What Qualities do Upcoming Tennis Players Need for Success?
After more than a decade of dominance on the court, the big four in men’s tennis are finally set to give way to the next generation.
Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray know that their days at the top are numbered, while Roger Federer has already called time on his illustrious career.
The top ten rankings in the men’s game prove that theory, but what qualities do those young players need if they are to stay at the top?
As players entered the first Grand Slam event of 2023, the ATP Tour rankings reflected the shift in men’s tennis. At the age of just 19, Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz has risen to the top on the back of some impressive displays in 2022 which culminated in victory at the US Open.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Rafael Nadal clings onto the number two slot, while his great rival Novak Djokovic sits in fifth place. Splitting the two veterans are Casper Ruud and Stefanos Tsitsipas who are in third and fourth place respectively.
While there have been upsets at the Australian Open, those rankings tend to reflect the changing of the old guard. Djokovic is fighting something of a lone battle for those veterans, but even he will know that his time is almost up.
Strength and Stamina
While they are ready to take over, the young tennis players currently breaking through will have learned a lot from those that have gone before. Even Andy Murray, who exited relatively early in Melbourne, proved just what is needed to survive in modern tennis.
Having come through a marathon five-set match with Thanasis Kokkinakis, the Scot was back on court just a few hours later. Ultimately, age and a catalogue of injuries caught up with him, but Murray showed the determination and sheer refusal to give up that won him three Grand Slams.
While it’s obvious that future tennis stars will need to be at peak fitness, stamina is a vital quality. This is an intense sport with nowhere to hide. It can often be played in sapping heat and, as Murray vs Kokkinakis proved, games can be lengthy and could extend to the early morning.
All round fitness is clearly an attribute, but aspiring players would also need to focus on their stamina.
Allied to stamina is the need for mental toughness. In fact, there is a wide school of thought suggesting that tennis is far more mental than physical.
One of the more notable players to subscribe to that theory is two-time Olympic Champion and multiple Grand Slam winner Gigi Fernandez. The Puerto Rican believes that the game is in the mind at a level of 84.2 per cent.
That’s a very specific number, but it’s one that comes from experience. The bad boys and girls of tennis can succeed and John McEnroe was a perfect example. Gigi Fernandez, on the other hand, felt that her game was suffering as she was unable to control her temper on court.
She hated losing and, while that’s an element for most tennis players, Fernandez felt that she couldn’t control her emotions.
Those that are struggling with similar issues might just have to channel the mind of a poker player. At the card table, it’s vital not to give anything away during a hand. Win or lose, the player must maintain that classic poker face while keeping all of their emotions in check.
Mental toughness is clearly an important element and Gigi Fernandez outlines this perfectly.
Of course, any tennis player has to be blessed with a degree of natural talent. That’s an obvious point, but talent is nothing without practise and dedication. Players will need to work on their technique, no matter what stage of their career they may have reached.
There will always be a weakness: Perhaps a specific player has a suspect backhand. Maybe they are not so mobile around the court and will struggle to reach a delicately played drop shot.
In the digital age where games are analysed to fine degrees, if there is a weakness, it’s certain that opponents will know about it. Working on the less effective parts of anyone’s game will always be vital.
Other Key Factors
Successful tennis stars also recommend that aspiring players focus on speed, agility and power amongst other factors. This is a sport that tests so many elements of the human body, with both physical and mental qualities under pressure.
With most of those elements, practise is essential. The top players will often speak of the sacrifices that they had to make in order to get to the summit of their profession. Those that are looking to take their place will have to be equally dedicated if they are to succeed.
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