“Any match for an elite level player, is like being ‘a cat on a hot tin roof’. Game moves so fast, it could be over before you know what is going on” said Wilhelm Bungert, the German Wimbledon finalist, who lost to John Newcomb in 1967. This was 45 years ago but now the ATP [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Trailblazing elite in Tennis


“Any match for an elite level player, is like being ‘a cat on a hot tin roof’. Game moves so fast, it could be over before you know what is going on” said Wilhelm Bungert, the German Wimbledon finalist, who lost to John Newcomb in 1967.
This was 45 years ago but now the ATP and WTA matches are like a ‘dance on a bed of flames’. Modern Player development, equipment and professionalism, have changed the scenario beyond recognition.

High hurdle of the elite

Joe Isner

The top 160 are the elites of the world ranking and the sole target of modern Tennis player development. Getting there and staying there is a pinnacle of sports achievement. It demands near monastic life style with sacrifices, it is indeed a high hurdle to clear.
We only see the elites in exalted situations, but their lives rotate around four realities – training without injuries; competing to win; compulsory rest and recovery; and globe-trotting from one tennis venue to the other. Every year, the Association of Tennis professionals [ATP] and the Women’s Tennis Association [WTA] conducts ranking circuits starting in January with the Australian venues. In November and December it finishes in London for Men and in Istanbul, Turkey for Women. In between, players would visit a continent even thrice and only experience life on Tennis courts, Airports, hotels and restaurants; an in-escapable, grilling lifestyle.

The annual calendar

Annual professional calendar shows the magnitude of the task involved. ATP and WTA world rankings insist that ranking points are collected annually. They conduct about 85 events in 65 venues worldwide over 44 weeks. Only the top eight qualify for the Masters. Any calculation will show the intensity of the energy sapping life that awaits players in ever changing time zones. ATP and WTA rankings go well over 1000 and another 2000 outside are working hard to replace the top. The web site of ATP and WTC will update you more.

Tennis millionaires

The cut off position for qualification is 160 for Grand slams events with 128 entries; it is even less for 32 entry events. The ultimate in Tennis player development is to get to the top 50. This is where players become Tennis millionaires.

What is the winning formula?

‘Personality of the player’ is the key to elitism in Tennis. Nobody gets there ‘by accident’ without a strong personality. The strength of individualism is responsible for sporting successes even in team events. If you doubt it, ask who Pele, Beckenbauer, Charlton, Beckham in Football and Sobers, Tendulkar, Sangakkara and Mahela in Cricket are? Women and men of this caliber are capable of turning certain defeats into victories.
In their long road to develop, they lived a life loaded with labour for skill development, unseen and unsung sacrifices, sweat and pain. Beneath every great player’s personality is a foundation built with ‘dignity of labor and dedication’.
The abilities they exhibit are ‘not gifts’ received but ‘reward’ for commitment. In my opinion all aspects of player development must emphasize personality factor. Personality stabilizes performance and sadly, locally, we have lost this.

The bases of elite Tennis

Primary factor is physical. The average height of top 20 men has gone up to 6 foot 4 inches. Argentinean Martin Del Porto is 6’ 6” and US player John Isner is 6’ 9” tall. For women average is 5’ 9”. Maria Sharapova is 6’ 2”, Victoria Azerenka is 6’ and Serena Williams is 5 foot 9 inches tall. Their weight has become critical, built more for speed than power to accommodate the modern need. This is closely supported by strategically managed tactics and in depth knowledge of present and past history of the winning games. Acquiring and understanding winning game plans can lead a player better in ‘shot-selection’ during matches.[Prompting during matches shows poor development]

Culture, reaction and weaponry

These are the other attributes that make elites for whom, performance is a CULTURE. Matches will be played in unfavorable conditions; hot, cold, hungry, injured and tired regardless of the condition, elites play their best. This is a culturally ingrained behavior.

Speed of the game today demands torturous REACTIONS and ENDURANCE. Elites posses WEAPONS which can finish any rally from anywhere on the court. Nadal, Murray, Hennin and Serena Williams have finishing shots even from three meters behind the court.
All elites show vast COMFORT ZONES that make the most difficult job look easy. Another easy to spot aspect in them is their DYNAMIC BALANCE. Static balance is not possible in modern Tennis, the game is too fast. Dynamic balance of elites is a treat to watch. These are the trail blazing trademarks of Elitism.

Changes in the top 50

Some team sports keep players very effectively at the top for over 10 years. This is not possible in Tennis. It is a short life span due to the intensity and individualism. Players burn off quickly and others are developing fast to replace them. Tennis being a late maturity sport, stress often shows up as injuries from the long sessions of training and takes a toll. There are many changes within the first 50 rankers every year

Asians in Elite-Tennis

India consistently had some players at elite level. Japanese, Philippinos, Koreans and Thais have appeared from time to time. But modern China has made it clear that they are here to stay. At the moment they are utilizing the expertise of two western academies in their elite Tennis program. Sri Lankan player’s best position was around 200 and three made it to that level. They are Lihini Weerasooriya, Suresh Sivagnanam and Arjun Fernando.

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