How I Prepare for a Tournament: Mind, Body and Game
by Davida Dinerman
Let’s face it… we’re hooked. Tennis is our passion and we want perform well. It’s nice to just hit but I find that training with a goal, such as a Cup team or USTA tournament, is a great motivator and will help me improve my skills. And while the on-court practice is critical, it’s not the only factor for preparation. I divide it up into three categories: mind, body and game.
I found a quote by Venus Williams which we can all relate to: Tennis is mostly mental. Of course, you must have a lot of physical skill, but you can't play tennis well and not be a good thinker. You win or lose the match before you even go out there. Every day I use visualization – as I plan my day, when I write an article - I try to see how I’d like it to turn out and then work toward that. And visualization is a part of my tennis routine. I know what I want my shots and strategy to look like, so before I step on the court for practice or a tournament, I try to find a quiet place to loosen up and imagine myself on the court hitting each shot. I didn’t realize how much that helped until I didn’t do it. Recently, I played in a 50s slam tournament and, between matches, I caught up with some people I hadn’t seen in a while. Before I knew it, the tournament director called my name. I went on the court without my usual mental warm-up prep and felt my mind and body were not in sync, so it took me longer to find a groove.
I used to do a lot of running for cross training, but I am now perfectly happy taking hikes with my dog. The benefits of walking are just as good, and I am not beating up my body nearly as much. I also enjoy hot power yoga for flexibility and balance, and to prevent injury. I don’t enjoy being in a gym in the summer but I use light weights and bands at home for arm, elbow and shoulder exercises. Over the winter, when I’m not playing as much tennis during the week, I try to get into an exercise class once or twice a week which offers a combo of weight training and cardio.
Right before a match, I like to do a light 15-20- minute hit if possible (even volley-volley with someone in a parking lot if no courts are available) and dynamic stretching which includes a series of high kicks-leg swings-side shuffles-butt kicks-arm and shoulder circles-neck rolls-wrist rolls. In one exercise to loosen the shoulders, I clasp my hands at the fingertips (one hand palm up, the other palm down), pull from my fingertips and form circles.
What I eat prior to a match depends on how much time I give myself. (It is not always easy to get up 3 hours early for an am match). If I have 2-3 hours, I’ll go for a banana, a couple of eggs and some Chobani yogurt. An abridged version of that is a banana, yogurt and some hearty granola. In the afternoon, my favorite fuel is a peanut butter and honey sandwich and another banana or other fruit available. On court, I like to have one container of water and one with water and a Nuun tablet for electrolytes. I I keep Rx bars and Gu packets handy when I’m on court.
I try to practice with purpose and alternate drilling sessions with match play. I love hitting with my friend Bill who enjoys drilling. We’ll do a quick all-around warm up and then go into cross courts, down-the-line and hitting squarely in the middle. One of my favorite volley drills is one which alternates a volley and an overhead. It’s not only a great drill for skills but it also has an excellent cardio element. Then I’ll play a baseline game of 21 which is a non-serve drill. After that and depending on the time, I like to play a set or a few tie-breakers. Some days I simply want to do a 10-minute warm up and play a couple of sets right off the bat to simulate a match situation.
One of my 5.0-level hitting partners does not like to play sets. When I have competed against her in a league match, I find she gets tentative and many times does not pull out critical points. I believe it’s because she does not balance her practice sessions by playing sets. I also like to play against people with varying levels of strength and styles - both singles and doubles. Fellow NSWTA member Judy Smith offers an excellent piece of advice, “A tremendous amount of the action takes place with serves and returns, but we seem to spend more time just hitting. So, more practice with serves and returns is good.”
On game day, I want to step on the court knowing I did all I could to prepare and play the way I know I can play. Past NSWTA President Sheila Weinstock might have said it best: “Quinine water is the best thing for you and even better with gin or vodka after the game!”