I know you have heard it said that, in life, timing can be everything. Well, in pro sports such as tennis, it is the only thing. Take for instance the playing surface. The NBA has hardwood courts, and the NFL, MLB and pro soccer play on grass and turf. Moving through the Grand Slams in tennis, players go from a hard-court surface (Australian Open), to a clay court (French Open) then on to grass (Wimbledon) and back to a hard court (U.S. Open).
The Physiological Demands of Hitting and Running in Tennis on Different Surfaces is the title of a recent research paper which documents, "on clay courts, the friction and coefficient of restitution are higher than on hard courts, resulting in a high and relatively moderate bouncing of the ball, which gives the player more time to prepare to hit the ball than when they play on hard surfaces," such as what is occurring now at the U.S. Open. This fact leads to players experiencing less difficulty in playing shots and, therefore, longer rallies from baseline on clay courts, requiring a need for a much higher fitness level.
On the other hand, "faster surfaces, such as hard courts, limit the time available to hit the ball and increase offensive playing situations," so says the research. As a result, hand-eye coordination and footwork like a boxer are a definite requirement. As Roger Federer has said, "tennis is about footwork and fitness," all of which effect the timing of the game.
Add to the fact that in the pro tournaments you do not find out who you play or the time of the match until 6 p.m. the night before you are scheduled to play. Combine that with weather delays, like the U.S. Open has had in the past -- you might end up playing your match at 10 p.m., even though you arrived at the arena at 2 p.m. And do not forget the match before yours going into extended play. It makes for a potential timing disaster if you are not well-prepared to deal with adversity, both mentally and physically.
Executive director of the Fitness Principle with Mackie Shilstone at East Jefferson General Hospital and fitness coach to Serena Williams.
Tomorrow: Injury prevention before and after competition.