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Skill, will, and Jil

Matt Zemek

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The first round of the Madrid Open, featuring Jil Teichmann’s upset of fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina, provided timeless lessons to anyone who plays tennis. One lesson is something we seem to be noticing a lot more in recent years: Having match point doesn’t mean you are going to win.

Even before Madrid, we saw evidence of this reality: Stefanos Tsitsipas had match point on Rafael Nadal in the Barcelona final. He didn’t win. Nadal had match point on Tsitsipas and almost lost before rallying.

Another lesson provided by Teichmann’s win over Svitolina — the one we will focus on today — is that as long as a match is still going on, a message can be sent across the net. The conversation can be changed. The temperature in the room can be adjusted.

Remember Chanda Rubin coming back from 5-0, 40-love down in the third set to beat Jana Novotna at Roland Garros decades ago? That’s the ultimate final-set comeback in any tennis match ever played, but more recently, we have seen Ash Barty and Elina Svitolina come back from 2-5 or 3-5 deficits to escape defeats in Stuttgart.

Teichmann doesn’t have the stature or accomplishments of Svitolina, but she clearly paid attention to everything which happened last week on the WTA Tour.

Even when Svitolina led 5-1 and 5-2 in the final set, Teichmann exuded confidence. Her energy level did not drop. She projected a vibrant presence and relished the on-court battle. Her appetite for competition didn’t wane. She never signaled to Svitolina that she was tiring of the fight and would meekly concede, resigning herself to her fate.

She consistently communicated to Svitolina that she was up for a scrap until the last point.

Svitolina, sensing this, pressed too much on her six match points, making impatient errors and playing with less margin than was warranted. Svitolina certainly did not handle the situation well, but Teichmann did play a role in making her opponent slip. Players aren’t as likely to overextend or miscalibrate if their opponents don’t apply match pressure.

Teichmann faced a significant scoreboard deficit, but she found a way to relax while making Svitolina feel match pressure.

After surviving six match points with confidence and belief, Teichmann was able to earn — and win — a match point of her own.

Always project confidence and an appetite for battle. You never know when an opponent — even an accomplished one — might squeeze the racquet a little too tightly and miss by an inch.

That’s the lesson Jil Teichmann taught in Madrid on Thursday.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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