Tennis is a Game of Momentum
Jonathan Call, USPTA
Tennis is a game of momentum. If a match is going in one team's direction, it can be difficult for the opposing team to stem the tide. One of the main contributing factors is that there is no clock counting down the remaining seconds as in other sports. One can have match point on his/her racquet with the opponent down by several games, or even an entire set, and there is still the opportunity for the losing team to stage a comeback.
One of the most critical times during a match, where a change in momentum is possible, is when the match enters a third set tiebreaker. At this juncture, the opponents have split the first two sets and are, on paper, starting fresh with a clean slate. I would like to analyze one situation that I have seen rather frequently. Team A loses the first set 1-6. This can usually be pretty demoralizing. In the second set, they find their groove and win 6-4. Now as they enter the third set tiebreaker, Team A, in theory, has the momentum. What I see happening often in this scenario is that Team A is happy they won the second set (and may still have the score of the first set in the back of its mind) and proceed to lift its feet off the gas pedal.
To counteract this common phenomenon, Team A needs to use the momentum it garnered by winning the second set to win the tiebreaker and emerge victorious. At the conclusion of that second set, the team needs to tell itself that the match is far from over. The players should stay focused and start the tiebreaker as soon as possible. This simple step will help reinforce the fact that the match is, indeed, not over and helps keep focus. I've found that if a team in this position takes too long between the end of the second set and the beginning of the third, the momentum can shift back to the opponents.
Once a team has kept momentum rolling and has started the tiebreaker, it must play in a manner which I call controlled aggression. Go after the ball; poach when the opportunity is there; pressure the opponents early and, most importantly, make sure to breathe. Tennis players tend to hold their breaths during a point, especially in tense situations. Players need the proper oxygen and need to stay loose in order to play with controlled aggression. It is very easy for the momentum to slip if a team loses the first couple of points of the tiebreaker by being tentative. However, by following the aforementioned strategy, one can win more points and stay one step ahead of your opponents.