The perfect men’s tennis player

By Online Editorial


Earlier this week, Nikolay Davydenko suffered a somewhat surprising defeat at the hands of Marat Safin, just days after winning the Shanghai Masters.

He had beaten Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal on his way to the title in the Far East, playing some of the best tennis of his career in the process.

One logical thought process regarding the next match for a player so well used to jetting across the globe would be for him to continue the momentum, and keep the winning habit going. However, winning the Shanghai Masters clearly took its toll, and he was a spent force against his popular countryman Marat Safin, going down in three sets.

That particular defeat got me thinking how difficult it can be for certain players to go from one tournament victory onto the next venue, and keep their streaks going.

Obviously in the case of Davydenko, jet-lag and fatigue played a part in his poor performance, but what other factors should be considered in such instances, and which players have the necessary mental and physical reserves to build a successful winning streak?

The two legends of the game currently active on tour, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, have both proved they can do it to an astonishing degree.

The Swiss world number one appears three times in the list for the top 13 winning streaks of all times, his best being an incredible 41 match unbeaten run between 2006 and 2007; while Nadal managed 32 consecutive wins last season. One of the interesting things to bear in mind in the cases of Nadal and Federer are the similarities and differences in the way they managed to keep their streaks alive.

The similarity comes in their mental approach: they both have seemingly bottomless reserves when it comes to their belief in their own abilities, borne out of their respective achievements in the game.

The difference lies in their physical approach: Federer is so graceful and effortless in the way he plays, he manages to conserve energy better than almost anyone else on tour; while Nadal has been physically so strong that he’s been able to simply keep on going better than any of his peers. However, it’s not yet clear if the Spaniard is still quite the same physical force he was prior to his well documented knee problems, so we can’t be sure he has the same powers of recovery that he once did.

As for the other more mortal players on tour, understandably none of them have the same belief in themselves as Federer and Nadal.

If you compare that dynamic duo to Marin Cilic for example, a player rich in talent but not yet a possessor of that total and unshakeable certainty in his own ability, it is not overly surprising that he was unable to keep his own momentum going after thrashing Nadal to reach the Beijing final in Shanghai.

He doesn’t yet have the experience to know how to manage the physical and emotional energy to take from tournament to tournament. That’s true of many promising players on tour, particularly the younger members of the top twenty, whereas players like Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick have learnt to manage their emotions and their bodies better thanks to a sustained period amongst the world’s elite.

Juan Martin del Potro proved what a special talent his was last year in winning his first four tournaments back-to-back, a superb achievement that shows he is blessed with natural reserves in those two key areas, although he was helped by the fact that those four wins happened during an Olympic summer.

Jo Wilfried Tsonga hasn’t yet mastered the art, despite finishing his second season amongst the world’s elite; neither has his compatriot Gael Monfils, who arguably uses up too much emotional energy on court in trying to gee himself and the crowd up.

So, in conclusion, the key factors to consider when looking to back a player fresh from a successful tournament’s campaign is the distance he has to travel along with any changes in time zones; the age and experience of the player; and the way they stagger both their physical and emotional use of energy.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited


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