The waiting game
The game of tennis is different to most sports in the sense that there often isn’t a defined starting time for matches.
I often joke that professional tennis players are also professional time-wasters. Us tour players have to be exceedingly patient as we regularly have to sit around for extended periods of time waiting for our chance to compete.
This waiting game is particularly prevalent during the first week of Grand Slams when there are a plethora of matches to be played on a limited number of courts.
When you add bad weather to the equation, like we have had in Paris this week, one’s patience is pushed even further to the limit. But the show must go on and so it has, with the tournament still running on schedule.
A question I’m often asked is: Other than being more glamorous, how does competing in Grand Slams differ from playing other tournaments in the season?
In the men’s game, one of the greatest differences is that the matches are best of three out of five sets. Therefore, to prove successful in this format, a player needs to be even more physically and mentally resilient. These two aspects go hand-in-hand; possessing one without the other will cause a player to struggle.
From a physical standpoint, it’s very important to feel that you can compete for five full sets. This is why the physical preparation leading up to Grand Slams is so important. The process of physical preparation is indeed tricky owing to competing in other tournaments prior to the Slams. Thus scheduling is paramount to success. One has to make time in the year to focus more on the physical side of the game.
In addition to physical preparation ahead of an event, rest and recovery during a tournament is essential. Most of us players have a day ‘off’ between matches, which is vitally important as we use this time to freshen up as much as possible ahead of our forthcoming fixture.
A typical ‘off’ day for me equates to a light practice, consisting of no more than one hour, where I work on particular areas of my game from my previous match and also in preparation for my next clash.
In addition, I like to do a few reaction drills to ensure I stay sharp. This is the extent of the physical activity I do. The rest of my day is spent relaxing and receiving treatment from either a physiotherapist or a massage therapist.
From a mental standpoint, playing three of five sets requires a few minor adjustments from the regular best two of three set matches. Longer periods of focus are required.
In these longer matches a lot can happen. For example, the conditions can change, an opponent can suddenly start playing very well or differently. It’s crucial that one stays relaxed and works through all such factors.
The real key is combining both the physical and mental side of the game. A good example of this occurred during my second-round matchup against Russia’s Evgeny Donskoy. I lost a very close first set on a tie-break after dropping a few set points.
However, even though I knew that I still had to win three sets to advance, physically I felt strong and I knew that I could keep going. This filled me with confidence.
Mentally, I was well aware what I had to do and retained my focus and composure to produce a good level of tennis which ultimately won me the match.
Thus far, I have played two good matches at Roland Garros and I’m happy to have reached the third round for the second year in a row. However, each match from here on in only gets tougher. On Friday, I face a very tough opponent in 14th seed Milos Raonic.
As I write this blog, the match day schedule has yet to be released, so I have nothing left to do but wait and see…
Wish me luck, Kev.