The hard-hitting, erratic, net-rushing player is a creature of impulse. There is no real strategy to his/her attack, no understanding of your game. He will make brilliant coups on the spur of the moment, largely by instinct; but there is no, mental power of consistent thinking. It is an fascinating type of character.
The most dangerous player is the one who mixes his/her strategy from back to fore court under the direction of an ever-alert mind. This/her is the player to study and learn from. He is a player with a definite purpose. A player who has an answer to every problem you present him in your game. He is the most subtle opponent in the world of tennis. He is from the school of Brookes. Second only to him is the player of dogged determination that sets his/her mind on one strategy and sticks to it, bitterly, fiercely battling to the end, with no thought of changing.
This is the player whose psychology is rather easy to understand, but whose mental viewpoint is difficult to derail, for he never permits himself to think about anything except the business at hand. This/her player is your Johnston or your Wilding. I respect the intelligence of Brookes more, but I admire the determination of Johnston.
Choose your type from your own mental processes, and then work out your game along the lines most suited to you. When two men are in the same class concerning stroke, strength and equipment, the determining factor in any game is the mental standpoint. Luck, as it is called, is usually no more than grasping the psychological advantage of a change of flow in the game, and turning it to your own advantage. People talk a great deal about the “shots we have made.” But few people realize the importance of the “shots we have missed.”
The science of missing shots is just as important as that of making them, and at times a miss by an inch is of more value than a return that is killed by your opponent. Allow me to explain. A player drives you far out of court with an angle-shot. You run hard for it, and having reached it, you drive it hard and fast down the side-line, missing it by an inch. Your opponent is surprised and put off his stride, knowing that your shot might just as well have gone in as out. He will expect you to attempt it again and he will not take the risk next time. He will strive to play the ball, and may fall into error. You have thus taken some of your opponent’s confidence, and increased his/her chance of error, all because of a miss.
However, if you had merely tapped back that ball, and it had been killed, your opponent would have felt even more confident of your inability to put the ball out of his/her reach, while you would only have been out of breath to no avail.
Let’s suppose that you had made that shot down the sideline. It was an apparently impossible get. First it amounts to TWO points, because it took one away from your opponent that should have been his/her and gave you one that you should never have had. Second it also worries your opponent, as he thinks that he has lost a big opportunity.
The psychology involved in a game of tennis is fascinating, but easily understood. Both player begin with equal chances. However, once one player has gained a real lead, his/her confidence rises, while his/her opponent worries, and his/her mental standpoint becomes poor. The only objective of the first player is to hold his/her lead, thereby maintaining his/her confidence.
If the second player pulls even or pulls ahead, the inevitable reaction is an even more drastic contrast in psychology of the players. First, there is the natural confidence of the leader of the game, but it is boosted by the great stimulus of having turned a seemingly sure-fire defeat into a probable victory. The case of the other player is the reverse. He is apt to lose confidence and play worse. The collapse of his game plan will be the result.