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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Tennis


The Zone of Enjoyment

Billy Nicol

Being Scottish, I couldn't help being interested in Andy Murray's progress during the recent Wimbledon Tennis Championships. He actually had a very successful tournament, beating Andy Roddick of America in the 3rd round, before losing to Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus in his next match. He really played very poorly in his match with Baghdatis, however, and was left feeling utterly confused by the serious lack of spirit and talent displayed in his own performance. This was in such sharp contrast to his previous match with Roddick, making it all the more devastating for Murray and his entire camp. So, what happened?

Well, I remember Murray talking about the match with Roddick, during a television interview, the day before it was due to take place. I was particularly impressed by the statements that he made stressing that it would be such an honour to play Roddick, one of his great sporting heroes, on the crowded Centre Court. After all, Roddick was the current world number 5, the number 3 seed for Wimbledon, and the beaten finalist in both 2004 and 2005. So, Murray really didn't expect to beat him, and the media clearly didn't expect him to win either.

To everyone's great surprise, however, Murray played a superb match, winning by 3 sets to 0. Clearly, he was "in the zone", to use the expression that is so often used to describe great sporting performances. Why was he in the zone? Well, the lack of expectations was certainly a tremendous help. Although he would dearly love to win the match, and progress to the next round, there was clearly no need to fear defeat because everyone expected the American to prevail. Murray was just so happy to be on the Centre Court playing Roddick, grateful that he had this wonderful opportunity, and delighted to simply be involved in this great occasion. He was therefore fully focussed throughout the match, which seemed to bring a kind of heightened awareness, allowing him to perform to the very peak of his talents.

The situation was clearly very different when he turned up two days later for his match with Marcos Baghdatis, the exciting young Cypriot. After his terrific victory against Roddick, the British media and public seemed to assume that Murray would beat Baghdatis without too much trouble. After all, Baghdatis was only the number 18 seed, with a world ranking of 16, and an obvious lack of experience on the grass surface. Carried away by Murray's victory over Roddick, everyone seemed to forget that Bhagdatis had reached the Australian Open final just a few months earlier, where he actually put up a very impressive performance against the brilliant Roger Federer. The powerful Cypriot's world ranking was also much higher than Murray's, while he also had very clear advantages when it came to physical strength and competitive experience.

To the great dismay of the partisan British crowd, who packed into the Centre Court, Murray never seemed to be at peace with himself during any part of this match. Unlike his match with Roddick, playing Bhagdatis on the famous Centre Court obviously wasn't seen as much of an honour, as the young Cypriot hadn't yet earned a place amongst the tennis elite. All that mattered was winning and advancing to the next round, and making the quarter final of a Grand Slam tournament for the very first time. In other words, the result was everything, an attitude that was clearly in great contrast to the attitude of appreciation that was so evident in the Roddick clash.

Unfortunately for Murray, Bhagdatis got off to a much better start, and Murray never really seemed comfortable at any time during a pretty one-sided encounter. His objective of reaching the last eight was almost immediately placed in jeopardy, and the fear that this seemed to generate contributed greatly to a totally lack-lustre performance, with frequent angry and petulant outbursts from Murray. No one could possibly suggest that he was "in the zone" on this occasion, because the match was painful rather than exhilarating, and his focus seemed to be all over the place.

Murray's remarks at the TV interview afterwards showed that he was totally bewildered by his surprisingly inept display. He just couldn't understand how he could possibly go from the tremendous heights of Saturday to the excruciating depths of Monday. So, what went wrong? Well, his attitude to the match went very badly wrong. Enjoying the occasion was replaced by far too great a concern about the outcome of the match, an attitude that exposed the young Scot to the presence of debilitating fear throughout the entire contest. And, how can you possibly be in harmony with your existence when the result of your performance, the victory, assumes a far greater importance than the performance itself?

Yes, it's true that we can't all be sporting superstars, but we certainly can discover that simple harmony. And, it is this inner harmony that is central to the intensely satisfying experience of "being in the zone". In order to perform at our best, we need to be fully present where we are, clearly focussed on whatever we happen to be doing at that particular moment. Planning for the future certainly shouldn't be neglected, but whenever we look forward to some future event with too much passion, wishing that we were there instead of where we are, we actually take all the good things that are currently in our life for granted. So, plan for the future as the need arises, but don't forget to appreciate what's going on in your life right now.

How, then, can we apply this understanding in our own lives? Well, what is our principal mode of being? Are we consistently centred in that place of inner enjoyment and happiness? Or, are we usually looking forward to some future change in our circumstances, believing that this change will bring us the happiness that we cherish? Do we spend much of the working day looking forward to the time when we can go home? Do we spend much of the working week wishing that it was Friday? Do we spend much of our time looking forward to the holidays, or to retirement? Do we carry out our chores, duties or responsibilities with reluctance, boredom or frustration? Are our thoughts focussed on past regrets or future hopes and fears? Then, clearly, in all of these cases, we are not living in that wonderful zone of contentment and harmony.

Anyone can enjoy those occasional situations that are entirely consistent with their wishes. But, it takes real understanding if we are to consistently live our lives from that simple place of inner enjoyment. And, that possibility exists for all of us. When we finally realise that the real enjoyment is within us, and that it is not dependent on external circumstances, then that great transformation can finally take place in our life. We will then have a much higher degree of peace and hope, qualities that really can be savoured throughout our daily lives. We will also be grateful for each day, and we will naturally wish to experience that gratitude in all the different situations that arise in our lives. So, pursue all these great qualities in your life if you want to enter that incredible zone where the real enjoyment is constantly flowing.

Good luck!

Any comments? Billy Nicol can be contacted at this email address: How did I find the zone of enjoyment? Well, you can have a look at these 2 websites: and People from the UK can visit this website: Good luck!

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