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Gearing up mentally and physically

July 14, 2010

One of the dictionary definitions of ritual is: “a customarily repeated act or series of acts.”

    The use of rituals in tennis just prior to serving and receiving — the two most important shots in the game that are initiated from an always-challenging static start — is easily observed in the pro game and essential in creating a whole body rhythm and positive unconsciousness for all. They are deeply ingrained, idiosyncratic and highly valued among both the sport’s stars and journeymen.

    They are even utilized in between points — the toweling off and the inspection of the balls offered up by the ball kids — as the players lead up to taking position to serve or return.

    And surely you’ve all noticed Rafa Nadal’s “shorts tugging” tick. Interesting.

    These individually customized routines are universal and exist throughout all of sport, and even in daily life as well. Have you ever considered that you brush your teeth and dress yourself in the exact same manner every morning?

    Baseball batters, of course, rule the roost. Watching their elaborate fidgeting with uniforms, caps, batting gloves and batting helmets before even stepping into the batter’s box where they then repeat a few practice swings can, at times, seem interminable.

    The list goes on with golfers famously doing their wiggling and waggling as they ready to hit. And then there are the basketball players with their lively ball bouncing and body dance before shooting a free throw.

    In tennis, when the moment of serving is at hand, experienced players first look across the net and visualize the intended flight of the serve. This is followed by a number of ball bounces to relax the tossing hand.

    Next a little rocking motion back and forth with the ball against the racket strings, and then, hopefully, a feel good state of whole body continuity is achieved along with an uncluttered mind. And the serve is launched.

    I always remember Lake Placid club player Marilyn H. upon first experiencing  the immediately positive aspects of developing a serving ritual, saying to me in smiling amazement: “That really gets the kinks out.” Exactly.

    Returning serve also requires a get-engaged routine well before the serve is struck. Top players often skip laterally in place as the server approaches the line to energize. They then transition into a grounded foot-to-foot weighting while the upper body slowly rotates slightly from left to right, then right to left a number of times since this replicates the very first pivoting movement that the receiver must make once the serve is struck.

    Today, Serena Williams’ return ritual, with all of its signature gyrations, is arguably the best in the women’s or men’s game. She is clearly committed to connecting to the moment in harmony with an opponent about to unleash their best.

    Going forward always take the time to properly, “gear-up” both physically and mentally prior to starting a point either serving or returning.

    Standing absolutely still, with not a muscle stirring, is analogous to shutting your car engine off at a red traffic light. Keep the motor revving. The difference will strike a cord.

Jak Beardsworth (USPTA) is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Resort. He can be reached by e-mail at, by phone at 941-626-0097 or through his website: 

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