Last update: 13-Dec-2013 3:20 am
Friday, December 13, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Antics and attire at the US Open
So the US Open Tennis Tournament 2013 has come to a close, and it has been a rather interesting and thoroughly entertaining event for many reasons. A far cry from the white-clad, stuffy propriety of Wimbledon, the US Open seems to be the rebel of tennis tournaments in the Grand Slam.
Occasional deafening noise from the nearby air force base sets the stage for an athletic soap opera of sorts. It is a stage where fans feel free to shout during a serve, and where athletes seem free to express themselves through antics and attire. As a friend aptly said, Nike should go out of business for allowing such dreadful outfits to be worn by Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. Caroline Wozniacki and Adidas also need a little coaching on what is appropriate for the tennis court vs the kitchen.
But the outfits were not the only entertaining aspects of the tournament. What actually amused me the most were the pre-serve rituals of the athletes. As a former volleyball player myself, I understand the importance of a pre-serve routine, as I too had one. I would bounce the ball three times, then hold it at eye level while taking a deep breath before I served. This helped me to settle and focus, and I am sure a pre-serve routine does the same for the US Open players.
There is usually both a physical and mental component to a pre-serve routine. In tennis, the common elements shared by most players involve assuming a comfortable stance, bouncing the ball, and honing in on the target of the serve. Often, the mental component involves positive self-talk about the serve, deciding what type of serve to hit, and visualization of the ball going to the target.
However, many of the top players have veered away from such basic routines and some have developed very elaborate rituals. John Isner and Marco Baghdatis, while not extremely quirky, are known for bouncing the ball through their legs before they serve, a truly skillful maneuver.
Roger Federer used to do this as well, when his image outweighed his performance in his early days. He has since substituted this for simple ball bouncing.
American Andy Roddick, calms his nervous bundle of energy before each serve by pulling his cap down, sniffing his left armpit, shaking the watch on his left wrist, pulling up his sleeves and then bouncing the ball vigorously on the ground with his racket.
Maria Sharapova’s pre-serve routine has been the subject of significant discussion among several sports announcers. Just prior to her serve, she turns her back to her opponent and fixes the strings on her racket while performing a few hops. She then approaches the baseline, picks strands of hair from her face, slowly bounces the ball a couple times before looking her opponent in the eye and serving.
This routine used to be the basis for many an impersonation by her fellow tennis players. However, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how one looks at it) this routine has apparently changed recently, and she no longer brushes her hair behind her ears. Rather, this has been substituted by a constantly clenched left fist during her serve.
But as interesting as Sharapova seems in her rituals, Rafael Nadal takes the cake. I do not think tennis has ever seen the likes of Nadal and his wild idiosyncrasies. He has been labeled as OCD by numerous fans, announcers and coaches, and rightly so! Like Sharapova, he refuses to walk on the lines and insists on stepping over them with his right foot. I have to admit that I do not see this behaviour all the time, but have witnessed it on many occasions. He is also obsessive about the placement of his water bottles meticulously placing them side-by-side, facing the court. He has said “it’s a way of placing myself in a match, ordering my surroundings to match the order I seek in my head.”
I suppose he will say the same thing about his painstaking pre-service routine. Nadal towels off his face, arm and racket grip. He then positions himself at the baseline, bounces the ball with his racket, adjusts his underwear in the back, and most recently, I have noticed, he then adjusts in the front as well.
He then proceeds to wipe his nose, then tucks his hair behind his left ear, wipes his nose again and then tucks his hair behind his right ear before wiping his nose again. There are slight variations of these but this is the core of his routine before he finally serves.
His routine has been the topic of much discussion, many imitations and jokes. But I am sure Nadal does not care…his rituals serve him well as he silences his critics with his astounding success.
Carla Rauseo, DPT, C.S.C.S. is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Total Rehabilitation Centre Limited in El Socorro.
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