As we are lucky to be witnesses to this incredible era of tennis we need to realize that it is more than just “great players” competing. Through modern sports science, psychology, training techniques, nutritional practices, and equipment, today’s players are reaching new heights. Even more important is the dedication, hard work, and commitment that they put into their profession.
In the 1980s John McEnroe stated that he did not enjoy practicing; in fact, he used his doubles play as his “practice.” He was one of the greatest doubles players in the world but in today’s game we see very few of the top men playing doubles. Martina Navratilova and Ivan Lendl began the era of physical conditioning which coincided with other sports improved training methods. Sport specific training has been continually evolving and allowing athletes in all sports to compete at incredible levels. In the Australian Open we saw some amazing matches that included Djokovic’s almost 5 hour win over Wawrinka and Ferrer’s marathon match over Amalgado (not to mention last year’s historic matches which included Djokovic over Nadal in the finals in an almost 6 hour match after a grueling battle in the semis against Andy Murray).
During his press conference, Djokovic said,
“I mean the people who don’t know tennis, who have never been in those kinds of situations would not truly understand what the player has to go through, not just when you prepare for a Grand Slam but also during a Grand Slam,” Djokovic said. “After five hours of match, you need to really put a lot of time into recovery, different kinds of recoveries.
“As I said, I understand that many people have many different views and opinions, and I respect that. But I’m doing everything that is legal, that is correct, that is natural that I can, possibly can, in my power. And it’s working well.” For Djokovic Recovery is the Routine, NY Times.
In addition to the physical toll that a match like this takes, one cannot underestimate the focus that is required to endure a 5 hour competition at that level. Tennis, in particular, is a unique sport in that there are no teammates to lean on or coaches to give you a mid-match game plan. Even the other individual sports do not compare – golfers have a caddy with them and boxers have their trainers in their corner.
Preparation requires more than just “hard work.” It entails working hard correctly and managing one’s time. An athlete needs to be committed but should also have the right people advising, training, and coaching them to optimize their hard work and make it efficient as simply “putting in more time” doesn’t cut it anymore.
It could be argued that the true student-athletes have an even more daunting task in balancing their commitment to their sport with their academic responsibilities. And younger children also need to find the right balance for their lives (and their families’ lives). However, the lesson of preparation that can be instilled in athletes of all ages is critical. It is something that can be transferred to every aspect of life. The bigger picture here is that we can teach work ethic to our young athletes in addition to helping guide them to a healthy lifestyle through sports. The “event” – match, game, tournament, test, report, project, etc. – requires time before, during, and after to achieve success.