Yesterday I read Brad Gilbert’s Winning Ugly, a tennis match prep book that focuses on “mental warfare.” The title of the book comes from the phrase often used to describe Gilbert’s game; he was a player without any stellar shots or a big serve and yet he won matches through hanging tough mentally and by playing to his opponents’ weaknesses.
The book is really geared to the match player who wants to win, who plays to win, and who is willing to prepare physically and mentally for matches. It is not so much a book for people like me who play a lot with friends and family and where playing hard is part of the game but gamesmanship — slowing play down by taking long breaks, speeding through matches to throw off an opponent, hitting another player’s weak shots again and again — is not. Why would I want to play someone who has prepared for days to hit me with psychological warfare and why would any of my friends want to play me if I took that plan?
I would recommend this book for team players and tournament players but for me, a happy recreational player, the most useful part of this book were his suggestions on physical warm-ups before a match. Warmed up players play better and I want to play better. I just don’t want to approach every match like it’s war, because it’s not.
I prefer the advice of W. Timothy Gallwey in The Inner Game of Tennis: “It is the duty of your opponent to create the greatest possible difficulties for you, just as it is yours to try to create obstacles for him. Only by doing this do you give each other the opportunity to find out to what heights each can rise.” The victory is in playing your best and then reaching across the net for the handshake, with a smile and a thank-you, no matter who won.