Practice sessions are crucial. During training sessions players can work on their strengths, improve weaknesses, add new skills and build good habits to get ready for tournament performance. It is always great to watch and learn from others but when you have an opportunity to watch practice sessions of professional players during US OPEN this experience is invaluable.
US OPEN provides terrific opportunity to get closer to top athletes. Right next to the practice courts there is a screen where people can see daily schedule of practice sessions. It is a great move to plan your activities and always know when particular player will get on court. Additionally, there are stands right behind the baseline of practice courts where fans can sit and watch top players train without any obstacles. Being able to sit and watch Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro practise is an experience but also an opportunity to compare own methods with top coaches and learn new approaches to this important aspect of athletic career.
Speed of the shots. Drills. Coaching tips. Intensity. These are the factors that many players and coaches take into consideration while watching professional players practice sessions. Of course these aspects are important and by being able to see these methods you are able to make some corrections into your approach but I always look for more. During US OPEN 2017 I saw many practice sessions that didn’t make impression on me from typical tennis perspective but they made me think about my approach from coaching perspective. I strongly believe that if we want to take our players to the highest level we have to incorporate some changes to different areas of player’s development.
There are different reasons to watch other players practising. My goal is to learn. I can definitely say that I learned a lot during my visit in New York. Here are my lessons:
- No bad time for practice
Rainy day. Matches are re-scheduled because most of the courts are wet. Top players have to make some changes to their daily activities. What about practice sessions? Nothing changes. Juan Martin Del Potro gets on the wet court and hits from one place for 15 minutes. No running, not too much pace but he gets control of the ball and he can warm up his strokes. It doesn’t matter that US OPEN staff is walking around the court with equipment to make court dry faster – he has his job to do.
Fernando Lopez lost to Roger Federer in the evening session. What is he doing the next morning? Feliciano is on the practice court. He still has doubles to go. He still can improve his game. This is the mindset of professional players. They know how important it is to practise so they don’t look for excuses to miss any session. Great lesson for all juniors who lose motivation after lost match…
- Individual approach based on own needs
We all have our own favorite drills to incorporate into practice sessions. Typical for many coaches is to see new drills and copying them for own use. This approach is not the best one because there are no 2 the same players so we have to consider individual plan for every athlete. When I was watching Rafael Nadal practice during US OPEN 2017 it was an interesting time. Rafa was hitting from the middle of the court for 30 minutes with one little break. Few shots into deuce corner and few shots into ad corner. Nothing fancy no extra targets. I can’t tell exactly what the goal of this exercise was but I am positive on one thing: Rafa had a reason to do this drill for such a long time. It simply means that top players don’t change drills until they achieve given task.
- No great drills
Rafael Nadal was hitting all the time with other player. Venus Williams was finishing practice sessions with 20 minutes of simple basket feeding and hitting cross-court shots. Kevin Anderson spent a lot of time on serving on practice court. What does it mean? It confirms that there are no great drills that work for all. Coaches use methods that work for particular player. Too many times we judge other coaches by looking at drills. That’s not fair. We don’t know the reason of this action. If player needs one drill coach has to use it as often as possible. Lesson to remember: get to know your player and use acitivites that are good for your athlete.
Grand Slam tournament is a spectacular even that provides great experiences. Every time I attend such an event I look for more than just pure entertainment. Practice sessions are great opportunities to learn what top players do every day to make own chances bigger for final success. Do you have any other learning experiences related to professional tournaments? Share them in the comments box!
Marcin Bieniek is a professional tennis coach and founder of instructional website http://tennisisland.us. Marcin has been working with USTA, top 50 ITF and WTA/ATP players. He is a frequent contributor to TennisPro and TenisKlub magazines and he was a speaker at International Coaching Tennis Symposium 2016 at Hilton Head Island, USA.