A Mental Ride on a Razor Blade
By Juergen Mueller. Junior Coach of Dominik.
An incredible run by Dominik Koepfer from Villingen at the ATP 1000 in Rome. A Long Corona break, then mixed appearances at the US Open 2020 and in Kitzbühel. The pressure was on. Dominik’s results had been inconsistent after his star rose at Wimbledon last year and especially after his incredible run at the 2019 US Open when he finally caught the public’s eye and everything that comes with success at the top.
But success is seldom eternal, rather a blink of an eye in our fast-moving times. You have to prove yourself again and again not only in professional tennis but also in junior tennis where success is hyped, but quickly forgotten if things don’t go well. No one asks questions about possible reasons leading to suboptimal performances such as injuries or other personal matters, they simply write you off.
For Dominik, who was mostly a minor league player in his youth, this harsh reality was uncharted territory. As a young player he had a supporting home in his club and only himself to prove something to.
Back to the current tournament in Rome: Three, 3-set matches coming from behind, a match point against him saved, the unexpected success against Monfils, ranked in the top 10 in the world and then the dream of every tennis player, a match against the number 1 in the world.
How do you go into such a match? Enjoy, try not to get killed, play to win? What’s going on in the mind of a player? At 4-0 in the first set, Koepfer’s brain was probably churning. “Will I lose 6/0? That can happen. But I’m playing against Djokovic so maybe it is not too bad. But actually, very embarrassing, isn’t it?”
“Donne” was probably delighted when he saw his first game on the scoreboard. Then, in the second set, as if by magic, he suddenly played to win. Incredible, but probably the only way to play in those circumstances.
When Djokovic broke a racquet in frustration, one knew the pit bull was in his head. The thoughts of getting killed suddenly forgotten.
It only took a few minutes to go from loser to hero, a reminder that tennis just happens to be played “between the ears”, which is something one must never forget, especially when criticizing junior players’s results.
Everything that ran through Dominik Koepfer’s mind is what every competitive player experiences, and it is precisely such experiences that allow a player to evolve into the player that they will ultimately become. However, to gain experience, you need time. There is no way around it.