Today, times have changed. Tennis has become a legitimate sport, defined by the fact that players score multimillion-dollar endorsement contracts and date supermodels. It is now considered a sport of "athletes." This particular athlete reacts to a continuous state of emergency. In tennis, there are no preplanned plays, only constant scrambling and adjustments. Even given statistical probabilities, the new breed of player demonstrates that the ball can come from anywhere and go to anywhere, with a variety of velocities and spins. The athlete must be prepared to respond to these eventualities, and therefore, must train accordingly.
In The Beginning
Early in the history of tennis, players were not encouraged to weight train. In point of fact, they were actively discouraged. The prevailing concern centered on the athlete becoming too bulky and having both his speed and stroke ruined (and who wanted his stroke ruined?). This philosophy led not only to muscle imbalances and injury, but more importantly, to a slow game. With the subsequent change in equipment technology, notably the switch from wood to graphite and titanium, as well as the production of wide body racquets, peace through superior firepower became the mantra. Today, women hit serves faster than many of the men of the past. The men's game has become supersonic. The speed of the game has accelerated, never to slow again.
All would seem to be well in the world of tennis. Faster games should yield more excitement. Unfortunately, most tennis players' training regimes did not keep up with the sport's increasing speed. Players still do not do enough proper off-court training. They prefer to play themselves into shape. This may lead to greater skill development but does not improve other aspects of the athlete's condition. Earlier training programs were taken from other sports, perhaps even, God forbid, bodybuilding. Very little thought was given to the specific requirements of the athlete and sport itself.
This was true at the local/regional level as well as professional level. Tennis is a sport where most who make it into professional ranks have started at an early age, usually to the exclusion of other sports. This early specialization leads to muscle imbalances, injury, burn out and a low level of general conditioning. All this is bad for the athlete and the sport.
Many of the athletic requirements for tennis are the same as for other sports. Agility, speed, strength, flexibility and concentration are all needed. The issue is, what kind? Would the above attributes of a defensive lineman in the NFL be the same as those for a top-ranked tennis professional? I think not. Otherwise, all athletes would look the same.
One example of this is the concept of strength. One does not see a lot of crossover between the world's strongest man competitors and tennis players. No one would deny that a stronger athlete is a better athlete, all other things being equal. However, all things are not equal. There is an issue of mass. Newton's Law of Inertia indicates that a body at rest tends to stay at rest, and the more massive the body, the more it stays at rest. For those of you who had trouble with physics, myself included, think of it as trying to get your brother-in-law out of your house after holiday dinner. Point being, a tennis player wants to be strong and lean, not big and strong. I do not claim to be ready for the pro tour.
Although I am entering the back-40 in terms of age and have had three knee surgeries, I believe my history allows me to offer a perspective that can benefit all levels of tennis players, from local to professional ranks. In addition, I am living proof that Renegade Training can accelerate your accumulation of trophies. Over the next series of articles, I would like to present some training tips that will help improve what we love to do: Crush our opposition. Also, our greatest opponent, time will be dealt with at length.
This is time as it relates to speed as well as training. I will start with a few exercises and concepts and eventually move to a complete program. It will not be easy. It will be difficult. But in life, benefits are most often proportionate to effort. Is the goal to strive toward mediocrity, like most, or travel the path of excellence, like a few? The question to ask yourself is, "How bad do I want it?" I also hope to have some fun along the way. Remember, pain is the only true sensation.