The caravans of tennis gladiators are now camped all over the US and Canada, sharpening their skills for the $37 million prize money at the US Open. Murray’s victory at Wimbledon, Federer’s fall, Nadal’s injuries have shuffled the tectonic plates of the game and made place for the Scot at the summit alongside Djokovic.
This year has been named ‘the crazy Wimbledon’ as 11 seeds fell on the first Wednesday. It showed the enormous depth in the men’s game and the emergence of a new genre of giant players.
Led by the 6’6” Del Petro of Argentina who trounced Federer with his explosive serves, missile forehand and enormous reach to win the US Open in 2009 the ‘Superman’ brigade are moving up fast in the rankings. The likes of Berdych 6’5”, Janowicz 6’8”, Tsonga 6’3”, Isner 6’8” , Cilic 6’5”, Raonic 6’5”, Anderson 6’8” are all jostling for a break through to the top 10.
These giants are the Formula I of tennis, where a chassis of plus 6 feet is becoming a must. Physically stronger they have more power and reach than their shorter compatriots. Some are blessed genetically with fluidity of movement.
They can all serve at 130 MPH plus! No amount of talent can tackle a wellplaced 130 mph serve. Seven players who reached the quarters at Wimbledon were well over six feet in height.
Though service is 50% of the game, the final step of getting to the top requires multiple gurus experienced in technical coaching, dieticians, physiotherapists, psychologists, family support and a host of other things. The gurus have to work in unison. It is like tuning and trimming a Formula I car.
There are some imperatives. High levels of consistency, stamina, power, quick reflexes developed on the tortuous route through to the top echelons, are taken for granted.
The key to success in Grand Slams and the larger tournaments is the ability to recover quickly both mentally and physically, to meet the challenge of the next round.
Djokovic lost the Wimbledon final to Murray because he was not back to full strength after his draining four hour and 43 minute marathon battle against Del Potro in the semis. Murray spent less energy in his two hour 52 minute defeat of the very talented Polish player Jerzy Janowicz.
At the topmost level, one burst of brilliance is not enough. It has to be sustained. To recover fast and get back to full strength the players are forced to go through a long and punishing schedule. The processes, specially the finer points to quick and full recovery are a closely guarded secret.
Broadly speaking the essentials are as follows. As soon as the player arrives at the locker room after the match, he is forced to have protein shakes and recovery carbohydrates with loads of pasta. This is followed by stretching exercises to ensure that the muscles don’t tighten up.
It is followed by an agonizing ice bath, to reduce the painful build up of lactic acid in the legs. That’s not all. A session in a hyperbaric chamber, which saturates the blood with oxygen and stimulates rapid muscle healing follows. There are many other things.
Djokovic admitted that after his five hour battle with Wawrinka at the Australian Open this year which finished after midnight, he went to bed at 5 am after finishing the recovery process.
He woke up at 2.30 pm and went on to defeat the formidable CzechTomas Berdych. Pat Cash’s article in the Sunday Times from where I have picked up most of this information goes on to say that “this proves that top tennis players are the fittest and most durable athletes in sport”.
It may not be long before genuine ‘yoga’ gurus are included to help in the training and prematch preparations of the topmost players. Djokovic, it is reported, went to meditate at a Buddhist temple at Wimbledon the day before the final – but one session perhaps is not enough.
I wonder if yogic practice can detach or free your mind from the financial booty which comes as the prize money and as endorsemen deals!