10sBalls.com • TennisBalls.com

Learning The Art Of Winning Like Roger And Rafa By Alix Ramsay

Roger Federer (C) of Switzerland speaks during the BNP Paribas Open Media Day round table at the Indian Well Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 06 March 2019. The men’s and women’s final will be played on 17 March 2019. EPA-EFE/LARRY W. SMITH



By Alix Ramsay


It is a tough old business to learn, this tennis lark. There is the art of actually hitting the ball, the complicated stuff about where to hit it and when and then there is the nervy bit about keeping cool on match points, break points and all the other points that carry extra weight and importance. There is a lot to take on board for the young champion in waiting.


But the hardest skill to master is the ability to do all of the above day in, day out, week in week out. There are those who can do it for a fabulous fortnight or a wonderful week but then there are those who have learned to do it for an entire season. And then do it again the next season. And the season after that.


The two brightest stars of the past couple of months, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nick Kyrgios, came to the desert full of confidence and hope. Tsitsipas had announced his arrival on the main stage by beating Roger Federer in the fourth round of the Australian Open and then backing that up by reaching the semi-finals. Stef was on the up and it looked as if nothing was going to stop him.


Kyrgios, too, had played like a man possessed to win the Acapulco title, thumping Rafa Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, John Isner and Sascha Zverev along the way. The immensely talented by infuriatingly inconstant Australian had done the unthinkable and held it together round after round to claim his fifth career title. Was this the beginning of a new phase in his career? Was this a new Nick we were watching? Er, no.


Kyrgios took a 6-4, 6-4 thumping from Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open, a defeat coming hard on the heels of Tsitsipas’s 6-4, 6-2 walloping by Felix Auger-Aliassime. One of the bright lights of the younger generation had been snuffed out by an old and wily pro while the other had been beaten at his own game by an even younger star (the 18-year-old Canadian is two years younger than Tsitsipas and in the juniors, beat the Greek in three of three meetings).


This was not a Kyrgios meltdown but, rather, a Kyrgios wind down (despite the fact that he pulverised his racket at the end of the first set). He had come to the desert in good time to get used to the conditions, he had practiced long and hard and he liked life in Indian Wells. He just played a bit below par and crafty old Kohlschreiber turned him over.


“I like playing here,” Kyrgios said. “I have had success here before. I think the conditions suit my game. Just couldn’t get anything going today. I didn’t really feel comfortable on serve. There was a couple points here or there that could have changed the match and he played those points well.


“I was feeling good. I had, like, five days to kind of find my feet in practice and stuff. I didn’t really have a problem getting up [for the match]. I just didn’t play well today.”


Kohlschreiber is not one of the sport’s biggest names but he does know how to win matches. If he is in the mood and he spots a half chance, he has the experience and the nous to make life difficult for most people. And he saw his chance against Kyrgios.


“In the beginning, it was tough,” the German said. “But after a while I saw that maybe he was not 100 per cent at his best. And when he starts talking to himself, then you have been successful in getting into his head.”


All Kyrgios wanted was a few days off. He had kept mind and body in total lockdown for a full week in Acapulco and now he was feeling the after effects. The poor lad was cream crackered (it means tired if you happen to be of a British persuasion) and he was in no mood to start analysing what had gone wrong or what to do about it.


“I kind of just want a couple days off,” he said. “I’m still in doubles here. Just going to have some fun with Fritzy. That’s it. I don’t want to think about Miami just yet. I don’t know what’s going to happen, to be honest.”


Tsitsipas knew exactly how he felt. After reaching the semi-finals in Melbourne, he won the title in Marseilles and reached the final in Dubai. He is now a fully-fledged member of the world’s top 10 but he is quickly running out of puff. And it is only March. Like Kyrgios, he is gagging for a few days off.


“Maybe disconnect a bit from the sport and do something else, not even watch it at all,” Tsitsipas said with a note of longing in his voice. “In our level of game – and in other jobs as well – when you do something with a lot of intensity and a lot of focus and a lot of will, sometimes your mind cannot keep up and you get tired. You cannot do the same thing over and over again.


“And that’s why I admire the players like Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. They seem to be so consistent in all they’re doing.”


Then again, Messrs Djokovic, Federer and Nadal have been doing this for a long, long while. Their relentless consistency takes mental strength, physical stamina and an awful lot of practice. Winning is one thing; winning week after week is entirely another. And it is the last – and possibly the hardest – skill a champion has to learn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *