The longest tennis match in history got a great Letterman mention!
Thanks to: World Wide Pants/CBS Late Show

Dear TennisDr:

Though I came from baseball, and hoped to be big league player, I’m glad to be into competitive tennis now that I’m in my 40’s. After 5 straight wins in 3.5 level USTA tournaments, I got my first loss in the semis of my first 4.0 event. I’m proud to have a win/loss of 5-1.

To be honest, I often went off in baseball when things didn’t go my way but I’m proud to have handled my first tennis tournament loss in a mature way like a gentleman. I can tell this will make it easier to learn from the defeat with a clear mind. That’s new to me. I only wish I had had this skill set in baseball. Please comment on the differences in mental approach and pressure in the two sports. Thanks.

Martin G.

Hey Martin:

Your accomplishment of learning how to take tennis loses gracefully, let them motivate you to improve, and come back stronger is huge. It is an enormous personal accomplishment you should be very proud of no doubt.

The differences in the psychological pressure on the athlete between the two sports is giant. Let’s explore the mindset of tennis and baseball players and what they are up against in terms of performance stress. Putting each sport in its place in terms of its demands on the human psyche is particularly useful for you because you had hopes of being an MLB player.

Let’s start with the demands of professional baseball, which aside from pitching skills, is mostly ruled by “at bat” percentage. In baseball, every “at bat” is a chance to get to, or maintain, a place on a big league roster instead of being “sent down” or remaining in lower leagues. That makes the mental stress enormous on every swing. The cruel and inhumanly difficult differences between being successful a fifth of the time (.200), a fourth of the time (.250), and a third of the time (.333) means a seat at the “big show”, or not.

These stats form a pretty hard barrier, a practical WALL to this pro sport. The mental skill set you’ve described in tennis, is WAY more difficult to achieve in baseball. It also explains the temptation to enhance performance artificially. That temptation is no where near as great in tennis for many reasons, but still obviously exists.

We are very lucky in tennis in that our swings are WAY more often successful than baseball, right? It’s why tennis is so amazingly fun. We are successful VERY often in terms of individual execution of skills. Whether that translates into winning a tournament or not is a TOTALLY different subject.

First Martin, I suggest you drop the notion from baseball of the win/lose record. There is no greater difference in tennis skill than 3.5 and 4.0 levels, so its time to reboot how you measure success for this totally new marketplace.

In tennis from elite to recreational player, you lose a match and there is another tourney next week to try again. The season does not suddenly end for unsatisfactory performance.  The fluctuations of all the athletes having good weeks, days, sets and bad weeks, days, sets is expected.

It’s a bit of a stormy sea but tennis players learn to paddle over the waves and get through the white cap chop from time to time. There are long intervals of glassy water too. Both are human and make the sport fun and unique.   Treating the ups and downs with a business like approach will bring the most success.

You would like the article about Stan Wawrinka in this months Tennis Magazine. Of course, it is a story of a player that had to accommodate the long shadow of his friend Roger Federer.   Patience in response to adversity is the theme here.

Keep in mind that for every tourney with a 64 player draw, 63 will lose. Those who lose MIGHT be tempted to think about there win/loss record, but my advice is to treat that thought like a dark, underwater cave that tennis players learn not to explore. The great coaches and players learn to always judge their success by incremental improvements in strategy and execution in every outing.  This effort is independent of that record.

The great sports coaches would agree that if you continue to work on your game, the wins and loses will take care of themselves.  Good luck with your tennis Martin!


The most physically dangerous variation, may be the best bet. Still, the TennisDr says, “Don’t try this at home!”