It’s simply not possible to play tournaments every week of the season. No matter how fit an athlete you are, any player will soon run out of steam.
The first half of the season is particularly tough; Australia, followed by Indian Wells and Miami, then the European clay swing with Roland Garros and then Wimbledon; three Grand Slams and three different surfaces within six months. It’s extremely demanding on the body.
After Wimbledon, some players will stay in Europe and try to pick up some more ranking points, but most will take a short break. In my opinion, not enough players are thinking about improvement. I wish more coaches and agents would encourage this because not only would it benefit the players, it would improve the sport in the long run.
There are seven weeks between the Wimbledon final and the start of the US Open, and in reality that’s eight weeks for most players. You have a draw of 128 players, and by the end of the first week 112 of them have gone home. This time of the year represents a real opportunity to look at improvement, not just as a player, but also as an athlete and a person.
To build a foundation, whether fitness or skills-based, while you are in competition is impossible. You have to set the base and put in the hard work away from competition. With a three or four-week stretch, a player should first take time to relax and rejuvenate and not even look at a racket for ten days.
it’s no different to people needing a holiday from a regular job. After five or six days you can start picking up the physical training again, which is an area you can improve significantly in three or four weeks. Then the closer you get to competition the more you want to train like you are in matches.
The pre-season training block is the most important part of the year, but in order to be ready for the off-season you have to make the most of this mid-term gap. I think a lot of players underestimate the significance of this training block. As a coach if you start working with a player midway through the season it can be very challenging. It requires a lot of tweaks here and there; both the player and the coach have to be very flexible. You have to communicate very openly; you have to be bold and blunt, and at times also comforting. the player has to understand what you are doing is in their best interest.
The worst thing a coach could do is make widespread changes. Change is a big word. I would rather call it improvement. You expand their skillset and broaden their horizon. Players don’t want to hear about change; they prefer to hear how they have improved.
This article originally appeared in tennishead Volume 6 Issue 4. Mats Merkel writes a regular column for tennishead. To read more from Mats, subscribe to the magazine today.