Winning vs. Ability

fe6250

Semi-Pro
Well gang - tonight our team lost a critical match that probably will cost us a trip to states and post-season play. In looking at the scores, we won 1 court and lost 4 - but all the individual matches were close (3 went to 3rd set tie-breakers and the other two were two game wins). Before the match I was concerned about the line-up our captain had put forward as it had the best 'practice players' but did not have what I considered to be the best 'match players'.

The question for the forum is - why is it that so many players are great in practice but can not get it done in the match? I have a strong record of match wins and am not always the best 'practice' player and I have always attributed it to having played competitive sports and knowing how to 'close the deal'. This is probably a 4.0 and lower phenom, but was interested in others views on 1.) is this a common issue and 2.) how do you identify your 'match winners'?
 
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tbini87

Hall of Fame
there is definitely a difference in practice players and straight gamers. it happens in every sport too, not just tennis. people feel comfortable in practice and can totally hit out. there are people that look great in practice but choke during matches. they get tight, can't stick to a game plan, aren't mentally tough, can't adjust their game to counter what their opponent is trying to do... etc.

the best strokes don't make the best player. it is hard deciding who the "best player" is... but i guess their overall record in match play is the best way to choose. also knowing how their game matches up with their possible future opponent... but that isn't always possible to know ahead of time (is it?).
 

Cindysphinx

G.O.A.T.
I wish I were a better gamer. The inability to relax in matches is really costing me.

An example. I served first in our last match. I hit three terrific serves to start my service game. Opponents didn't even get these serves into play.

From that moment forward through the remainder of the match, my serves were ineffective. Not horrible, just not as much spin or pace as the first three. Quite returnable. Why? I dunno. I think I was forcing it.

So we lose 3-6, 3-6. We have 15 minutes left before we have to give up the court. I step up to serve. And the good serves were back and just as unreturnable as before.

What the heck? I think the difference was that once the play was meaningless, I was relaxed because I didn't care if my serves went in.

So I have to find a way to make myself not care about whether my shots go in or not.
 

WBF

Hall of Fame
I'm a bit confused. Personally, I consider the player who can win more often to have better 'ability'.

Do these 'practice' players play matches against the players you feel are more match hardy? Who wins?

Tennis isn't about looking good, it's about winning. If the practice players aren't as good in real matches, they should not be used. Your captain doesn't seem to understand tennis.
 

albino smurf

Professional
Probably different reactions to focusing. Some get calmer and better, some get more nervous and worse. Same with most sports and acaedmically, test taking IMO.
 

AR15

Professional
As a captain I will make my lineup based on match records and not practice performance. I know from personal experience how I have had great practices and choked or got tight at matches.

During practice, I want my team to be more concerned about improving their game than winning practice matches. This might mean doing things in practice you aren't comfortable with, and that you wouldn't try in a match without practicing it first.
 

ten10

Rookie
The question for the forum is - why is it that so many players are great in practice but can not get it done in the match? I have a strong record of match wins and am not always the best 'practice' player and I have always attributed it to having played competitive sports and knowing how to 'close the deal'. This is probably a 4.0 and lower phenom, but was interested in others views on 1.) is this a common issue and 2.) how do you identify your 'match winners'?
A lot of valid points have been made already. But I'd expand on what WBF said. The best players are those who have the Ability to Win IMO.

Differences in Captains: My 4.0 captain always deferred to the teaching pro (4.5) in putting together the line-ups. This one player was partnered with everyone each season--always losing, but believed to be one of the better on the team (not by me). If she had been left out of the line-up we would have been in the fall playoffs.

Now at 4.5, my new captain had never seen me play before joining the team. She wanted me based on the advice of one of her singles players who I beat. In a couple practice drills I thought I wasn't playing very well. I talked to the captain and said I hoped she wasn't disappointed. She said, "I'm not worried, your record speaks for itself."

Finally, I believe with TennisLink it is easy to identify your match winners. You can also do a little research regarding your upcoming match. See who the opposing team has put in their line-up. There are doubles teams who play terrible against teams with no pace, and the other way around. There are no guarantees, but some teams do have patterns of who they play and what line they will play them on. Also TennisOne has a kind of cool program for tracking such things.
 

saram

Legend
When it comes to doubles, 'ability' can be thrown out the window to some degree. You are right--there is doubles performance and chemistry that has to come into the equation when creating a team line-up.

For the last month, I played doubles with a player that is fairly accomplished and quite aggressive in doubles. We went undefeated in our wednesday night groups for a month until this last wednesday when we changed things up and played with other players. We had great chemistry and worked well together. The player I played with this past wednesday is a singles specialist as well as I. We played horrible together and have always played up and down tennis together in the past.

As well, if we based it off ability--there are players that I can triple bagel in singles all year long but they are incredible doubles players in highly competitive matches.

I have learned to take singles play, friendships, and such out of the equation when building teams for state and 'post-season' play.

As well, a captain has to be smart and ask for feedback from the team in regard to where there is chemistry and solid play within the team.

Sorry to hear about your recent loss and possible end to your season...
 

fe6250

Semi-Pro
I'm a bit confused. Personally, I consider the player who can win more often to have better 'ability'.

Do these 'practice' players play matches against the players you feel are more match hardy? Who wins?

Tennis isn't about looking good, it's about winning. If the practice players aren't as good in real matches, they should not be used. Your captain doesn't seem to understand tennis.
I understand and agree with you, but here is what often happens. These players who our captain considers 'our best' players win easily and handily in friendly matches against other players on the team. It's not based on their strokes but based on practice matches. I'm not sure why this happens, but I'm guessing it's because they are loose and there is no pressure to win. It may also be that the 'loser' of these matches isn't focused like they are in a 'real' (league) match. In match situations, these same players often lose very tight matches where they led early, but something happens and they just can't close the deal. Often ending up in third set tiebreakers and losing to people they 'should' beat.

On the other hand there are players on our team that do 'ok' in practice matches, but really excel when it 'matters'. When I captain, I look at how people perform in tough matches as an indicator of their mental toughness and will select these people for my toughest matches and on the toughest courts. The challenge is when you don't have a history to look at - it can be tough to tell. I do find that there is some truth to the fact that people with competitive sports experience and success are able to transfer that to the tennis court.
 

fe6250

Semi-Pro
Finally, I believe with TennisLink it is easy to identify your match winners. You can also do a little research regarding your upcoming match. See who the opposing team has put in their line-up. There are doubles teams who play terrible against teams with no pace, and the other way around. There are no guarantees, but some teams do have patterns of who they play and what line they will play them on. Also TennisOne has a kind of cool program for tracking such things.
I definitely do this and when the data is there to research, but sometimes it is misleading unless you really understand who they played against.
 

Gemini

Hall of Fame
The truth is...practice really means nothing if a player can't close the deal, as someone said, in a real match. AR15 assessed it well. Basing the match line-ups off of match performance is the only realistic way to create line-ups.

With that being said, great practice players generally play that way because there's no pressure during practice. Makes executing your shots a lot easier.
 

LuckyR

Legend
I can't really disagree with the OP and the majority of posts, however often there is more to the story than what is presented.

Some captains figure that this or that player are essentially more similar than different in their ability to win a particular match and will use things like: who's their better friend or who shows up to practice most often etc to decide who plays in the playoffs.

In addition in the OP's scenario (heartbreaking loss just barely missing the postseason) it is common to armchair quarterback the Captain's decisions and I didn't see any objective evidence that the alternative lineup would have done any better.
 

fe6250

Semi-Pro
In addition in the OP's scenario (heartbreaking loss just barely missing the postseason) it is common to armchair quarterback the Captain's decisions and I didn't see any objective evidence that the alternative lineup would have done any better.
To be clear - I really wasn't trying to second guess the decision (I am and have been a captain - it's never easy), but trying to understand why some people seem to excel under pressure while others fold like K-Mart lawn chairs. There is no guarantee that another line-up would have won this match, but there seems to be some consistency with the same players continually losing when the pressure is on and others who seem to continually rise to the occassion. My question was driven by my own captaining of my own teams and what I can do to get better and picking strong line-ups AND if this 'fold' pattern is common out there.
 

thehustler

Semi-Pro
I have a friend who warms up great. He hits thru the ball, they land deep, have spin etc. His serves go in and where they want. Then we start a set and it's all downhill from there. He freezes up and I crush him. He knows what I'm going to do and I know what he's going to do. I've played guys in tournaments and leagues who warm up great as well and freeze and just the opposite. They miss all their backhands warming up but then can't miss in the match.

I never practice. I play matches only. I don't have the best serve and I'm pretty much a nervous wreck before any league match, but I know how to win. Over time I've learned to just play my game and not worry about the guy on the other side of the net. Your match winners are the ones who don't quit, who even if they're nervous know how to get thru it and find a way to win.
 

raiden031

Legend
Obviously for an important match you play your players who most recently have posted solid match results. However if I was looking at the future and planning for next year, I would be more interested in the guys with better technique, because once they get their mind straight, they will probably be better players.

There's a guy I play with alot who I can beat pretty easily (6-1, 6-2), but I know that soon he is going to give me trouble because every now and then he has these streaks where he can rip great shots and win 4 games in a row. His problem is shot selection and sometimes chokes. I certainly wouldn't blow him off because he loses alot if several months from now I wanted to build a team because I know he'll be good because he's working on his game.
 
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Gemini

Hall of Fame
The truth is...practice really means nothing if a player can't close the deal, as someone said, in a real match. AR15 assessed it well. Basing the match line-ups off of match performance is the only realistic way to create line-ups.

With that being said, great practice players generally play that way because there's no pressure during practice. Makes executing your shots a lot easier.
 

LuckyR

Legend
To be clear - I really wasn't trying to second guess the decision (I am and have been a captain - it's never easy), but trying to understand why some people seem to excel under pressure while others fold like K-Mart lawn chairs. There is no guarantee that another line-up would have won this match, but there seems to be some consistency with the same players continually losing when the pressure is on and others who seem to continually rise to the occassion. My question was driven by my own captaining of my own teams and what I can do to get better and picking strong line-ups AND if this 'fold' pattern is common out there.
As I mentioned, I wasn't posting a disagreement necessarily. Captains are going to be vulnerable to this sort of wondering unless they state up-front what their selection policy is. I have never personally had a Captain who did so, but it is the one way to end this sort of thing.

For example, if the Captain says up-front, "I am going to play everyone equally during the season and in the playoffs and postseason I am going to give preference to folks who have won matches against the particular teams we face" or "give preference to the best W/L records" or "I will continue to choose randomly" or whatever.
 

catfish

Professional
Well gang - tonight our team lost a critical match that probably will cost us a trip to states and post-season play. In looking at the scores, we won 1 court and lost 4 - but all the individual matches were close (3 went to 3rd set tie-breakers and the other two were two game wins). Before the match I was concerned about the line-up our captain had put forward as it had the best 'practice players' but did not have what I considered to be the best 'match players'.

The question for the forum is - why is it that so many players are great in practice but can not get it done in the match? I have a strong record of match wins and am not always the best 'practice' player and I have always attributed it to having played competitive sports and knowing how to 'close the deal'. This is probably a 4.0 and lower phenom, but was interested in others views on 1.) is this a common issue and 2.) how do you identify your 'match winners'?
What you describe is very common. IMO there are "match players" and there are "practice players". I know tons of people who are great in practice matches but stink in "real" matches. And there are a handful who are great match players but only OK in practice. When I captain I try to fill my team with "match players".

The good match players are often players who have played other sports, and they know how to deal with the pressure. They do not necessarily have the best strokes, or the flashiest style, and they aren't always the players who have played the most tennis. The "match players" are usually very observant, can pick out oppenents weaknesses very quickly, understand high percentage vs low percentage shots, don't let opponents idiosyncracies bother them by staying focused, and most importantly they can improvise during the match. They often get very little recognition for what they do and opponents often can't figure out why they beat them. Many captains don't even know what a jewel they have on their team when they have these types of players. :?

I think the "practice players" are only good in practice for several reasons. One is of course being relaxed, which makes everyone play better. Another factor is that teams tend to practice against each other over and over, so so everyone knows what to expect from their opponents. Then the "practice player" gets in a real match against an unknown opponent and spends the whole match wondering why shots that work in practice are not working today. They often lose points on the same mistakes over and over and never notice. They just chalk it up to the opponent playing well that day rather than recognizing they didn't improvise and adjust during the match. I often hear "practice players" blame losses on bad line calls or their opponent doing something that bothered them......which to me means they weren't really focused on the match, they were focused on something else.

Every sport has "match players" and "practice players". Not just tennis. Thats my 2 cents, for what it's worth.
 

fe6250

Semi-Pro
^^^ I think you nailed it. I like to think I'm one of those 'match' players. I have always been able to do a little more with less ability than my peers and I always attributed it to my experience in other sports that I had played where I had to deal with pressure AND think on my feet. In my case it was clutch hitting or making a fielding decision in baseball or having to sink a 5 footer to with the match in golf - both games I played competitively for years.

In fairness, this captain knows this about me and puts me in the line-up vs. tough opponents. The issue becomes identifying your strongest 'match' line-up for these tougher matches and getting good at selecting the right people.
 

nickarnold2000

Hall of Fame
As Brad Gilbert says, "pressure is the ultimate lie detector"; strokes that look good in practice have more than a good chance of failing when the "heat is on". Experience is huge but also understanding why certain players do well and others don't, is key to me.
All pros struggle with nerves at some point in their careers but obviously some cope better than others.
My advice is to go to the "turbo tennis" website(I'm sure there are others too) and read up on how to get mentally tough. This has really helped me with my game a lot. I want to lose because the other player is better than me and not because I choked!
 

Nellie

Hall of Fame
Another problem with "practice players" (like me!) is that they look great hitting winners, but you don't realize that they miss every third ball out. so you have these great looking teams losing constantly to teams poking the ball back ackwardly.
 

tbini87

Hall of Fame
What you describe is very common. IMO there are "match players" and there are "practice players". I know tons of people who are great in practice matches but stink in "real" matches. And there are a handful who are great match players but only OK in practice. When I captain I try to fill my team with "match players".

The good match players are often players who have played other sports, and they know how to deal with the pressure. They do not necessarily have the best strokes, or the flashiest style, and they aren't always the players who have played the most tennis. The "match players" are usually very observant, can pick out oppenents weaknesses very quickly, understand high percentage vs low percentage shots, don't let opponents idiosyncracies bother them by staying focused, and most importantly they can improvise during the match. They often get very little recognition for what they do and opponents often can't figure out why they beat them. Many captains don't even know what a jewel they have on their team when they have these types of players. :?

I think the "practice players" are only good in practice for several reasons. One is of course being relaxed, which makes everyone play better. Another factor is that teams tend to practice against each other over and over, so so everyone knows what to expect from their opponents. Then the "practice player" gets in a real match against an unknown opponent and spends the whole match wondering why shots that work in practice are not working today. They often lose points on the same mistakes over and over and never notice. They just chalk it up to the opponent playing well that day rather than recognizing they didn't improvise and adjust during the match. I often hear "practice players" blame losses on bad line calls or their opponent doing something that bothered them......which to me means they weren't really focused on the match, they were focused on something else.

Every sport has "match players" and "practice players". Not just tennis. Thats my 2 cents, for what it's worth.
great post. i agree with fe and think you nailed it. it is funny as i read these posts and put faces to the exact type of "practice" and "match" players. the guys who have the excuses and the guys who have the ability to get it done no matter what the situation. i also agree that growing up playing other sports has definitely helped my mental toughness and ability to handle pressure. this talk almost reminds me of the "off the bus" players in high school football. the guys who are ripped and huge, and look great getting off the bus. but they are so weak mentally they never touch the field because they don't understand what "covering your deep third" or "getting in the hip pocket of a pulling lineman" means. that was off topic, but i think catfish had a great post.
 

Cindysphinx

G.O.A.T.
Hey, I just want to chime in to defend those of us with crappy TennisLink records. There may be reasons for match losses that do not mean a player isn't a winner or is just a practice player.

If someone looked at my Tennislink record, they would probably conclude that I'm pretty crappy. What TennisLink doesn't tell you is what kind of partner I have and why.

As captain, I could cherrypick the strongest players and play with them. I assure you I could be undefeated anytime I chose to be.

I think cherrypicking annoys team members. I think the stronger players don't like being carrying the captain around on their backs.

Instead, I give my strong players the partners they want. I frequently assign myself a partner with Issues. I figure I have more variety in my game and can play a few different ways, whereas some of my strongest players have fewer gears. And frankly, my fondest memories of winning are those matches where my partner was Challenged and we figured out a way to win anyway.

So when you see me on Court Three losing yet another match, well . . . it might not mean what you think.

Cindy -- taking the weakest partner again for her next match
 

hotseat

Rookie
i've definitely pulled out some matches against guys who are "better" than me, but I made it blatantly obvious I wanted it more than they did. never giving up goes a long way, I have so many come from behind wins it actually annoys me. I mentioned in that other thread Cindy started that one thing I want to get better at is starting at a high level of play and keeping it.
 

tbini87

Hall of Fame
Hey, I just want to chime in to defend those of us with crappy TennisLink records. There may be reasons for match losses that do not mean a player isn't a winner or is just a practice player.

If someone looked at my Tennislink record, they would probably conclude that I'm pretty crappy. What TennisLink doesn't tell you is what kind of partner I have and why.

As captain, I could cherrypick the strongest players and play with them. I assure you I could be undefeated anytime I chose to be.

I think cherrypicking annoys team members. I think the stronger players don't like being carrying the captain around on their backs.

Instead, I give my strong players the partners they want. I frequently assign myself a partner with Issues. I figure I have more variety in my game and can play a few different ways, whereas some of my strongest players have fewer gears. And frankly, my fondest memories of winning are those matches where my partner was Challenged and we figured out a way to win anyway.

So when you see me on Court Three losing yet another match, well . . . it might not mean what you think.

Cindy -- taking the weakest partner again for her next match
i was personally thinking more along the lines of singles, because i agree that doubles is much more complicated. at the same time i don't think you should be stuck with the weakest players all the time. why don't you split it 50-50 to give yourself a shot at some wins. if you don't then that is on you, and if you don't mind a crappy record then there should be no problem.
 

Cindysphinx

G.O.A.T.
I do put myself with stronger players, but sometimes I have to sub in, etc. Plus, sometimes I have a situation where some of the players scheduled have said they cannot/will not play with so-and-so. So that leaves me.

I have two combo losses this season, both with seriously weak players. But I have three wins. As I think about it, I don't have any losses with players who are medium or good 3.0s.
 

Tennisman912

Semi-Pro
I think the equation of winning is 70-80% wanting to win and playing smart and 20-30% ability. Nellie hit is on the head. Below 5.0 most matches are lost and not necessarily won. Let me explain my experience.

Most people don’t realize how many errors they make. People underestimate how important playing smart and keeping it in play is, especially the lower the level of the player. I play with a lot of lower level players and always play when asked but they have no idea what they are doing wrong and why what they are doing is wrong. I try to help them as much as possible but a lot don’t want to listen or want to tell me that the ball I told them to let go and they hit anyway, even though it would hit FEET out, was the right thing to do and will continue to do it more often than not. They say they want advice but usually they really don’t. And I am not even talking stroke deficiencies. I am just talking strategy and playing. I will take advice from anyone regardless of level. They may see something I missed.

People don’t realize that great tennis is pretty boring a lot of the time. It is mostly about playing smart. I only have to come up with something special 10 or at most 20% of the time. The rest of the time keeping it low at medium pace or deep when coming in is all you need (I love and play mostly doubles). People don’t realize how many dumb things they do. Sure I can zing winners but my tennis motto is only do as much as I need to do to win. Period. Now don’t take this to mean I think I am god’s gift to tennis. I am not. I played in college but I am just at the lower levels of what I consider advanced. And I have played with plenty who can put me in my place like I do to all below me.

I guess my point is that if you are erratic and inconsistent with your strategy and game in general, then how can you execute and win consistently in a match situation? And the answer is you can’t and won’t until you play smarter.

I am much better in matches but improving in practice. It is basically because I am lazy. I love pressure and competition but I have played sports all my life and I want the game winning point to come to me.

I hope this helps some explain why I think some are match players and some are not.
Good Tennis to all.

TM
 

raiden031

Legend
I think the equation of winning is 70-80% wanting to win and playing smart and 20-30% ability. Nellie hit is on the head. Below 5.0 most matches are lost and not necessarily won. Let me explain my experience.
I think that a very large percentage of winning is ability, but if you are playing people of relatively equal ability, then mental toughness and smart play become important. If I'm playing a really weak player, I don't even have to try and I beat them just because they can't keep the ball in play long enough to make me need any strategy. Likewise, if I played a 5.0 it is impossible that I could beat them because they would probably be blasting winners by me because every shot I'd hit would be defensive and weak as they would be running me all over the court and I don't have the strokes to control the point at that level.

I guess my point is that if you are erratic and inconsistent with your strategy and game in general, then how can you execute and win consistently in a match situation? And the answer is you can’t and won’t until you play smarter.
True, but if you don't have solid repeatable strokes then the best strategy in the world won't help you if you can't execute your shots the way you intend to because your strokes are unreliable.
 

fe6250

Semi-Pro
I agree that levels have to be within 'range' for it to matter much - this kind of goes to Cindy's doubles argument and how who you play with can effect your chances - but assuming people are close in ability - if the 'better' player tightens up and the 'weaker' player steps up in match conditions - this gap can close. Admittingly there is a limit of how much gap you can close.
 

cak

Professional
The very best player on our team has a good chance of winning regardless of who she steps onto the court with. And she has won USTA with some very green partners, including one that didn't own a racket. Watching her play she doesn't generate extreme pace like you often see at our level, but she has a huge array of serves so she can use which ever one vexes that particular opponent, and she can place the ball, and she thinks several shots ahead. She will never, ever say she lost due to her partner, as she is confident she should be able to play with anyone. (And she is extremely classy, blaming you partner for your loss is never classy.) And on the USTA court, she can intimidate anyone.
 

ChrisNC

Semi-Pro
*Hides his TennisLink*

I've had a couple of very close matches this year. They were all lost rather than the other team winning. I have a problem of being very tight in the beginning of a match, losing too many games and then even when mounting a comeback, just falling short.
 

Joe D

New User
I find personally I lose more practice matches and play better in tournaments.because I try things in practice that I don't in real matches.
 

Rule26

Rookie
As true in other sports - There are those who are well drilled within their comfort zone - showing explicit precision in the drill at hand. But as soon as they are asked to make an adjustment in tempo or placement their polish begins to dull and later on when left to make mental adjustments they cannot process the field as fast as the others. Conversly there are very good athletes who push themselves hard during practices to the point that as the practice gets long their play may look even uglier but their intensity is relentless. During games/matches everyone else seems to be reacting in slow motion compared to them. Those guys always seem to further their advantage as a game wears down and everyone else is tired.
 
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