'The Happy Slam'
It’s a new year and a new beginning for the tennis season – starting with the first Grand Slam, the Australian Open.
The tournament holds several nicknames. You will often hear it referred to as ‘The Player’s Slam’ owing to just how player-friendly the event has become. Recent years have seen high-end facility upgrades and some of the most generous prize-money increases.
It’s also fondly dubbed the ‘The Happy Slam’ on account of the general mood and positive attitude of the players at the event. In the previous few weeks, us professionals enjoyed home time with our families and some time away from tour.
Thus, at this time of the year we are genuinely happy to see each other once again and to return to competition mode.
Many players make significant changes during the off-season, myself included, and the Aussie Open represents the first opportunity to debut said changes at a Slam.
In the quest to reach my peak performance, I’ve continued to implement training and preparation techniques which have served me well in the past.
However, I’m also in the process of implementing some major changes for the 2014 season, which I believe are critical to my development as a player.
I’ve found that after recently coming off of the year’s longest training block, it’s really important to manage injuries and make sure one is ‘fresh.’
Owing to the above, I typically enlist the aid of top-notch physiotherapist Murray Hing (from FlexaClinic in New Zealand). Murray’s work with me ensures I receive the right amount of rehabilitation to keep my body healthy and primed for competition.
He employs a combination of deep muscle tissue massage, chiropractic manipulations and acupuncture techniques. I have found this multi-faceted approach to be the most effective in keeping my body injury-free.
Unfortunately this year already, in regard to my on-court training and preparation, I ran into a little bit of a road-block leading up to the Australian Open.
In Brisbane, my first event of the year, I contracted Salmonella (one of the most common types of food poisoning) and was unable to compete in the singles event.
After a week of misery and an overnight hospital stay, I felt just well enough to take to the court the following week in Auckland. Fighting fatigue, I personally felt I had a dismal first-round showing.
Although I had fewer matches to prepare for the Australian Open this year, for the most part I’m pleased with my first round five-set win over Czech Jiri Vesely.
Leading up to the encounter, my practice sessions focused on rapid-fire movement drills to ensure that, physically, I was as sharp as possible.
In addition to emphasis on my serve and return accuracy, I continued my ‘EyeGym’ exercises, the brainchild of Dr Sherylle Calder.
With regard to the latter, the focused training is designed to improve reaction times between when my eye detects something, how quickly it is processed and, in turn, how rapidly I’m able to physically respond to that information.
Another aspect I have chosen to focus on is perfecting my ‘weapons’ – I’ve spent a lot of time and energy in the off-season improving my equipment. I chose to change to a new Srixon racquet, and I’m very pleased with how it suits my game.
I also partnered with racquet customisation specialist Jay Bosworth, who has provided invaluable insight and services to ensure that my equipment is doing everything it can to give me the on-court advantage.
Off-court, I can reveal that I’ve also begun working with a mental coach based in Southeast Florida. These days, I believe the mental side of the sport is so important and anything I can do to improve my mental stamina will help elevate my game.
Our work thus far has focused on how to harness positive energy and use it during crucial moments in matches, which I incorporated against Vesely. We have also discussed maintaining positive ‘self-talk’ during both practice and match settings.
In theory, it seems quite easy but actively implementing these mental adjustments can prove rather difficult. I’m making mental fortitude a priority in 2014.
My next addition will be a new coach. My current coach and best friend GD Jones has taken up a position with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Auckland from February.
Although I’m sad to see him go after the Australian Open, I’m incredibly happy for him as he begins an exciting new chapter in his own life.
When I return to the States after the Australian Open, I’ll begin a trial-period working with former South African tennis professional Neville Godwin.
I’m enthusiastic about this new partnership and hopefully his diverse knowledge and experience will be just what’s needed to elevate my game to the next level (not to mention I’ll enjoy having someone to chat to on tour about South African cricket and rugby).
It’s my hope that these continued efforts and strategic changes will help me move more permanently inside the top 20, as I strive for my ultimate goal of reaching the top 10.
I feel more motivated than ever and cannot wait for an incredible 2014 season!
Wish me well in the second round.
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