Each shot played, be it a serve, a backhand, a lob or a volley, has been packed with power and tact to keep the opponent away from the ball. The emphatic scream after every shot will tell you the amount of effort the player has put into hitting the ball with such precision that it falls exactly where he wants it to. Along with skill and judgment, good tennis relies on the fitness of the players. When the tournament in question is Wimbledon, there can be no compromise on physical excellence.
Since the inception of the tournament, Wimbledon has been a testing ground for perfection in play, etiquette and most importantly, fitness. In the race to be better than the other, players go through extremely tough fitness regimes. The latest technology, progressive training and dietary nutrition are put into practice to make these players sustain hours of excessive activity and the resulting fatigue.
The semi-final of 2013 Wimbledon between Djokovic and del Potro was one of the longest semi-finals in the history of the tournament. For four hours and forty-three minutes, the champions battled each other mercilessly, taking shots from the baseline, dashing to the net to ultimately outdo each other. Del Potro had entered the match with a scraped knee but it was his fit form that helped him survive the match, albeit with a loss. Matches with long durations can’t be won only on skill, making fitness and training one of the most important aspects of the game.
Since I played, almost two-and-a-half decades ago, there has been a stark change in the training and fitness of players. The regimes, diets and training programmes that players go through in preparation for Wimbledon leaves little or no room for weaknesses. Any part ignored during the training could cost the player his title.
Top players have displayed exceptional physical and mental fitness over the years—a result of customised individual training programmes for each player. Federer is more likely to win a point because he’s not only physically but also mentally fit. He knows he has the stamina to wear his opponent out; he’s confident that his training regime has made his upper body supple and that he will not tire out by the end of the game, making him mentally strong and competent. If you look at a player like Nadal, you’ll notice that despite the heavy upper body his control on the ball is particularly good, a result of his flexibility and strong arms. Martina Navratilova’s training and fitness helped her demonstrate a new level of strength, speed and swiftness in the ’80s, and she went on to win record number of matches during her time.
The training system of players has made all the difference in their forms, their play and strengths. Emphasized core work gives these players strong upper bodies that help them in serves, dives and jump-shots.
As much as pre-match training is necessary, post-match recovery is also extremely crucial. The loss of salt, water and minerals through sweat is huge during the game and players are more than conscious to recover it at the earliest after it, reducing the time of recovery without compromising on it being the key.
Along with fitness another component that needs attention is injuries. This Wimbledon, Djokovic has come with a wrist injury that kept him at a distance from all warm-up matches. The fact that he won breezily over his Kazakh counterpart is testament to his advanced training and fitness program. On the first day of the tournament, Victoria Azarenka surprised everyone with a win despite her injured foot, an injury that kept her away from the courts for almost six months barring two matches. Very recently, world number three and top contender for the title this year, Simona Halep had to bow out of the Topshelf Open due to an upper-back injury. She seems confident about her training which will make her fit in time for her matches at Wimbledon.
With intense physical, mental and emotional pressure to deal with on the court during the match at tournaments as big as Wimbledon, fitness is a necessity. Training has taken the form of an art that determines the perfection in each shot, chasing excellence through the tournament. There are still many matches to go, a lot of sweat to be lost and strengths to be tested before we find the ones that personify fitness as they lift the trophies.
Written By : Vijay Amritraj