“Life Outside the Lines” is a new weekly column in collaboration with one of India’s promising Gen Next player, Mukund Sasikumar. With candid honesty, he shares his thoughts from a player’s perspective.
Read the previous episodes here –
This time I thought I’ll go with ITD’s suggestion to write about what happens when you play someone out of your comfort zone. That person can come in any form or situation. It can be someone much higher ranked, can be someone whose game style doesn’t suit you at all, can be some much younger and so on.
Often what happens in general life is, many of us or maybe all of us always have an illusion about something because it does take a good few years to see one of it in reality, at least in tennis. You can only imagine how a top 100 player plays or how it feels until you actually play him and that’s going take a while when you are still in juniors. So, we all end up making illusions of how something is going to be and of course, often our mind reacts to it accordingly when we get to that situation. But this sometimes can take a bad turn in tennis terms when you try to play over your limit, just because you think what you have is not enough to beat someone. Whereas in reality, it’s the other way around. Maybe or maybe not. But can you suddenly become better that day? So might as well do what you know. It can also happen when you play a bigger event with bigger prize money. We tend to again have illusions of how we should play instead of focusing on what we actually can play. Life is always a problem when there is a big gap between what it is and what it should be isn’t it? This happens to everyone. That’s why exposure and experience matter. But how many times can it happen or does it happen always this depends from person to person.
One major reason for this can be misleading due to TV and video highlights. The TV enhances the quality of someone playing because that’s their job and what’s worse is the highlights. We watch their best points and they look like gods whereas when you watch the whole match its nothing different than ours except the intensity. So, starting from top-100 we mostly watch it on tv and video and that leads to many wrong illusions. When was the last time someone watched a whole match which is not a classic? Of course, not including the 2019 Wimbledon final etc. Some matches are beyond words. I agree. But does someone watch a top 40 player play a top 60 player but the whole match apart from highlights? I don’t think many do!!!!
This is a very normal process every time you jump levels in tennis. Now how do we look to overcome this? Many people have many strategies. Some say experience helps. But if you ask me if you go a slam even as the last entrant, that means you have earned your place in the tournament. They didn’t give you a wildcard for the way you look. Second, when you play someone who you assume is much better than you, the only way to find out if he is really better or how much better, is by playing your style of game and let him find answers for it. So when you come out of a match and you end up creating an upset then you may have a new standard. If you end up getting murdered you also may have a new standard. But for both of this to happen you have to play your 100 per cent first to get the answers. If you make an image of this is how he is going to play and then play according to that, you will not even know where you stand in the end and will also be tough for your team or coach to decide what to work on. The worst thing is if you end up losing badly by playing passive you also end up concluding your level is even farther from the big guys than you thought which may be a completely different reality. So it’s ok if it happens the first few times. But better to replace our imaginations with the actual situation to get out of the black hole and adapt to levels very fast. It’s one of the main things needed to go high in the sport.
To give an example in my own life I qualified in a challenger and drew Pospisil in the first round. The week before he had beaten Andy Murray and was the first time I was playing a top 100 player or someone who has been close to top 30. So I was asking a top Indian player [DONT ASK ME WHY I ASKED HIM!!] on how should I play him and what can I add from the way I played the qualifying. He simply said even if you play Roger how does it matter? Anyway, you are not good enough to raise your game to those standards at the moment. You do what you are good at doing and let’s see what happens. Then if he beats you 0 and 0 so be it!! At first, the answer surprised me. Then I wondered maybe what he said is true. Anyway, I can’t pull off new tactics and shots because I am playing Pospisil. Why don’t I go out there and play what I can, but to the best of my ability? I ended up losing a close match 7-5 6-3 which for that day was a great show in 2017. Had I illusioned something and tried to play better than Andy Murray to beat him, I probably would have gifted him the match lost 2 and 2 and been happy for playing Pospisil and say he was much better than me. But thankfully I made returns, made him earn the points, stuck to my strengths and I actually broke his serve once. I am not saying what I did is always enough to beat those guys. I am just trying to say when you don’t know what to do or what’s coming, try and stick to what you know. You may be in for some surprises either way but your path gets clearer.
Finally, what I am trying to say is if he is really better than you and that’s what you think, then fine. But let him decide that by showing a better level of tennis and not by deciding for ourselves. Easier said than done, but no harm trying including me. Because Playing better opponents is going to be there forever.
Until next time,