Michael Mmoh was one game away from qualifying for the 2022 US Open. Although he’d already played at Flushing Meadows three times, this was still another opportunity to compete in the main draw at his home Slam. But things suddenly went south after Mmoh was up 6-2, 5-2 on Gilles Simon. The American won just one more game and suffered a heartbreaking 6-2, 5-7, 1-6 loss.
Despite the defeat, Mmoh turned it into a lesson learned. After his loss to the Frenchman, Mmoh won 13 of his next 14 ATP Challenger Tour-level matches and was crowned champion at the Cary and Fairfield Challengers. The 25-year-old claims he sought after books and a psychologist to help him gain a new perspective.
“I think I put pressure on myself to do well during that US Open hard-court swing,” Mmoh told ATPTour.com. “I thought I was playing well at certain moments but I just wasn’t winning matches. Against Simon, I was up 6-2, 5-2, probably played the best two sets of the whole year to that point. Then things went completely sideways. That was probably one of the toughest losses of my career.
“It forced me to explore everything and anything that could make me better. I started to look at myself in the mirror and find out ways I can improve. I was reading books, talking to psychologists, just trying to learn more about myself. I started switching that perspective to be more positive and optimistic, even when things weren’t going well. I tried to re-channel my energy in the right way.
“There’s a psychologist that used to be the head of mental conditioning at IMG Academy, he recently got hired by the Tampa Bay Rays. I just reached out to him. Whenever you want to have a conversation or text him about something, you just drop in and it’s much more organic than just meeting with him weekly. A lot of it comes down to how you respond in the moment, but you want to bounce ideas, bounce different perspectives. You learn more about the situation, what went wrong, what could’ve been better.”
Mmoh’s new mindset proved to be effective. The American reached another Challenger Tour final, in Drummondville, Canada, to close out the 2022 season. But things didn’t stop there.
After earning a Lucky Loser spot at the Australian Open, Mmoh defeated 12th seed Alexander Zverev en route to a third-round appearance. In the opening round, Mmoh had to dig out of a huge hole to stay alive.
“I was down two-sets-to-love, [Laurent Lokoli] was serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set. Maybe before I started exploring some of these other things, maybe I would’ve lost that match. But I tried to focus my energy on things that would actually help me win the match, like some of the books I read, and some of the people I talked to really helped me with that.
“The more time you dwell on why you’re in a certain situation or what went wrong for you to be down a set and a break, the match is over. If you shift your focus to ‘Ok, I’m down a set and a break, what am I going to do?’ You have a much higher chance of getting yourself out of that hole.”
On Monday, Mmoh entered the Top 100 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings for the first time since October 2018. After dealing with a shoulder injury that forced his career to be ‘stop-start’, reaching a career-high 83 was a welcomed sight.
Michael Mmoh in action at the 2022 Cary Challenger. Credit: Sameer Cheema
“A year ago, I dropped to like 270 and things weren’t looking good,” Mmoh said. “I was questioning a lot of things. To be at a career-high now, a lot has changed. I’m happy that I’m finally healthy for a continued period of time.”
Paying attention to the minute details has paid off the American, who was born in Saudi Arabia. While many fans only see the on-court presentation that players provide, their work behind-the-scenes is unmatched. Mmoh, who is a seven-time Challenger champion, turned a crushing US Open defeat into motivation to find solutions.
“All of [the off-court training] has a great impact on how you perform on match day,” Mmoh said. “All the exercises you do, all the conditioning you do makes a difference. Nothing guarantees success but you have to put yourself in the best position and do everything possible that will help you.”