The core issue in tennis as of 2016

Tennis has had an interesting 2016 thus far, with the biggest surprise being Sharapova’s failed drug test at the Aussie Open. My personal opinion is that her case shouldn’t be treated lightly and a lengthy ban is the only response necessary for an athlete who admits to using a performance enhancing drug throughout her entire career. I’m positive the media would’ve wanted to ride that wave for many months, going back and forth about whether or not Sharapova was guilty or innocent, then after the verdict on Sharapova’s ban from the game, media will spend a few more months building up fans about what their view is on the length of the ban and if it was appropriate or not.

Sharapova is a powerhouse in the sport of tennis, and she has certainly made friends in high places throughout her career. Having said that, there hasn’t been many professional tennis players coming to her defence, perhaps Novak Djokovic has been the most supportive of all and Serena Williams was also sincere about her thoughts on the issue. In my opinion, it is of no surprise that we have a new debate, the one on equal prize money in tennis, once again. This has certainly come out of nowhere, thanks to Raymond Moore’s misogynistic statement about equal pay in tennis (costing him his job as the CEO and tournament director at the BNP Paribas Open and rightly so) and Novak Djokovic’s very ill-informed statement about equal pay. I wonder just how much of this comes down to redirecting the fans’ focus onto another topic which in my opinion isn’t as important as doping in tennis at present.

The tennis world is a small one, almost like one big family at the highest level. Of course there are rivalries and friendships but the one thing that you will always see in the tennis world is the desire to protect the image of the game and the players’ welfare. At some point you have to accept that there are players who don’t care about the game of tennis, integrity of the sport and other players’ welfare but rather, their own individual success and living off the limelight and endorsements that this sport provides them. In my opinion, Sharapova is the latter and anyone who comes to her defence is also much similar to her in nature. As a former professional tennis player tennis and coach at present, I insist that we have to name and shame professional tennis players who proactively play ‘around’ the rules for years and once they get caught, insist that they are innocent. The response from Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Kristina Mladenvovic is exactly what this sport needs. The tour is not made up of one or two terrific players, instead there are thousands of players worthy of their shot at the highest level and it’s time that we give them a chance at success. Being over-protective of players at the highest level is the core issue here and it needs to change now.

 

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Do Lead Up Tournaments Matter?

At the end of December, when others are looking forward to a holiday, time off work, spending Christmas and New Year’s with family and friends, tennis players are traveling and competing as per tournament schedule requirements. I observed that the way players finished a season would impact the start of the new season. It almost sets the tone for the next group of tournaments, which was evident last week with Svetlana Kuznetsova, winning the Kremlin Cup at year-end 2015 then having an off season and starting 2016 with a win at the Apia International in Sydney. There is no way you can fault how Kuznetsova and her team have handled the past 3-4 months. Victoria Azarenka and co have also been flawless in terms of their preparation, winning the Brisbane International over very strong competition. Current world no.1 Novak Djokovic has only lost 2 matches in 6 months, which is nothing short of amazing!

It will be all eyes on Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios as they prepare to beat the likes of Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal in just over one week’s time. They are Australia’s best chance at this years major, so I wanted to go a little deeper into the way they have performed in the lead up to the event. Tomic had a nice run in Shanghai in October of 2015, competed in a couple of ATP Tour events thereafter, had an off season and as a lead up to the Australian Open, competed in two ATP Tour 250 events in Brisbane and Sydney. Kyrgios was impressive at Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo in October 2015, competed in a couple ATP Tour events thereafter, spent December competing in the Indian Premier Tennis League and as a lead up to the Australian Open, decided to accept an invitation to compete for Australia in both the Hopman Cup and Kooyong Classic.

Tomic and co seem ‘ranking-focused’ whereas Kyrgios and co are ‘exhibition-focused’. There is no right or wrong way to prepare for a major as it depends on the individual player, but both Tomic and Kyrgios were not able to finish matches in their lead up events, due to illness and injury respectively. That is quite concerning because there was no great deal of stress placed upon them over the past few months in terms of match numbers. The proof is in the pudding and lead up events are a tell tale sign of which players will excel at the majors. It will certainly be one exciting fortnight! 🙂

 

The Pursuit of Becoming a Tennis Champion

The pursuit of becoming a tennis champion is a journey that consists of numerous highs and lows. In my opinion and after my own experiences, the lows certainly outweigh the highs, particularly if you have your sights on big time tennis. This is the nature of the sport of tennis. It’s not about how many highs or lows you experience or the positive and negative experiences, rather treating every experience as simply being part of the bigger picture. I tell my students on many occasions that if they want to be successful, they must stay in the present moment, because that is the only way they will truly embrace all that is around them and grow as an athlete and person.

Having said that, there should also be a long-term outlook for every athlete and it should be based on the following things;

  1. Work hard and smart
  2. Seek improvement
  3. Focus on your health
  4. Be happy
  5. Be mentally fit for competition.

In addition to the above, you should keep your eye on your short-term goals and focus on achieving them, because they are the pathway towards achieving the long-term goals. The long-term goals will predominantly require tournament schedule planning and ranking analysis.

Let’s take a real-life example, say your short-term goal is to get fit before a big tournament, so you hire a fitness trainer and spend 6-8 weeks working on a specific fitness program in addition to your on-court training. Learn from the experience and move onto the next goal. This could be to better your serve, so spend 20min at the end of each on-court session working on the serve, in addition to your current on-court activities and fitness maintenance schedule. Learn from the experience and move onto the next goal. This could be to work on your in-game tactics during matches. One way to help you here is to play games and tie-breakers in addition to your on court-training and fitness maintenance schedule. It would be ideal to have your coach watch you and guide you in terms of in-game tactics to improve on. So as you can see, you have now tackled 3 short-term goals of improving your fitness, serve and tactics in a smart and productive way. This is how you can work hard and smart.

Do you think that an athlete can do this alone? I don’t think it is possible in the long-run. It takes a team of professionals behind every step of the way for any athlete. It is not a walk in the park at all!

If that sounds like much, or you’re thinking ‘Alison, you must be exaggerating”, let’s take a look into a day in the life of young Rafa Nadal, as he explains in his own words whilst unveiling his new tennis academy in Mallorca, Spain.

“Attend School from 9am to 12pm. Tennis Training from 12-2pm. Attend School from 2-5:30pm. Soccer Training from 5:30-7pm. Tennis Training from 7-9pm. Dinner and Homework from 9pm onwards.”

Are you still asking, what does it take to become a tennis champion?

 

Just What The Doctor Ordered

Over the past decade the ATP tour has produced one of all-time greatest eras with the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. I can’t remember a time where there has been so much dominance on the tour by four players. From 2005 to present the only players to have won a grand slam other than the ‘top four’ mentioned above are, Marat Safin (Australian Open 2005), Juan Martin Del Potro (US Open 2009), Marin Cilic (US Open 2014) and Stan Wawrinka (Australian Open 2014 & French Open 2015). It’s been a tough journey for fellow ATP players during this time, nonetheless it will come to an end at some point.

I am predicting a new breed of grand slam winners over the next five years. They may not be the crowd favourite or a favourite in any respect but, they will be seasoned players with tremendous ball-striking ability. Tennis fans should prepare themselves for the turning of the guard because it is inevitable.

This week at Wimbledon there has been much talk about behaviour, attitude and respect. A place like the AELTC demands a certain ettiquette quite naturally. The top four have been a joy to watch but let’s not forget that they have also had to learn about the rules and processes of the sport and handling media. There is so much more to tennis than meets the eye. Let’s all be patient during this transition period and look forward to the new breed of grand slam champions.

 

Wimbledon

The most prestigous tennis event is about to get underway in London. The Championships, or more commonly known as Wimbledon is the event that every tennis player dreams about. It’s all about the tradition, which is evident the second you approach the All England Tennis & Croquet Club. There is the beautiful rustic gates at entry, scent of the plants, perfectly kept grounds, grass courts, the all-white attire, Henman Hill (or Murray Mound post 2013 after Andy’s victory), Pimms, strawberry’s and cream, the club house and not to mention the chance meeting with royalty. The centre court at Wimbledon has seen some of the most memorable tennis matches in history. I was inspired by the matches played by Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Martina Hingis and Venus Williams and more recently the 2008 men’s final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. That is one of my favourite matches of all time.

I am looking forward to this year’s event as it will surely be another magnificent display of high quality tennis and athleticism.

 

The Club Coach Is Slowly Becoming Obsolete

I began my journey in this sport as a social player and progressed all the way to the professional level. Many people would find it difficult to believe that I didn’t feel qualified to play the role of ‘coach’ for a very long time. Upon request, I would take a look at a friends swing from time to time and give them some pointers, but that was all. It was only after years of playing hundreds of tennis matches in varying conditions, fitness and mental training, dietary planning, research, attending tennis clinics, workshops and working with club coaches, that I began to feel as though I had enough knowledge to begin a coaching career. Even after all that, there is always more to know.

I do find the current trend of former tennis champions beginning to take on the role of coach to current professionals quite interesting. Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario and Martina Navratilova are the latest former champions to jump on the coaching bandwagon, working with Caroline Wozniacki and Aga Radwanska respectively. I wrote an article a few months ago with further details on this current trend, beginning with Andy Murray’s partnership with Ivan Lendl (see: https://alisonshemon.wordpress.com/2015/01/27/andy-murray-slicker-than-your-average-tennis-player/).

In my opinion, the club coach is going to suffer big time. Our game is driven by the actions of the current WTA and ATP players. Almost every coach that is in the players box did not actually ‘develop’ that professional. That is what a club coach does and more. Without the examples of dynamic duo’s such as Uncle Toni and Rafa, Carlos Rodriguez and Justine Henin, Nick Bollettieri and Monica Seles/Mary Pierce/Andre Agassi, Robert Landsdorp and Tracy Austin/Lindsay Davenport, Peter Carter and Roger Federer, the hiring of a club coach at the highest level could soon be a thing of the past.

 

Off/Mid Season Conditioning – It Does Exist

The Australian Open, Wimbledon, Fed Cup and Davis Cup are broadcasted on TV each year, and we are amazed at the level of play. For some of us who are lucky enough to watch the action live, it’s even more exciting to see. Then, we go out for a game and realise that it really isn’t as easy as it looked.

When we watch the professionals competing, we are witnessing the final result of months of hard work and preparation. Just what do these players do behind the scenes which enables their bodies to handle such a physically demanding sport?

I’ve gathered a few videos posted by various professional tennis players, which will give you some insight on the various types of conditioning exercises they use.

Bright, Vibrant and Fun Outfits at The Aussie Open 2015

I believe that what you wear is a form of expression. It can tell you a lot about someone’s personality. For example, if they aren’t afraid to wear colour, it shows that this person is fun, confident, daring and not afraid to stand out.

The Australian Open dress code allows for anything deemed as ‘acceptable tennis attire’. The major sports brands relish at the thought of having full creative control over their designs and it’s always exciting for the players to see what the designers come up with at the start of the season. A special mention has to go to Nike for their use of neon colours this year (particularly pink and yellow) which is a common trend amongst their line. I absolutely love it!

Take a look at the photo gallery below of this years fashion on the court at the Australian Open.

Fashion On The Court Gallery

Serena Williams
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Thanasi Kokkinakis
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Rafael Nadal
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Andy Murray
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Roger Federer
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Bernard Tomic
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Petra Kvitova
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Milos Raonic
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Nick Kyrgios
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Caroline Wozniacki
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Victoria Azarenka
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Sara Errani
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Eugenie Bouchard
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Ajla Tomljanovic
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