With over 1.2 billion fans worldwide regularly following the latest tennis news and watching live matches, tennis is clearly one of the most beloved sports around. There’s something special about seeing an individual athlete standing on their side of the tennis court, quietly sizing up the opponent, bringing their all — skills, physical strength, determination, tenacity, and character — to that very moment, and ferociously going head to head for the distinction of being the strongest, the most cunning, the most powerful, or quite simply, the best.
A match between the greatest professional tennis players is an awesome, truly thrilling display of athletic performance, but it’s important to understand that each athlete goes through years of dedicated physical conditioning in order to develop their prowess.
Here, we take a look at how tennis players train specifically for this sport in order to be called one of the greatest.
Specialized tennis training
A tennis player runs, stops, starts, slides, twists and hits the ball from different directions during a match, and all of this can be taxing on an athlete’s body. A tennis player must be physically fit, both in terms of health (possessing flexibility, muscular and cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength and the right body composition) and skill (having power, balance, coordination, speed, agility and a good reaction time) to perform all of these movements.
According to the International Tennis Federation or ITF, athletes, trainers and coaches must first assess fitness, identify specific weaknesses, and then develop the appropriate training program to improve fitness and optimize it to achieve the proper gains.
The idea behind specificity of training is that a tennis player must train to meet the physiological demands of the sport, based on the tennis player’s style and level of play, the style and level of play of the opponent, and the court surface that the two are playing on.
A powerful, winning professional tennis player must train to maximize these five crucial aspects of their athletic performance.
Flexibility pertains to an athlete’s range of movement around a joint. The best way to develop greater flexibility is to perform a variety of stretches, the most commonly used forms of which are:
● Static stretching
Here, the muscle is gently and gradually stretched up to the point of slight discomfort; this position is then held for about 15 to 30 seconds. It is recommended to perform this stretch twice a day, typically post-workout.
● Dynamic stretching
On the other hand, dynamic stretching means moving parts of the body and then slowly increasing the speed of the movement or reach, or both. Examples are arm and leg swings done to the limit of the player’s range of motion.
● Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation or PNF
PNF is a combination of eccentric, isometric and concentric contractions along with passive movements. This kind of stretching calls for the assistance of a trainer, although it can also be performed by the player himself or herself.
2. Speed and Agility
Tennis players must be fast on their feet when running and changing direction, so it makes sense to train to improve their speed and agility to play the sport well.
Speed is the ability to complete movements within a short period of time. Agility, on the other hand, is the player’s ability to change direction in the most efficient way possible. “Efficient” means that changing direction uses up as little muscular energy as possible because it is done with accuracy.
To develop these skills, tennis players must work to improve their movement coordination and precision, to save energy, and to reliably reproduce actions with success.
Power refers to an athlete’s ability to overcome their body’s weight and inertia to quickly initiate movement, like when serving or hitting the tennis ball.
To develop and harness power as well as strength, an athlete goes through plyometrics or jump training. By performing quick eccentric muscular contractions, an athlete can enhance their explosive reaction during matches.
Tennis players need to work on two kinds of strength.
- Stabilization strength pertains to the body’s systems and muscles that support the joints and the core.
With good core strength, an athlete gains the stability of the body’s upper and lower core which serve as the foundation for all movements. Meanwhile, stability of joints like the hip complex, ankle complex, rotator cuff in shoulders, and the like ensure that joint function is optimized during play.
With the help of core stability exercises, tennis players can demonstrate greater power and speed, but there will be less strain placed on the affected muscles.
- Propulsive strength, according to the ITF, is the kind of training that “elicits greater and more efficient intra (within) and inter (between) muscular motor unit recruitment by improving the summation and synchronization of muscle fibers.”
Because more force will be created in less time, athletes become quicker and more powerful because they store and release greater amounts of energy.
Endurance is necessary among tennis players as it enables them to sustain their playing intensity throughout long matches and tournaments. Quite simply, running is the best kind of training to develop endurance because it’s a movement that is required when in play. However, playing other sports (where the same large muscle groups are similarly activated) is also beneficial in training to build up endurance.
With proper general and sport-specific training, tennis players, such as the renowned athletes you’ll find in the Mubadala tennis championship gallery, can build the skills they need to demonstrate optimal performance on the courts and excel in competitions.
Also published on Medium.