Improve your tennis game with tips from Team USA
You've watched them play on the biggest stages in tennis, and now they're here to help you.
We asked six esteemed members of Team USA - Dana Mathewson, Nicole Melichar, Tommy Paul, Jessica Pegula, Tennys Sandgren and Conner Stroud - who'll represent the United States at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer, for some of their best tennis tips.
Hear from our stars on how they get mentally prepared on match day, their best tip for your tennis game, and what it means to them to represent the red, while and blue on the international stage.
How do you mentally prepare for a match?
Dana Mathewson: I try to visualize how I want to play. That’s something I’ve been working on a lot recently, as well as backing myself and feeling confident in my skills leading up to a match. In the past, I’d give the opponent too much credit and think of what things they did well, and completely forget my own strengths. Now, I try to think of whatever I can to make myself feel the most confident in that moment.
Nicole Melichar: I do like to watch my opponents play, just so I have an idea of what their tendencies are. I like to imagine myself in those situations, sort of like visualization, just to see what I would like to do, and avoid, and certain tactics I would like to apply.
Tommy Paul: Usually, I just get a game plan and visualize that game plan in my head and talk to my coach.
Jessica Pegula: Mentally, I usually prepare by taking time for myself, going through my preparation, my warm-up, making my drinks or prepping my racquets and stuff like that. I try to take that time to mentally prepare and maybe listen to some music.
Tennys Sandgren: I listen to the loudest music I can and try to amp myself up.
Conner Stroud: The first thing I do to mentally prepare for a match is rest really well the night before and wake up early the following day to do my pre-match practices and rituals. I also like to have a game plan or pointers written down for myself so that, prior to my match, I can reinforce it in my mind. I will also stretch and push around the court in order to relax. These steps seem to be the most effective for me when I prepare for a match.
If you could give adult and junior players one tip to improving their game, what would it be?
Dana Mathewson: I think I’d tell them to just do the repetitions. I know that drills can be repetitive and boring, but the more you train a specific shot, the more you’ll be able to rely on it in tense situations. It may not seem fun to hit a thousand cross-court forehands, but when you’re in a big match and it comes time to hit that shot, you’ll be happy it comes second-nature to you because of all your hard work!
Nicole Melichar: Coming from a doubles player, I would say to be fearless of the net. Always want the ball and go after it... If they pass you, it’s okay, but just always want the ball because I think that’s the best way to improve as a doubles player.
Tommy Paul: Get your serve as good as you can, because that’s pretty much the most important shot in tennis.
Jessica Pegula: Play a lot, compete a lot and learn how to win matches even if you don’t think you’re good enough to. I think it’s really important to go out there, challenge yourself, stick to that and always keep working on things, little things, every single day. Also: think long term, and not get so upset about how one match or one event went.
Tennys Sandgren: Move your feet, move your feet. If you think you’re moving your feet enough, you probably aren’t, you should probably move your feet a little bit more.
Conner Stroud: A tip that has helped me most is to focus on the ball during your entire stroke. Sometimes, a few mishits and or shanks will occur and my coach asks me if I am watching the ball intently as it hits my strings. Most of the time, when this mistake happens, I realize that I was not focusing on the ball, and my hits will improve. In essence, if you feel as though you are not hitting the ball cleanly, remind yourself to focus on the ball as it makes contact with your strings.
What does it mean to you to play on a team, especially for Team USA?
Dana Mathewson: Playing for your country is a huge honor, and it’s something that I love to do. I always play a little bit harder when I have those letters on my back, because I know I’m representing something greater than just myself. I’ve always loved team sports, so being able to be part of Team USA is amazing and I’m so excited to do it again in Tokyo this summer.
Nicole Melichar: It means the world to me. I love team sports. I think maybe that’s why I play doubles mainly. I think Team USA is such an unbelievable country with so much history in sport, and obviously, we are a country with thousands of amazing athletes. Just to be with this awesome group of girls and our captain Kathy Rinaldi, who I’ve known since I was a little kid, is just so amazing.
Tommy Paul: I love the team environment, it’s always something I love playing in front of… in front of people, or playing for people.. Not to mention playing for USA it’s probably the coolest thing, that’s something I’ve definitely always wanted to do so I’m really excited to do it.
Jessica Pegula: It means a lot. It’s pretty crazy that we get to represent our country. It’s something that doesn’t happen often in tennis, too, because we are always playing individually so it’s really fun to be on that team atmosphere and to go represent together. It’s just a really amazing experience.
Tennys Sandgren: To be on a team is fantastic. After playing college tennis, I’ve missed being on a team, so I’m excited to do it again. To play for Team USA, that’s a massive honor - a massive, massive honor.
Conner Stroud: Playing on any team, but specifically for my country’s team, is very special and important to me. When I have USA written on the back of my shirt, I make it a point to play my best on the court so as to positively represent my country. Playing on a team with teammates is also amazing, as tennis can be a rather individual sport. I enjoy the element of team spirit that this team offers me, and I especially enjoy coming together to cheer each other on.