The Secret to Winning

Roy Emerson (Munson Photo)

What is the secret to having the energy at the end of a tennis match to still be able to play your best, without fading away… or to be able to come back the next day?  One of the answers, according to Roy Emerson is to “overdo your preparation.”

The Task Master: Roy Emerson

Emerson tells of the extreme training methods Harry Hopman, his original Australian coach, put all the players through in preparation for matches.  He said, if he was going to play a three-set match, he would play four sets a day; and if he were playing a five-set match, he would practice six sets.

In a phone interview, Emmo said, “When I played Wimbledon, I would book a court for ten days before the Queens tournament; and get a practice partner.  I would do a half court workout for an hour and a half in the morning; and then play six sets in the afternoon; and do that for several days and then ease up four or five days before the event.”

“Just do your training to your own ability.  The most important part of tennis is the ability to put points together; and the only way you can do that is to play simulated matches.  Rallying from the baseline, without running, is a waste of time.  As a senior, you are not going to get fit for tennis in a gym.”

“When you are in 110% physical condition, the next day you feel ready to play.  It is stupid to win a hard match and not be ready to play the next day.”

The Reluctant Warrior: Fred Stolle

Fred Stolle (Munson photo)

According to Australian Legend, Fred Stolle, “Harry Hopman, early in my career, did not care for my training routine, which did not include a big component of his RUNNING, which l did not care for.

“Australia won many Davis Cup matches because we ALWAYS had the fittest team.  In those days it was called the Challenge Round, where all nations played throughout the year, then played the holder in the Champions country!

“We had played five or six grass court events by that time, as a team with Hop working us out after playing best of five matches in the Aussie summer. So, by the time we played the nation that had struggled through to us we were so fit we could stay out there all day.”

The Tarantino Ten

Rich Tarantino

Most senior tennis players won’t (can’t) train like the Aussies of old; but one player has come up with a much smaller, more doable version.  Good Naples friend and fellow Newk camper, Rich Tarantino advises you push yourself harder at the end of your practice sessions/matches.

He says, “When you think you are tired and about ready to stop, push yourself hard for another ten minutes; and it will pay dividends in your next match, when you start tiring.”

I am a believer and have adopted “The Tarantino Ten” into all my practice sessions. 

What do YOU do to improve your fitness?

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7 thoughts on “The Secret to Winning

  1. Read your book and follow your blog regularly. There is no secret about the physical demands on plus 70 year old players. The intense pre-match prep is good.advice. Daily cardio,flexibility,and strength exercises will extend your tennis playing years too. Bring that same discipline to each match.

    Frank, one of my favorite quotes: “You don’t stop playing because your grow old. You grow old because you stop playing.” thanks, george

  2. A friend Kieran Repko passed your blog onto me. Thanks for the suggestion. Please add me to your email list.

    David, done! thanks, george

  3. George,

    In order to optimize our training we need to optimize our nutrition. Many, many players sabotage reaching their potential with the food and drinks they consume. You simply can not out exercise a poor nutritional program no matter how hard you train. This is probably one of the most sacrificed areas of many players’ training regime. Unfortunately, old school tennis did not have current nutritional science at their disposal. Many well intended, hard working, tennis players undermine all their days effort with the last couple of hours of eating and drinking before they retire. It’s crazy, but it’s so very common. Working smart will always out-perform working hard. Look at the top players on the tour today. They are “all-in” with the diligence.

    Coach Fred

    Fred, yes… not only do many players eat the wrong things, they eat too much of the wrong things… and carry too much weight onto the court. thanks, george

  4. You’ve got to be kidding! I seem to remember that the Aussies of that era were famous for consumption of beer in large quantities!

    Scott, for super athletes like them (!) one action does not preclude the other! thanks, george

  5. George,
    This is a great topic for a number of reasons. High levels of fitness equals reduced injuries, improved performance, longer tennis life span, maintaining weight balance, and a better quality of life. In my 50+ years as an athletic trainer with almost every sport, I found that every athlete, no matter what sport, needs 5 things: 1) Aerobic endurance; 2) Anaerobic power; 3) Flexibility; 4) Strength; 5) Skills. The only difference between sport is what is MORE important — i.e. NFL interior line need great strength; marathon runners need maximum aerobic endurance; gymnasts need high levels of flexibility, etc. For tennis players, they need some of all 5 with Skill probably at the top. The way to maximize all of these is through good nutrition, strength training, skill practice, pre and post warm-up and cool-down, aerobic conditioning with intensity (running, biking, swimming, etc), and proper rest (often neglected). There is no magic pill or one program that does it all. It takes a consistent and multi-layer approach to achieve this level.
    I have always been impressed with Rich Tarantino too!

    Larry, good stuff! thanks for your professional input. george

  6. Just read Rod Laver’s autobiography, and he talks a lot about Harry Hopman’s brutal conditioning program….but it sure worked for Rod and Emmo & Rosewall. I work pretty hard to stay fit, but I still love my beer…and ice cream. Scoot

    Scoot… those are all good things! thanks, george

  7. Peter Viera was a mentor for me growing up in New England and after practice usually three sets, Pete would go for a mile jog, I was tired after practice and I asked Pete why he would bother with the run, he told me guys could not out endure him in a three set match, Pete by the way was ranked in New England tennis at number one for almost thirty years and inducted in the Newport tennis hall of fame.

    Ray, i was in CT when Pete ruled the tennis world… playing in a couple of age groups at the same time! thanks, george

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