29 August 2019

How to finish a match, win friends and improve your tennis!

Do you jump the net or give your opponent a hug? Do you offer a handshake or fist pump the air? We look at the art and etiquette of finishing a match and discover how getting it right can help your game.

When Katerina Siniakova slipped and fell on the very last point of her second round Wimbledon match this year, her opponent Johanna Konta put away the forehand before quickly making it to the other end of the court to make sure she was all right. It was the kind of classy, compassionate act we would expect of Konta, but afterwards she was accused of ruthlessly taking advantage of her prostate opponent. “You’re making me out to be a cold, hard bitch!” Konta chastised. 

But what is the etiquette of finishing a match? How hard can you celebrate your win and if you are the loser do you really have to be magnanimous in defeat? 

The last point

In tennis you never know what is going to be the final point of the match. If like Konta you find yourself gifted an opportunity, whatever the circumstances, take it. As Johanna demonstrated there will be time to show compassion later; if you don't seize the opportunity to play a winner, you are cheating yourself.

Ending the match with a flourish is always tempting, but the last point of a match should sometimes be about percentage tennis. For example, in a BBC analysis of Wimbledon Championship Points men were more aggressive on their serve when serving for the match while women were typically less so. If forced to make a second serve, both men and women dramatically reduced the pace of the serve and the risk of the ball gong out. 

At league level, the biggest temptation on what you hope will be the final point is to go for a screaming winner. Add a little risk aversion to your thought process. A dramatic smash to the baseline looks great if you make it, but if you can win the match with a more cautiously placed overhead go for it.

But don't be too risk adverse. Roger Federer believes taking tennis risks has kept him youthful. Asked in the context of a courageous match point return of serve at the US Open that won Novak Djokovic the championship, Federer recalled his win against Sampras in 2001 at Wimbledon where on match point he took a huge risk on the return, covered the sidelines and won the tournament: "I felt like he was going to slide it wide. I was just waiting there." Had Sampas gone to the T, it would have been an ace for sure. Federer took a risk and leaned the other way.

Jumping the net and other displays of emotion

Back in the day, players really did jump the net at the end of the match. The leap of faith was somehow synonymous with the serve and volley game of the Rod Laver era. (The American, Roscoe Tanner did it after beating Pat Dupre in the 1979 Wimbledon semi-finals). Today it is considered too dangerous, too showy and too far (for the basliners). 

Handshakes are fine... It may seem a little formal after the exertion of a match, but the ritual of the hanshake draws a line between matchplay and real life. However tense the match, this is the moment to remember that it is just a game and, win or lose, both players can celebrate the match. Don't hang about picking up balls, hunting down your towel, or ringing your girlfriend. Do make the handshake your first priority once the match is over - it is only polite.

Hugs and the like: Unless you are very friendly with your opponent, hugs in victory (or defeat) might be considered an intrusion at worst, and a liitle over the top at best for a league match. But you be the judge. A consoling arm round the shoulder might be the nicest think you do all day

Words of wisdom

Congratulate your opponent. Whatever happened, try to be positive about your opponent's performance rather than concentrating on your own. Don't say: "Sorry I played really badly today". Do say: "Your second serve had me fooled!".

Gather intellegence: A friendly ending to the match makes for an invaluable opportunity to find out more about your game and get your opponent's perspective on what happened. Do ask: "What could I have done better today?"; "How do you get that kick serve?". 

Make your opponent your tennis buddy

If the match has been enjoyable, especially if it has been tight, do ask if you can meet again to play a friendly. Often players will simply be too busy, but an extra name for your little black book of tennis contacts is like gold dust.