American champion Andre Agassi describes the sport he once dominated as a learning tool. “It was a vehicle for me to discover a lot about myself,” he reflected after his long career.
The four-time Australian Open champion is a former world No.1, who etched his name in history with a career Grand Slam as well as an Olympic gold medal. It was also a career that saw him transform from a rebellious teen, who eschewed tradition and tested boundaries, to a gentleman of the sport, adored for his sportsmanship and class.
As Agassi grew through his tennis journey, he became a role model for positive change. Many of today’s stars follow in that legacy, providing inspiration and motivation for fans as they demonstrate examples of successful transformations…
As the most prolific Grand Slam winner in men’s tennis, Roger Federer has few secrets in his game. That was until he introduced a new tactic during the American summer of 2015.
The former world No.1 began to advance on his opponent’s serves to hit a half-volley and then rush to the net. It was a move that was labelled SABR, an acronym for ‘sneak attack by Roger’.
The surprise move unsettled opponents – and helped Federer qualify for his first US Open final in six years. Yet it was a tactic also met with criticism, with six-time Grand Slam champion Boris Becker deeming it disrespectful.
“For me, if it makes sense, you know, which I think it does, I’ll use it,” an unphased Federer said. “I think you need to challenge yourself and try out new things.”
Federer continues to seek tactical improvements late in his career, as evident through his more aggressive use of his backhand to scoop the Australian Open title, as well as the Indian Wells-Miami double, so far in 2017.
When Serena Williams suffered a shock first round loss at the French Open in 2012, the then 13-time Grand Slam champion reached out to French coach Patrick Mouratoglou. She was bitterly disappointed with her result, but wanted to use it as a catalyst to make her game better. A fruitful partnership has since bloomed between the pair, netting a further 10 Grand Slams as Williams’ domination of the WTA Tour became more pronounced than ever.
“She was already incredible before. But I think, my role is to find a way to do even better,” Mouratoglou explained.
“What makes champions different is the way they think. She’s never satisfied. Never. It’s never enough even if she’s winning … That’s the same at practice. Her level of expectation for herself is really high.”
World No.2 Novak Djokovic’s on-court achievements are often associated with his rigid off-court routines, in particular his diet.
He famously overhauled his diet in 2010, eliminating gluten and dairy and limiting his sugar intake. It had an immediate impact on his health and has helped him reach the top of the sport.
Djokovic is now an advocate for the importance of a good diet, even publishing a book on the topic in 2013.
“My life changed because I had begun to eat the right foods for my body,” he explained. “I feel fresher, more alert and more energetic than I have in my life. You certainly don’t have to be a tennis pro to make the changes I did to improve your body, your health and outlook on life.”
Injuries are the worst nightmare of any player – and fighting back from them is as much a mental process as it is physical.
Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga understands this all too well. His form and ranking has fluctuated in recent years as injuries took their toll.
“To come back at your best level, it’s always a long process,” the 2008 Australian Open finalist reflected.
But Tsonga believes focusing on and achieving physical improvements is a rewarding part of the sport.
“It gives me energy, you know, to continue to work hard and try to achieve other good things,” he said.
This article was originally published in Australian Tennis Magazine.
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