Back To The Beginning Again

Tennis is one of the toughest sports in my opinion, not just because it is an individual sport, but also due to the fact that there is no set criteria to follow in order to achieve success. If anyone has tried to play tennis at a high level or even a recreational level, it soon becomes evident just how much you dont know about the sport and how little credible information is available to you.

If you are interested and passionate about a specific job, you will be provided with a job description, which assists you in considering your chances of landing the role. If you want to purchase a product, the price, brand and description of the product is given to you prior to purchase. If you want to travel to a certain country, it just takes one online search to find out everything you need to know to proceed. In a way, there is some form of expectation and so working towards meeting that expectation seems plausible. What about tennis? Where are the ‘trip advisors’ or ‘expedias’ in relation to tennis? It’s non existent. You may be wondering why this is the case. I know I have on many occasions.

The biggest reason for that in my opinion is because becoming a professional tennis player is like wanting to be a successful actor/actress, singer, performer, artist etc. Nobody really knows whether or not someone will excel, even though the potential is evident. There are no two individuals who will have the same journey either. Take Venus and Serena Williams for example, who were born to the same parents, raised in the same household, had the same upbringing, but have had very different careers as tennis players both on and off the court. There is no certainty that being taught at a prestigious school, academy or anywhere else and by whom for that matter will result in success either. It’s a matter of trial and error, drawing to a halt and then starting back at the beginning again in order to find what brings out the best in you or your player. The trigger for this process is when you begin to see your results plateau over a period of 6 to 12 months. Flexibility is just the start. Being open to new ideas, innovation and changing routines/processes is what this is all about.

In sport, your biggest rivals are your competition. The key is to be on your toes so to speak, keeping your eyes and ears open, continually studying your competition to understand their strengths and weaknesses. All the while to ensure you HAVE and SUSTAIN a competitive advantage. Differentiating yourself is the greatest asset of all!

 

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Lessons from the French Open

  1. Be cool – Playing the big points well can get you across the line, i.e. Garbine Muguruza during the second week of tennis, particularly against Samantha Stosur and Serena Williams.
  2. Work the crowd – The French crowd loves showmanship and they support the player who is entertaining. Remember that tennis is a form of entertainment and people are paying money and/or giving up their time to watch you compete.
  3. Sliding is an art form – I noticed many athletes losing their footing at times throughout the tournament, so as a tip to juniors or anyone out there playing on clay courts, not every ball requires you to slide into it to make your strike. Balance is key.
  4. Tennis player by day, tourist by night – One thing I can assure you is that you don’t get the opportunity to travel a great deal in your life time, so when you have the chance, make the most of it! Go into the city or town, meet with the locals, enjoy their cuisine and way of life, even try to communicate in the local language too. You’ll have a blast.
  5. Be patient – This is so crucial when playing on the clay, because this is the slowest surface in the game and naturally, your opponent will run more tennis balls down so you cannot expect the usual ‘one-two-three’ strike combo you love to play. It’s all about hitting multiple strokes per point, so be creative and expect another ball at all times.
  6. Black always works – How good does the black tennis apparel look against the red clay? I think it looks amazing! 😉

I believe that the clay court tennis season is the most physically demanding season of them all. If you practice on the clay courts frequently, you will not only learnt to be more patient, but you will become a fitter player. It’s important to vary your training from clay court to hard court and find a balance that suits you. Have fun out there!

 

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.

 

A final for the ages

The Australian Open women’s final produced one of the most spectacular matches in the open era. For me personally, it was the best match I have seen in the history of the sport!

Serena Williams was chasing history, looking to equal the great Steffi Graf who holds an open era record of 22 major singles titles. When it came to Australian Open finals, Williams was 6 and 0 for wins versus losses. Angelique Kerber was chasing her own dream, to become a grand slam champion. Germany hadn’t produced a grand slam champion since 1999 when Steffi Graf triumphed in Paris. All week, she had been receiving messages of support from the legend herself.

It was clear right from the start that Serena felt the weight of the world on her shoulders, whilst Angie was cool, calm and collected. From the first ball hit, I could see that Kerber was fearless. She was poised and composed, almost as if she had been to a grand slam final dozens of times when in actual fact it was her first major final! Serena on the other hand was erratic, spraying her groundstrokes long and wide. Kerber was reading Serena’s serve unbelievably well and chased every ball down, making Serena play just one more shot in each rally. On top of that, when Serena came into the net, Kerber delivered her signature passing shots with precision (hitting Serena with one of them!) It was clear that Serena was certainly under her best level of tennis, but she kept swinging and in the second set it was all Serena. The key factor which hampered Serena’s chances was that she didn’t gain many ‘free points’, which is what she often relies on in the big moments. She couldn’t hit her signature ace out wide on the deuce court or down the tee on the advantage court (only 7 for the whole match). That must’ve impacted Serena’s confidence that she just couldn’t put her opponent away.

I confessed to my family with whom I was watching the match with that, if Kerber does not triumph tonight, I will lose all faith in the sport of tennis. I just couldn’t fathom that a player could go on and lose a match where they have performed in sublime fashion over the course of 2 hours. Only 13 unforced errors to 25 winners and 5 aces to 3 double faults. WOW. I just couldn’t see what else Kerber had to do to triumph, but it clearly shows us what it takes to beat the best!

The entire tennis world and sporting world is cheering for Angie, she deserved the title and has inspired many onlookers in the process. By staying positive, working very hard and believing in yourself, she proved that you can make your dreams come true. Even her opponent, Serena, admitted in her post-match press conference that she found inspiration from what she faced out on court. Serena’s praise for Kerber, graciousness in defeat and sportsmanship post-match is evidence of what a wonderful person, competitor and champion she is. Kudos to both women!

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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! 🙂

 

Statistics Never Lie

There are some tennis players who disregard the value of statistics when it comes to improving and developing their game. I was never one of those players. I see statistics as very valuable information which can be used to assess current performance and predict future performances.

After each match, I recorded the final scoreline in my diary and got hold of any statistics available to me. I found it quite amazing at how often a good first serve percentage, low unforced error count and total points won would not tell the complete story in a tennis match. It’s not easy to remember every single detail over the course of a match, so I would often find this task very interesting. On many occasions I should have lost the match according to the statistics, but why didn’t I?

Traditonally, you are taught to simply ‘make’ the ball, which is another way to say ‘hit the ball in the court’. This is a very important concept at an introductory level to tennis however, there has to be a moment where you must begin to accept that you may need to concede points in order to produce a more effective result. This is because the philosophy of ‘making’ the ball only, will teach a player to become passive and predictable. I respect playing percentage tennis as a rule, but rules are made to be broken 🙂

Take a look at these statistics and see what you make of the performances by each player using statistics alone. Can you guess who won the match?*

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Source: http://www.rolandgarros.com

*Match winners were Serena Williams, Gael Monfils and Petra Kvitova

 

Tennis Masterclass with Serena Williams

I haven’t read a truer statement than this. There are so many people that come in and out of your life who teach you something. If you have the mentality that there is always more to learn, than you will make the most out of any experience.

It’s not everyday that an athlete of Serena Williams’ calibre offers advice to an aspiring professional, or is willing to take the time to catalogue her own road to success (or I should say, greatness in this case).

She has never been afraid to set the tone and always pushing the boundaries, Serena Williams is offering her first ever master class is tennis! It’s a 10-part video series which covers a range of areas such as technique, mentality, tactics and movement. For such a small price, you gain unlimited access to this material which has been produced to a very high standard.

I highly recommend this master class, taught by one of the greatest and most charismatic champions of all time in Serena Williams (follow the link to the masterclass within Serena’s tweet).

 

The 5-Year Engagement For Vaidisova

I know from experience that the women’s professional game is the most physical it has ever been. The Williams’ sisters introduced supreme athleticism and power into the game in the late 90’s and the game has not taken a step back from that point.

Since then, many female professionals have retired quite abruptly and years later, joined the tour again. The most famous example is Martina Hingis, who retired at world number 1, at 22 years of age and years later make a short-lived return to the singles game and is now successfully competing on the doubles tour. Kim Clijsters was one of the most successful tennis players to return to the game after years of retirement, where she won two US Open titles and numerous WTA titles post retirement. Serena and Venus Willams have also endured months off the tour due to injury and illness, but have successfully bounced back and continued to dominate.

Last week, we witnessed the return of another professional, in Nicole Vaidisova. Nicole qualified into the main draw at Albierto Open in Monterrey, Mexico. This was her first professional main draw appearance in over 5 years!

Tennis is a wonderful sport. The journey is all about the individual and the desire you have to be out on court and to compete. Yes, the rankings are calculated on a 52-week rollover system, but that should never be at the forefront as to why you play the game. Always remember to focus on what YOU want to achieve and to not be afraid of stepping away from the game if YOU want to. Time is always on your side if you treat it well.

 

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