Private islands and preparation
The ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London brought down the curtain on the 2013 season. The year-ending event is very special in that it showcases the top eight male players in world tennis.
Watching the top eight compete over the years has proved a strong source of motivation for me – it remains a dream of mine to compete at this event.
For those of us who didn’t make the year-end Finals, it offered a good time for reflection.
Personally, there were many positives to draw from 2013, highlighted by the fact I finished the year in the top 20 for the first time in my career.
It’s an accomplishment that I’m proud of and a step closer to achieving one of the goals I set when I started playing tennis – finishing the year in the top 10.
My Grand Slam highlights came at the Australian and French Opens. Reaching the fourth round at those events for the first time was a great feeling.
Those positive results for me came on the back of some good opening matches played, especially the third round of both tournaments.
Another personal highlight was beating David Ferrer in the second round at Indian Wells. It proved one of my best matches of 2013, particularly considering I underwent elbow surgery only six weeks prior.
The toughest part of my year was the injury I sustained to my right hand just before the US Open. It came at a very unfortunate time for me and, as it took a month for my hand to heal, I believe I lost some of the momentum I’d built up.
I’m often asked what I do in my off-season as it’s a time of year that is spent away from the public eye. Even though there are no tournaments during this period, it remains a very crucial phase of preparation for the following year.
The first part of this period is focused on rest and recovery. For the last two years, I’ve spent this time back in South Africa visiting my family and friends. I don’t get many chances to return to SA during the year, so that time was really enjoyed.
Even though this period is predominantly about rest and mental relaxation, I have found that it’s still important to do some form of activity. If I don’t, when I start up again I feel I run the risk of injury.
The activity doesn’t have to be intense at all. Over the last 10 days, for example, I’ve played some tennis with my dad, in addition to some light running and swimming.
Having left South Africa, in the coming weeks I start training again but not much time will be spent on the tennis court.
Instead the focus is in the gym and on the track. The objective is to gain strength and endurance. I will maintain this program until the beginning of December.
From that point, I’ll head to Delray Beach, Florida, where my wife Kelsey and I relocated earlier this year.
Although I’ll still spend a considerable amount of time in the gym, the amount of tennis I play picks up markedly. I’ll spend three to four hours on the court and one hour 30 minutes in the gym.
The on-court time is spent working on specific parts of my game that I’m looking to improve. There is a lot of drilling, with plenty of balls being hit.
Additionally there is more emphasis placed on speed endurance (anaerobic) as opposed to the more general cardio work (aerobic) done in earlier weeks.
This phase lasts around three weeks before a further shift in focus takes place. The attention then moves from drilling to point-play and at this stage intensity in the gym drops off.
These activities last about a week before it’s time to travel to the particular tournament and get accustomed to the conditions.
What goes without say during this whole period is the necessity for rehab and recovery. Physio and massage work is very important, as is nutrition and rest.
Even though it’s referred to as the ‘off-season’, the month of December is one of my most demanding working months of the year.
It’s a time when I can work hard on my physical conditioning as well as on-court improvements, which is tough to do during the year.
Owing to the above, I’m going to enjoy my last week of rest!
I’ve been invited to participate in Sir Richard Branson’s charity event on his private island this week with my wife in tow.
It represents a good opportunity to relax for a few more days before starting to prepare in earnest for 2014.
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