Thomson emphasizes a very un-McEnroe style of play as Gophers women seek first Big Ten victory

Gophers coach Tyler Thomson wants his players to keep their emotions in check.

Bob Wothe

Minnesota’s women’s tennis team traded its rackets for a remote control and the hard tennis courts for some cozy chairs Tuesday.

For the first half of the team’s practice, coach Tyler Thomson showed the team a video of the 2004 French Open.

It’s all part of Thomson’s plan to teach his Gophers (5-9, 0-4 Big Ten) the importance of holding their emotions in check in matches.

“The best players in the world control their emotions,” Thomson said. “Other than guys like (John) McEnroe and (Marat) Safin, you can’t tell whether they won or lost a point.”

While nobody on the team has actually reached a level comparable to McEnroe, it’s been those types of emotional breakdowns Thomson said have played a large factor in the team’s still-winless Big Ten campaign.

And Thomson said carrying an icy-cold demeanor about themselves is crucial to the success of the players in the upcoming weeks.

“We need to learn how to recognize the situations that result in those knee-jerk reactions and avoid them,” Thomson said. “If we show any emotion at all, it has to be positive. Otherwise, the opponent will see you melting down and take advantage.”

But that’s easier said than done, sophomore Ida Malmberg said.

“Tennis is a very mental game, and it’s easy to lose control of yourself,” Malmberg said. “It’s very frustrating for me when I know I can make shots and I miss them.”

Malmberg said fighting past the emotions is difficult, and the negativity often snowballs when things don’t go her way.

Both Malmberg and freshman Danielle Mousseau said the key to getting past the moments of frustration is to slow down.

“It’s all about not rushing and thinking positively,” Mousseau said. “Even working on your breathing helps.”

With the team still seeking its first Big Ten win, the ability to control itself will be important if it hopes to pull upsets of No. 33 Wisconsin (11-5, 3-2) on Saturday or No. 2 Northwestern (15-2, 5-0) on Sunday.

“We’ve been losing a lot of close matches,” Malmberg said. “I think if we can just get one of them, that can start momentum for us and turn our season around.”

Thomson agreed, adding that his team is still young and learning the ropes of Big Ten play.

“We still have over half the Big Ten season left,” Thomson said. “If we can keep believing we’re good enough, anything can happen.”

Men play trio at home

Minnesota’s men’s tennis team has a full slate this weekend at Baseline Tennis Center.

The 57th-ranked Gophers take on Wisconsin on Friday, No. 64 Northwestern on Saturday and No. 30 Rice on Sunday in a nonconference matchup to close out the long weekend.

In preparation for the demanding weekend, interim coach David Wheaton said, the team worked on its conditioning extensively in the last two weeks.

“The courts here are very slow, and we don’t switch balls,” Wheaton said. “That means lots of long points, so we’re working on upping our conditioning 10 to 15 percent so we close out matches strongly.”