Focus back on Murray for Wimbledon

23/06/2014  -  12.35pm

Professor Andy Lane

Britain’s number one tennis player must have been looking forward to an opening week of Wimbledon with the pressure slightly off… but thanks to England’s stuttering World Cup, ‘a nation turns its lonely eyes to you’ Mr Murray...

It is possible that Andy Murray would have thought preparations for Wimbledon this year might have been similar to the London 2012 when a host of gold medal winning performances, and a euphoric nation allowed him to get on with his job; a job that saw him win Olympic Gold and possibly raise belief that he could win Wimbledon the next year; which he did. With World Cup and the nation’s love of football, he might have thought it would be easier. However, this is a popular view but is it one that necessarily carries meaning for a professional tennis player? What does it actually take to be a tennis champion?

The Spotlight is on Andy Murray at Wimbledon – surely business as usual?

Andy is a highly successful sports performer who has shown he can deliver success when the pressure is on. On his website, it says, “Andy Murray, currently ranked number 5 in the world, is the British No.1, 2012 US Open Champion and reigning Wimbledon and Olympic Singles Champion (http://www.andymurray.com/profile/). He is the most successful British tennis player of all time. With this in mind it is worth exploring what is required to be a top tennis player. I think that by doing so, it says that the mental strength required is so great that any help given by having England remain in the World Cup is likely to be negligible.

Playing sport can be a very public event. Players need to learn to cope with performing in front of others, and whilst this can be a celebration of success, when you are trying to battle through adversity, it can be like living out your nightmare in public. Tennis magnifies this issue….

15 - love

30 – love

40 - love...

GAME to Lane!!! (unlikely!)

This is how a game is announced over the public address system for both players and spectators to hear. Every point is announced and there is a pause between each point to take stock of what has happened. With the score above, one player has been told they are winning three times, before winning the game, whereas the other player has received the same information about losing it. We know that success develops self-confidence, both in terms of our own performance (winning each point), and being told that we are being successful by significant others (the umpire, calling out the score, providing information of our success). Tennis players are constantly bombarded during the course of the game on how well they are performing. Possibly, in no other sport is the score so clearly and constantly expressed to the players and spectators. And so tennis players need to be mentally tough.

Tennis players learn the need to focus on the moment; each point contributes to winning the match. Thoughts need to be on issues such as analysis of technique (i.e., tensing up on serve; focus on relaxing), physical state (i.e. I can feel tired shoulders; I'll take an energy drink and do some loosening exercisers at the next turn around), tactical (i.e. I'll look for a drop shot!) and, emotional/psychological (i.e. “focus on relaxing, play the point and not the occasion).  

And so the demands of Andy’s own ambitions and the challenge presented by his opponents desire to achieve will soon put thoughts of English football a long way from his mind.

Andy Lane is Professor of Sport and Learning at the University of Wolverhampton’s Institute of Sport.

Andy is accredited from the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) for scientific support and research. He is a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society and has authored more than 100 peer refereed journal articles.