By James A. Crabtree
Imagine watching teletubbies every day for two weeks. This would be a pretty hard task for anybody above the age of three unless, of course, you are Goran Ivanisevic on the way to your 2001 Wimbledon title and it is all part of your ritual. Add facial hair growth to a list that includes not walking on the lines, eating the same meals daily and always requesting the same ball back after an ace.
It seems whatever worked yesterday will work again the following. Bjorn Borg and Andy Murray are others who have followed the shaving pattern. Andre Agassi forgot his underwear for his first round match at the 1999 French Open. He won that match then continued to go commando through the rest of tournament which he won. It was rumoured before that before every game during the 2005 Australian Open Marat Safin required an ice cold diet coke from the vending machine. On the day of the final against Lleyton Hewitt somebody had switched off the machine. Subsequently Safin went into a rage and refused to play the final until somebody found him an ice cold diet coke.
Tennis is a funny game. Between booming serves and thundering rallies we witness a player’s inner psyche. If their winning we marvel at their focus, concentration and customs that have helped propel them. If their losing, like their opponent, we study or relish their demise whilst analysing pinpoints of emotion for answers. It is boxing without the blood mixed pleasingly with some chess minus the sedentary. A ball, racquet, some lines on the court and all of an individual’s personal habits on view for the gallery.
When talking of lines on the court a generous number of players have chosen to avoid touching them between points such as John McEnroe and Justin Henin. Marion Bartoli who has a certain control issues bounces before serves like she dying for a pee, and when in-between points she does more than her fair share of two handed racquet swats at an imaginary fly.
When looking for quirks in the current bunch of stars Rafael Nadal’s habits could out do them all. The Spanish king of clay insists on having two water bottles, one ice cold and one at room temperature, with the labels facing out. Before the game he has an ice cold shower. Before the warm-up he does a little sprint like a soccer player up the court. And during the game? No need to mention the time consuming hair and wedgie adjustments. Let’s just say he probably has as many OCD’s as Rain Man.
Not to be outdone Novak Djokovic refuses to use the same shower on consecutive occasions. He also has numerous habits including bouncing the ball a copious amount before each and every serve.
Psychologists have cautioned in the past that obsessions and rituals can be dangerous to a player; but others assert that they can help steady the mind, escalate belief and work in many ways like a placebo.
For the names mentioned above it would be hard to argue against their various successes.
After losing to Justine Henin in the 2007 French Open, Serena Williams was quoted as saying:
“And I’m not losing because I didn’t play well, I lost because I didn’t tie my shoe the right way and it’s totally ridiculous because I have to use the same shower, I have to use the same sandals, I have to travel with the same bags.”
“I didn’t tie my laces right and I didn’t bounce the ball five times and I didn’t bring my shower sandals to the court with me.
“I didn’t have my extra dress. I just knew fate, it wasn’t going to happen.”