What does it take to Compete at an Elite Level in Tennis?

Even the most elite tennis players have to take time off from the sport to manage their health and fitness. Collectively known as the ‘Big Four’, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have endured more than their fair share of injuries in recent years, and, in the case of Murray, it’s been a struggle to get back among the best.

More recently, Roger Federer withdrew from the 2021 edition of the French Open stating that he had to ‘listen to his body’. As he nears his 40th birthday, the great Swiss champion has to manage his schedules, but his current approach can be a lesson to all up and coming tennis players.

Staying Focused

Federer may be listening to his body, but he’s also got a sharp mind and he knows what’s best in terms of his scheduling. The clay court of Roland Garros is not his favored surface and players have struggled struggle to break the dominance of Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard has won no fewer than 13 men’s French Open singles titles since 2005 and despite losing to Djokovic in the semi-finals this year, he is always a threat.

Nadal’s and Djokovic’s opponents should enjoy more success on the grass courts of Wimbledon, which returns to the tennis calendar after an enforced break in 2020. Those that like to bet on tennis will find that defending champion Novak Djokovic is the clear favourite (11/5 odds) while Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev, plus Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal can all be found at similar odds.

It should be a tight contest, but Federer’s shrewd thinking in Paris could just give him an edge.

Listen to the Body

Managing injuries is a vital part of Roger Federer’s schedule now that he has reached an advanced stage of his career. Younger players who have yet to experience such setbacks may not be so concerned, but prevention is key at this stage. Also, it must be said that maintaining a certain level of physcial fitness is crucial to preventing injury.

(Roger Federer on what it takes to stay physically fit)

Federer’s diet and workout plan is something that we can all learn from and it can also give us a useful insight into his overall mindset. The diet side of his routine may be a surprising one: Healthy meals, including a fair proportion of fruit and vegetables, are part of his regime but the Swiss star doesn’t deny himself plenty of treats such as waffles, cheese and chocolate. On match days in particular, he can usually be seen packing in those carbohydrates.

Some would refer to this approach as ‘carb loading’ and what he is essentially doing is to pack in calories to provide energy which he subsequently burns off on the court. Federer can also maintain a perfect balance during downtime by extensive work with weights and a number of tennis-specific exercises.

Such a diet wouldn’t necessarily be recommended during a long injury layoff but, with twenty Grand Slam singles titles behind him, it clearly has worked for much of Roger Federer’s career.

Staying in the Match Zone

Tennis matches can last for two, three hours or more and, as such, this can be the most demanding sport in terms of stamina. It’s therefore vital to keep energized during the contest. There are plenty of brief breaks during each match and the top players look to take full advantage of those moments.

Hydration is the first point to consider so remember to pack plenty of water when heading courtside. During scheduled breaks, it’s notable that many players, including Roger Federer, will take on board a banana as a brief snack. It’s no coincidence that the pros all do this and it’s not because they’re all big fans of the yellow fruit.

Bananas are packed with carbohydrates and potassium which can maintain energy levels and help to avoid cramp in lengthy matches. All of this proves that it’s equally important to look at diet both pre-match and during the action.

Beyond Awareness

You may have heard of tennis pros speaking about hyper awareness but what, exactly, does this mean? Perhaps, not surprisingly, the dictionary definition confirms that this is a state of being excessively aware while others would suggest that it falls within that hard-to-define area known as ‘the zone’.

In sporting terminology, this is a time when the player becomes fully immersed in their game to the point where they are in a flow state and all distractions are shut out. Hitting hyper awareness can really only come with practice and dedication. Top tennis stars such as Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal may now be able to enter it at will, but up and coming players can gain similar entry just by practice and dedication.

Stay Focused

Talent is naturally a prerequisite for success in professional sport but it can only take the top players part of the way. Stars such as Roger Federer have to possess a focused mindset that shuts out all other potential distractions that could stand in the way of reaching the very top.

That process also involves making sacrifices in terms of sticking to a diet and exercise regime where other, more entertaining possibilities, lay in wait elsewhere. As Federer has shown, staying in tune with the body and knowing when to rest is also vital. There are many component parts involved but focus and complete dedication are the key elements for anyone looking to build on that talent and make a career out of it.





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