My father used to tell me that each time I played a match it was like I was reading a book. The more matches I played, the smarter I would get – the quicker I would be able to understand what was happening between the lines.

Matches are stories, – stories that have diverse plot lines and various characters.  As you read more, your vocabulary improves and so does your knowledge.  Knowledge breeds confidence. Your observations become more astute.  You begin to predict what will happen next. You start to identify idiosyncrasies in characters and recognize why they behave the way they do at key moments.

The great thing about playing matches is that they will always be different. There will always be players who are better than you, and of course there will also be players who are worse than you. This allows you to be challenged in different ways.

Stronger players expose your weaknesses and in turn help you to see where improvements need to be made – they basically give you a private lesson every time they beat you.  Weaker players allow you to use your strengths to exploit their weaknesses. They help boost your confidence and allow you to play shots you may be scared to use against stronger opponents. Each opponent you play will help with your improvement.  The key is to vary these opponents as much as possible to widen your experiences and to increase your learning.  Too many parents want their children only to play opponents who are better. This is a mistake.

I played a match last week against a player who had won the US Open Juniors twice and had reached an ATP career high of 286. It wasn’t his excellent footwork or speed around the court that amazed me, or even his impeccable timing on his backhand, or the weight behind his serve for a relatively small guy. What amazed me was that there wasn’t one single aspiring junior tennis player there to watch an expert put on a lesson of how to construct points and execute shots with confidence and near perfection. Not one!

If this is the best guy currently here in Hong Kong, why not watch and learn something?

He taught me several things and showed me how he would break my game down throughout the course of a match.  On every big point, he would attack my weaknesses without mercy.  Instead of making excuses – “I didn’t play well”, or feeling down about my loss, I can now take this information and work on my weaknesses so that if I get another chance to play him or another player of his caliber, I will at least be more prepared. “One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”[1]

What I have witnessed over the past few years is that people want results without putting in the work. Parents want to pay for private lessons so that a coach can teach their child how to hit the perfect forehand, which in turn will help them win matches and tournaments.

Tennis is not math and you cannot calculate a formula to win matches though. It is art, and it demands respect and dedication. Tennis is a game with too many variables. If it were that simple, then every rich person who wanted to be a world-class tennis player, would be.

“I have always considered tennis as a combat in an arena between two gladiators who have their racquets and their courage as their weapons”.[2]

Tennis matches and tournaments are won through heart, smarts and legs. They are not won by taking extra private lessons.

You must be thinking why would a coach shoot himself in the foot and basically tell you to stop taking private lessons? I’m not. I’m just asking you to make our job easier by doing everything you can to be as prepared as possible to reach your potential.

So what do you do next?

Legs (fitness) – build your body up.

If you haven’t read Pete Fisher’s article on tennis fitness and you’re interested, please e-mail me at and I will send it your way. It contains crucial information on how to prepare and build your body up to perform at its best capacity.  If you move like an athlete, you will perform like one. Your recovery rate will be better. You will reduce the risk of injury, and maximize the efficiency of power you get from your body.

Heart and smarts – read more books!  (Play more matches).

Challenge anybody and everybody. Accept challenges from anybody and everybody. Remember, it’s not the results of each match that counts, but the process of learning and growing. Keep a diary and make notes on the matches you play until you have played so many opponents that you have built your own library of experiences.


“Success is a journey, not a destination.  The doing is often more important than the outcome.” [3]

[1] Quote from Arthur Ashe.

[2] Quote from the legendary Yannick Noah.

[3] Quote from Arthur Ashe.



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