Which players will be best equipped to start strong when the five-month Tour suspension ends later this month?
I think this period is the best for middle-aged players, guys between 25 and 30. I believe they already have experience on the ATP Tour and it’s the right moment for them to improve their game and to do a “check-up” of what happened in the first part of their career.
They are starting to know a bit more about themselves as people and players. Middle-aged players are starting to understand the limitations they had before and now they’ve had the time to work on those things, while still having the energy to do so. They’re still very young and healthy. For them, it will be great.
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When you are young, you can still practise a lot without injury. You have many things to improve in your game. It’s the right time to work a lot, to improve on weaknesses, to finally have the time to work without having the pressure of having a tournament right after. This is the time if you want to improve something in your game. Some things need time to be fixed.
What is really hard in tennis is you always have things coming up and tournaments to play. You say, ‘I would really like to work on my second serve, but I need the time to do it.’ Let’s say I want to be more aggressive on the second serve, one week after working on it, you play a tournament and you hit 10 double faults in a row. Then you quit that attempt to improve. You just lost and you say, ‘Ah, but my ranking!’ You have a lot of pressure with that.
It’s never easy to find the time to work when you are young once you are on the Tour because it’s one tournament per week. When you have a bit more time like this, it’s the time to say, ‘Okay, I can work on this for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks and practise, test it in practice, test it in a match or in practice for one more month before you bring it into the match.’ That helps a lot sometimes. That’s what I would do if I was younger.
For people like me, for the older players, I think the key in this period is to work a lot with the body. It is most important to stay healthy and to try to work enough to stay in good shape, but not working too much, and take the time to prevent injuries. Your body is not the same as when you were 20. Then you were able to go four hours every day no matter what you are doing and have no problem. For us older players, it’s a bit different now.
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You can also use the time to work on court and what I said before is still true. But managing the body is even more important. You know a big injury when you are 35 or 36 may be the last injury and then your career is over. When you have this in mind, to stay healthy is more important. It’s also the hardest part of the practice. Try to practise, try to be ready, but don’t push too much. Don’t get injured in a stupid way.
It’s almost impossible for anyone to make some drastic changes to their game at this moment. In general it’s really hard to make significant changes, because when you come on Tour and you are 21 years old, it’s already 15 years you have been playing tennis. You are new on Tour, but you are already doing what you were doing for a long time. When you do something for a very long time, it’s always hard to change it. When you are 35, it’s 30 years you’ve been playing tennis.
One example: my volley is not great. I tried to improve this all my career, so I can still work on it now. It’s not a problem, but it’s never going to be a great volley. It’s just something that I don’t feel as good with as some other things on the tennis court. It will be a very big surprise if suddenly in three months I come back and I have the best volley on Tour and I play serve-and-volley and return-and-volley. It has to be realistic at some point.
Of course I’m improving and I know a lot of things that I can improve, but it’s not that much anymore about the tennis. It’s still about me being more relaxed, being more confident, trying to use the time to maybe see things differently and maybe having a different approach. Then the results will be very different on court, but without working that much on the tennis itself. The tennis is there for 30 years now, so that’s it.