Playing well in a match is not easy. Even if you know your opponent, every time you step on the court things are different.
There have been numerous times when I have worked with players who are hitting the ball great in a practice situation, but then everything falls apart when they get on the court in an actual match. Even though the player has been drilling well, playing practice points well, and seemingly following my coaching advice, the heat of the match tends to change things. Often, players focus much more on winning the point, game, set, or match, rather than taking one shot at a time and hitting the ball the way they normally do. Even though this sounds like an easy fix, it is hard to overcome the natural pressure you feel once you step on the court and start keeping score in your match.
My advice is to use some relaxation techniques prior to each point. Taking five deep breaths after you have played a point and reminding yourself of one key technique idea (for example "watch the ball") can calm your mind and allow you to execute similarly to how you have been practicing. I truly believe that many of the physical issues that occur in a match are caused more by your thought process than your bad habits in practice. Focus on each individual shot and try to relax your arm (use a loose grip on the racquet in the ready position) to encourage a good response once the point starts.
If things don't go well with a shot or a point, move on and use your regular routine to get things back on track. The best players can actually block out the bad shots or points and play the next point as if it never happened. They do this using some of the ideas I have stated above.
Find your "go to" idea and your shot production in matches will get closer to that great feeling you have in practice when you are hitting the ball well.
Steve Annacone, USPTA Elite Pro, is the Director of Annacone Tennis, www.annaconetennis.com and MyHamptonsPro, www.myhamptonspro.com in East Hampton, NY . Steve is also a tennis professional at Ventana Golf and Country Club in Tucson, AZ. In addition, Steve and Miguel Coelho have introduced the JET (Junior Elite Tennis) program at the Tucson Jewish Community Center for high level players ages 8-18. Please contact Steve at email@example.com