be conducive to the achieving a flow state. Between points, while playing tennis, I would try to keep moving -- shadow swings and some jumping around (including swaying, ready steps, butt-kicks, etc).

Here are more clues on achieving a flow state:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)#Conditions_for_flow
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)#Sports

http://psychology.about.com/od/PositivePsychology/a/how-to-achieve-flow.htm
http://daringtolivefully.com/how-to-enter-the-flow-state
http://zenhabits.net/creative-flow/
 

LeeD

Bionic Poster
To me, the ZONE finds me about once every 30 or so playing days, without any warning or notice whatsoever, no matter who I"m playing against, and with no regards to my feelings.
So, I'll settle for....my game is judged only on my bad days, and that's how I play.
 

TeamOB

Professional
I'm the opposite; I play my God mode tennis when the points don't count and choke away the tail end of sets. You haven't faced true despair until you have lost a 5-2 lead twice in a match.
I am typically kinda like you. I play pretty average with occasional, seemingly random flashes of brilliance. In this match though, through coincidence or some action of mine, the flashes happened exactly when I needed them the most. I hope it wasn't coincidence and there is some actual method to this, but for some reason I feel it was probably just random chance.
 
I have a different style than you, so my zone doesn't involve hitting ridiculous shots but going ridiculous lengths of time without making an error. I wish I could go there more often.... :)
 
I am typically kinda like you. I play pretty average with occasional, seemingly random flashes of brilliance. In this match though, through coincidence or some action of mine, the flashes happened exactly when I needed them the most. I hope it wasn't coincidence and there is some actual method to this, but for some reason I feel it was probably just random chance.
I typically try to play average, high percentage tennis. Working on playing with only as much "brilliance" (as you call it) as is necessary.

I've gotten a lot better at playing with high-"brilliance" when I have to. A lot of it comes down to confidence and purposefully playing high percentage (medium "brilliance") until you need it.

When you're playing medium-"brilliance" all match, it's easier to summon high-"brilliance" (especially on serve in my experience) when you need to win a big point.

When you're trying to play high-"brilliance" all match, you probably have committed more UFEs. You'll have a harder time raising your level on big points because you don't have the confidence to support it.
 
I make a little song.

Look at the ball

Look at the ball

Move your feet

Move your feet

See the blurr

See the blurr

... repeat ad nauseam.

Blue danube
 

HughJars

Banned
I play my best tennis in competition. I can achieve the zone in every singles match I play now. I keep the focus external, don't over think the outcome and certainly don't focus on technical nuances.

Just watch the ball and don't think outcome. Think process. Plan your points, point by point. Focus on where you want the ball to go, not the angle of your racket, on the angle of your elbow.
 

LuckyR

Legend
It happens very rarely in a tennis players career. You play a match where you find your VERY BEST tennis at the moment when you NEED IT THE MOST. Happened to me about 2 weeks ago in a tournament. I was playing a kid almost exactly at my level. What made the difference in the match was that I was able to find an untouchable "tree-mode" in the most critical moments in the match (namely, when he served at 4-4 in both sets). I just started pulling out shots even I didn't know I could hit. Painting lines all over the place. Flick BH passing shots. Running forehand angles. Diving drop-volleys. I even overran a ball and still managed to improvise a running forward-facing tweener and win the point. It was absolutely incredible. My mood in those critical moments was one of calmness and confidence and supreme focus. I played average for the rest of the match, but at the tail end of both sets I just took my game to a completely different level (and won the match 6-4 6-4). My problem is that I am incapable of replicating this more often. I very rarely find that mode in pressure situations like that. Does anyone have any tips or experiences to share on this topic?
If you are familiar with a normal distribution then none of this should be a surprise. Basically everyone plays way better than average a small percentage of the time, (if you did it frequently, it would be your average, not excellent play).

BTW it will be evened out by significantly worse than average play some of the time...
 

easywin

Rookie
Well the only thing I experienced when "zoning" is the total lack of thinking.

Mostly when I start playing I try to think of a pattern or a certain shot I want to get in the next rally and if it fails I think about another one etc. I ask myself if I should outgrind my opponent, if I can outplay him or just go ham (which is what I usually do ... :) ) - or stupid things like "that ball toss was so bad".

The rare times I feel like "zoning" I never feel like having a plan. I just play and I'm so into it that I don't even think "Wow on his next return just go for it, today you can do anything".
I would not even say I am very confident at those moments. I'm just so focused that I stop thinking.

So maybe what SystemicAnomaly said would help.

I'll follow this thread in case someone finds a way to hit the switch into zone-mode :)
 

TeamOB

Professional
Well the only thing I experienced when "zoning" is the total lack of thinking.

Mostly when I start playing I try to think of a pattern or a certain shot I want to get in the next rally and if it fails I think about another one etc. I ask myself if I should outgrind my opponent, if I can outplay him or just go ham (which is what I usually do ... :) ) - or stupid things like "that ball toss was so bad".

The rare times I feel like "zoning" I never feel like having a plan. I just play and I'm so into it that I don't even think "Wow on his next return just go for it, today you can do anything".
I would not even say I am very confident at those moments. I'm just so focused that I stop thinking.

So maybe what SystemicAnomaly said would help.

I'll follow this thread in case someone finds a way to hit the switch into zone-mode :)
The only way I've discovered to hit this switch is to simply stop giving a s***. It doesn't work all the time, but occasionally it is great. I recall 2 times when it helped me out. Once I was down 9-6 in a 10 point breaker to a guy in a tournament match. I was pi$$ed and frustrated so I kinda stopped trying and hit every ball as hard as I could. I worked like Nole's return in the 2011 USO SF. I simply hit 5 winners (or near-winners) in a row to win 11-9 in the breaker. Another time I went to play a practice match with a buddy at 9am after having spent the previous night partying at a friends house. I was running on like 2 hours of sleep and honestly didn't give a s*** if I lost. I didn't pay attention to the match at all. I was laughing and screwing around the whole time. I literally just bombed flat serves (even off my 2nd serve) and smacked every other ball DTL as hard as I could. Somehow I destroyed the guy 6-1 6-2 even though we usually go three sets.
 

easywin

Rookie
The only way I've discovered to hit this switch is to simply stop giving a s***. It doesn't work all the time, but occasionally it is great.
Yeah I think it takes away the pressure ... even though this state is hard to achieve, at least for me. I still have one match in my mind where I was actually quite ill and stepped on the court because I was 18 and stupid. I gave up after loosing the first set 6-7 but my opponent would have usually been way out of my league. I just hammered away on everything and in the end it was pretty much 50/50 on immediate winner or UE - which is quite amazing because I was hitting every damn ball to end the rally. My opponent just did not know what to do and I felt sorry for him because I played like a total ******** :)

The suggestions that I posted in #3 is not a money-back guarantee but they will get you there quite often -- a whole lot more than mere chance. Try it.
I read through those articles you posted and that concept of "flow" is really interesting.
Sadly I'm not able to compete anymore since my shoulder restricts my serve immensly so I just hit for fun and my concentration level is too low to actually enter a "flow" state while just hitting randomly.

I have to say though that this could be rewarding for many things in life and I'll actually try the things mentioned in those articles. Thanks for the links :)
 

Bendex

Professional
Once I had to go to fixtures after a grueling tournament the day before. My muscles were aching like never before, and I had to play a guy I've never come close to beating. I decided to stay as loose as possible, so I wouldn't damage my sore muscles too much, and not grind out any long points. I fully expected to lose, but didn't care.

Well my first and second serves ended up being blisteringly fast, pretty much unplayable, and I was over powering him in most of the rallies. I soon found myself up a break and for a moment found myself considering that I might actually beat the guy. I immediately squashed the thoughts of victory, saying to myself "I'm too sore to start tightening up and start grinding it out, lets just finish this one way or another." So I maintained the break and won 6-4. I've been trying to recreate that zone ever since. :)
 

LeeD

Bionic Poster
Think about this ....
It's the ZONE, meaning the best we can play, right?
How can you play "well" when you have never played "horrid" ?
You gotta play in the ZONE maybe 5% of the time, play HORRID 5% of the time, play OK 60% of the time, play DECENT 15% of the time, play BAD the rest.
If you always play in the ZONE, you are both HORRID and great.
 
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