Advice to “Pre-Seniors”?

Ageless Wonders, (80+) Matt Davie and Michael Fenster

A new reader from Europe asks an interesting question: How does one best prepare for a lifetime of playing tennis?

His Question …

Hello George,

I’ve recently stumbled upon your blog. I find it fantastic how you document your journey in tennis and how you play six days a week!

I am in my mid-30s, with an athletic background, and have started training seriously 5-6x a week for the past 2.5 years. I find I have progressed greatly (lowish 4.5 level) in such a short time; but I could use some advice from someone who has started tennis also later in life. My goal is to play tennis all my life and compete in amateur tournaments. 

I would like to suggest a blog post if you could share some wisdom and advice for the “younger seniors.”

Best Regards,


My Thoughts…

First, while the players who started when they were very young (early teens) do have a significant stroke and strategy advantage to those of us who started playing this game later in life; I think there is also a “health benefit” to those of us who didn’t!

I really started playing tennis when I was about 27 years old; and while I was a decent athlete, I also didn’t play any organized body-bruising sports (football, basketball, etc.) in high school and college.  So I come to a lifetime of playing tennis WITHOUT any pre-existing injuries; which I think, has helped me survive on the court now to age 76.

How To Prepare…

Avoid Injury: Looking ahead for you, the prime piece of advice I would offer would be: “Listen to your body.”  Too many of us (men more than women) try to “tough it through” an injury and continue playing an “important match” or go on the court with a nagging pain, which should be addressed, not abused.

Stretch: Another big factor in my longevity on the court has been stretching.  I have always been a fairly tightly muscled athlete, prone to muscle pulls.  But I started daily stretching about 15 years ago and it has made a world of difference to me.

Eat Right: For my whole life, I have been fairly careful how much and what I eat (and drink!).  As you age, I think that a reasonable food plan becomes increasingly important.  And a corollary to that would be to maintain a body weight as low as is comfortable for you.

Anyone have additional thoughts and preparing yourself to play forever?

PS Congrats to Larry Turville for all his work in trying to make the upcoming Florida tournaments as “consumer friendly” as possible! the link to next week’s doubles only tournament is HERE:

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8 thoughts on “Advice to “Pre-Seniors”?

  1. Being able to continue playing into the senior years depends on several factors including training, listening to your body to keep injuries down to a minimum, genetics and most importantly, enjoyment in what you are doing.
    Many amateur athletes take themselves much too seriously and miss the enjoyment that sports provide. Camaraderie is also an essential ingredient in the mix. For us amateurs, it is very beneficial to have fun in the game. Leave the deep intensity for the professionals whose living depends on absolute success.

    Michael, great additional factor! thanks, george

  2. I’m 68 and started when I was 8. When many friends from jr. tennis put their rackets down after high school or starting a career after college, I never did. Now after a total knee replacement, rotator cuff surgery and numerous cervical spine surgeries, I find myself faced with a horrible sciatica and facing more surgery again at this time. My advice would be to stretch often, do yoga, and even hire a personal trainer to assist you with conditioning if you’re able to. For too many years, I simply walked on to the court with little to no preparation and now I am paying the price!

    Jim, you remind me how lucky i am! thanks, george

  3. What a great topic, George. First, I agree with everything George said about the body, stretching, fitness, diet. As for you, Emmanuel, I suspect that a player your age has a game comprised largely of quality groundstrokes — that is, a forehand hit with a Western grip and therefore quite good at generating topspin. And the vast majority of players under 40 have two-handed backhands. You’re likely fairly fast and do a fine job covering the court from side-to-side — what I call East-West. My suggestion as you age is to continually broaden your arsenal of shots — and build the techniques to make them viable. For example, can you also slice your backhand? That shot can do much to create offense and aid you when on the run, coming to net, or the drop shot and lob. Do you know how to proficiently serve and volley? That is, do you have the proper grips for an effective spin serve (you probably do) and are you also able to play transition volley from just behind the service line? Are you comfortable returning serve in doubles from both the deuce and ad court? How proficient are your approach shots — not merely crosscourt powerful winners, but down-the-line drives that put you in the volley position? And how good is your overhead? Do you ever come in on your return? Those are the kind of plays that make you a better up-and-back mover, what I call North-South. How good is your lob — not just the fantastic whipped topspin lob, but also the flat-underspin lob? Or the super-high defensive lob?

    I mention these many tactics and techniques as a way to keep a player continually engaged with tennis. Often these days, I see tennis as narrow trench warfare — players with limited arsenals. No wonder they plateau or get bored with the game. The funny thing is that everyone so loves the incredibly versatile Roger Federer. So why not emulate him and attempt to build the broadest range possible? That way you’ll never get bored playing tennis and you’ll also likely have techniques that minimize physical erosion.

    Joel, too bad Emmanuel does not live near YOU… you would be a great coach and example for him! thanks, george

  4. One of the keys to playing (and enjoying) tennis throughout your life is to learn the game. Many players make the mistake of spending too much time developing their strokes and not enough time learning the high percentage strategies of the game. When my son was very young he began Karate. 5-6 years later he got his black belt and his teacher said to him “Congratulations, you’ve earned your black belt—now it’s time to learn Karate.”

    Certainly, continue to develop the technical aspects of your game but spend equal time learning (and ingraining) your anticipation skills and high percentage tennis. Both will allow you to still play at a high level when the years begin to catch up with you——and they will.

    I often tell the players I work with (many over 40) that they need to become quicker however the quickness I’m referring to is not with their feet, it’s between their ears! Learn the game and you’ll enjoy your tennis for the rest of your life!!

    Greg, right… when you play vs the really top players, you can see how well they anticipate the next, logical shot and are moving to the spot. thanks, george

  5. Two comments: First, great photo of two of the “greats”, Matt & Michael.

    – Secondly, I would echo Michael’s comment: Have FUN playing the game!

  6. Thank you George and the rest for your sharing your experience and insight in the wonderful game of tennis.

    I do think that too many players that are starting out either ‘later’ in life or picking the game back up after a long hiatus miss out on the critical things you mention. I believe stretching and flexibility work as well as strength training are quintessential to a long and happy tennis “career”. It’s very common for guys my age skip the stretching and the strength training as “it slows them down”. They eat anything and drink excessively after hard matches.

    Last but not least, as Michael said, we should not forget to have fun.

    Joel, that is very good advice to continue to work on a rounded game. There are so many aspects of the game that still work at the amateur level, such as serve and volley, but they risk being a forgotten art with the new generation of baseline bombers.

    Emmanuel, we seniors all wish you well in your pursuit of a lifetime of tennis fun! thanks for a good topic. george

  7. Emmanuel, You started at an age similar to George and me. Although we play many days per week now I certainly was not playing this often in my 30’s. My guess is at
    the moment you are really into it and therefore making time to play often. We all lead very busy lives and both work obligations along with families will likely limit you to continue with that regularity. My point is when you get much busier do not stop playing, Continue to make time for tennis even if its one or two per week. I also agree with all the other points that George made about stretching, eating habits and conditioning. I believe that the adrenaline rush you get especially when at the net during a rapid exchange really help relieve overall stress. My doctor told me when I turned 50 don’t ever stop playing tennis as it is doing more for your health than you will ever realize. If all goes well it’s a sport for a lifetime. Best of luck!!

    Phil, agree … way to many people succumb to the “pressures of life” and forego exercise of any kind. thanks and see you at this week’s tournament. george

  8. Dear Emmanuel, I’m 62 and I started in play tennis at 12 (my best tennis season was in ’76, the same time of the Italian Golden Age of Tennis, Adriano Panatta won in Rome and Paris and the Davis Cup too). I had a very long off-tennis time, due to the career, the family issues, some injuries. But my thought was always close to a “life-time-tennis” mindset. Today I’m still in the business, but, after I got the right balancing between the different needs, I’m finally back to enjoy a lot my tennis time. In the latest 15 years I solved my injuries troubles thanks to a knee surgery + an elbow surgery. My suggestions for you are really few: to take care about connecting Emmanuel the person and Emmanuel the “tennis player” (whatever is your ranking); to let the right recovery time to your body (rest is 50% of training), to eat & drink in a reasonable way, avoiding any up and down weight; to live in the deepest way every time you stay on a tennis court; to share with your friends your passion… my wife often tells me that all my friends are tennis addicted, but this is natural. Tennis players are the best people around the world…(!) All my best. Maurizio

    Maurizio, great advice! thanks, george

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