Thursday, February 3, 2011

Going Solo

The Amir Weintraub column has really made me think. (See yesterday's post, if you are all like 'who is this Amir Weintraub of whom you speak?') The difference between life for a player ranked #25 and one ranked #250 is something I found very, very striking. Hence devoting that whole post to it yesterday and stuff.

One thing which I found particularly remarkable and that I thought deserved a little more space was the fact that players on the Challengers and Futures tours generally can't afford to bring their coaches with them. Weintraub notes in his column that some people do travel with huge entourages - sometimes they're top echelon players on their way back, other times guys who are somehow scraping the money together because they are so desperate to succeed - but for most dudes like Weintraub, it's a solo act. He brings his coach with him to a tournament in Israel - where he's from - and even that is a massive financial stretch.

I talked a bit yesterday about the striking link between tennis and money - the top guys earn heaps and never have to think about it, the little guys earn pretty much nothing and are constantly pre-occupied with it as a result - but that's not so much what I want to talk about here. I often say that one of the reasons I love tennis so much is that it's a true gladiatorial battle. Two people walk onto a court, with only their wits and their abilities to recommend them. Two men enter. One man leaves. Welcome to Thunderdome.

In the upper echelons of the game, people travel with massive entourages. Not only do they have coaches, but they have fitness trainers and physiotherapists and all kinds of crazy things - quite apart from their families. But when you get down to the satellite tour, all there are are the players. They might have coaches, but they're not there. They truly are alone.

I don't know if this somehow makes satellite tennis a purer form of the game or whatever, but the court must be a very lonely place for people down there. If you're a top seed playing on Rod Laver Arena or Court Philippe Chatrier or wherever, you might be by yourself on the court, but you've got a whole support team who've carried you there. They're there looking down on you, and even though they can't help you on the court - much as they might try to help you, coaching warnings be damned - you know they're there and that they're there for you. And there's a whole crowd to carry you too.

Let's cross over to the satellite tour. No coach. No player's box. Probably not even a crowd. Just you. You are all you have to depend on.

And in a way, that's kind of awesome. Not that players shouldn't have coaches or coaches should be banned from matches or whatever - nothing crazy like that. I'm not suggesting a revolution. But there's something very appealing to me about the idea that you - your mind, your body, your skills - are literally all you have to depend on.

Which is why on court coaching is such a freaking stupid idea. (Sorry. Had to get that dig in there.)

It must be horribly, horribly hard to be so alone. But in a way, it must be character building too. If you can survive all by yourself on the satellite tour with nothing but yourself to depend on... if and when you make it to the top echelon of the game, you'll be tougher for it. And a player who can throw down when the chips are down, who knows that if they're in a hole, they'll have to dig themselves out of it... that's the makings of a good tennis player, right there.

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