If you have played tournaments you’ve no doubt been pushed to a third set or maybe even a 3rd set tiebreaker. If you’re at the professional level in a major tournament you could be playing a best of 5 sets with no tiebreaker in the last set. What that means is you could be on the court for 2, 3, 4 hours or more. A fit player has obvious advantages in longer matches. A strong mentally prepared player also has advantages in longer matches. Let’s examine what happens to you physically in longer matches that may affect your play.
First of all you build up lactic acid in the muscles. That’s the stuff that makes your muscles hurt. They are oxygen deprived which means fresh oxygenated blood can’t whisk away the toxic fatigue by-products. The longer you produce lactic acid without recovery time the heavier the muscle starts to feel. When muscles get heavy from fatigue the biomechanics of the swing starts to change.
Watch an early round Wimbledon or US Open match and you will see the less fit players in longer matches start to wail away at the ball trying to end a point quickly.
Their weight will often be on the back foot, their timing will be off and their follow-through won’t direct the ball properly into the opponent’s court. Between sets they may try and get some potassium into the muscle (eating bananas) but it takes time for all that lactic acid to dissipate back into the blood stream ... unless you’re fit that is. Being fit forces your body to adapt better to times of stress. So, for instance, you can tolerate lactic acid better without succumbing to the pain and the resulting poor shots. Your controlled breathing allows you to get more oxygen into the blood stream and so on.
You might be thinking if you just run longer distances, lift weights and do aerobic exercises that will improve your tennis game. It certainly will but to get the best results you need to train the muscles that are specifically involved in making your strokes.
This would be an excellent time to introduce your tennis-training partner; it’s called the ball machine and this is one of the best ball machines available.
The one pictured here is the elite grand five with programmable features.
This machine doesn’t fatigue like your training partner would so feeding shots and the drills it has you do are consistent.... for hours.
Drill #1. You need to hit groundstrokes each day for a minimum of 1 hour.
The shots can be strategically placed if you like, but remember this is more about training the muscles for fatigue. Try to keep your returns deep and close to the baseline. Hit 100 forehands followed by 100 backhands.
Repeat and then repeat again. As the racquet starts to feel heavier and the footwork becomes more difficult analyze your shots for depth and placement, they will be your barometers for success. Have an assistant keep track of where they land on a court diagram. Do this exercise for about 1 hour until muscles feel heavy then stop. Stretch the muscles then go home.
If you do this exercises 4 times week in addition to all your other training you will notice much better fatigue management in longer matches. As you get fitter and the muscles adapt you will gain greater muscle control resulting in better shots and more points won.
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