May 15, 2022  ·  Barbara Wyatt

We lost the second set. It wasn’t merely a loss, but the slaughter of two players at 0-6—after winning the first set, 6-2. Pat, my partner, and I looked at each other in bewilderment. What happened? We have a problem and must fix it before the start of the third set tiebreak. 

We admitted we had turned into “Happy Campers”, as defined by Brad Gilbert and Steve Jamison. “When you win the first set, tell yourself you’ve just created a big problem—you’ve hurt your opponent and motivated them to come clawing out after you,” they wrote in Winning Ugly: Mental Warfare in Tennis--Lessons from a Master (Simon & Schuster, 2013). We had relaxed and lost our mental alertness; our worthy opponents became “Wounded Bears” who fought with extra ferocity. Gilbert and Jamison summarized our second set with their phrase, “Wounded Bears eat Happy Campers for breakfast.”

We vowed to return with a renewed motivation in the third set tiebreak. But how? What are three things we can do to bring back our strong play?

This is what we did: 

  1. Expect Every Ball to Come Back. Steve Annacone’s recent Tip of the Week article, “Expect Every Ball to Come Back”, states that when you play as if all your balls will be returned, your opponent will consider every point a struggle. Throughout the tiebreak, we reminded each other that our opponents will send every ball back to us.
  2. Hit the shot you need, not the shot you want. I have a bad habit to try to hit winners. You know the results. In the second set, too many shots flew outside the white lines. In the tiebreak, I released the pressure, I place on myself, to hit winners. Pat and I focused on placement and control, and patiently waited for the better ball to earn the point.
  3. Be better partners through Physics. Doubles partners must communicate, balance the court, and set up plays for each other. In the 2020 article by Shreyas Shringarpure, “Aske Project: How Physics can be applied to Maximize the Impact of Topspin in Competitive Tennis”, he states “use topspin as a tool to set up the winning shot.” He quotes from several scholarly papers including ones from F. Bocchi (2015), Brody (2007), Cross (2019), and Lindsey (2010), and more. Pat and I used topspin, drop shots, and well-placed returns to set each other up for a winning partnership.

Pat and I won the tiebreak, and the match. 

A Winning Bear

Published New York Tennis Magazine, November/December 2020.