The toughest athletes on Earth are the best athletes on Earth. And no, toughness isn't always accomplished by being able to take a flurry of punches to the face as some hockey players do, or being able to physically best an opponent in a boxing ring.
Often toughness is accomplished through sheer will - mental and emotional toughness can be, um, tough, to attain.
Tennis players face thousands of obstacles in their career. Countless hurdles that are just begging the athlete to trip up and lose their way.
Ooh, that’s another sport that requires toughness - and a bit of insanity: hurdles.
But that’s a post for another day. Today we’re talking tennis and why it’s harder than any other sport in the world.
Hockey players have pads, football players have masks - tennis players have nothing to hide behind. From a physical standpoint, if a tennis player wipes out and smashes their face into the court, there’s no helmet or protection to absorb the blow. Face, meet turf.
From an emotional standpoint, a tennis player might as well be naked when compared to other sports - the stress on their face is plain for all to see and for all to heckle.
Part of that mental nakedness spills off the court as well. Because tennis is largely an individual sport, there are no teammates with which to share the blame when things don’t go as planned. Having poor match? Your opponent will know. Fail to qualify? The media is coming for you. Screw up a shot? Your fans will let you know about it.
There’s no escape from the ruthless scrutiny of the tennis world when you’re all alone out there.
There’s only one champion, and they’re already way ahead of the game. Tennis can mess with your mind is so many different ways, not the least of which being the fact that there can be only one champion. The odds of becoming the best in your age group are astronomical, let alone becoming the one and only world champion.
It’s an excruciating process for tennis players on the rise to block out the obstacles in their way and to focus on improving steadily one day at a time.
Tilting your racquet a single degree in the wrong direction and the trajectory of your shot changes completely. In hockey, players are taught to just throw pucks at the net and hope for the best - this doesn’t fly in tennis (literally). Every mistake on the court is amplified, and once again, mistakes away from the court are perhaps even more troublesome given the public nature of the sport.
If a tennis player wants to be the best, then their game needs to be air-tight on and off the court.
Last but not least, the repetitive nature of tennis is a major factor in the downfall of so many tennis players. Soccer, football and hockey are all dynamic sports where movements are rarely duplicated to perfection. In tennis, it’s those perfect duplications of shots that make the best tennis players in the world so successful. The ability to be consistent is one of the game’s most difficult attributes to attain, yet it’s the most important.
Tennis elbow is caused by these repetitive movements. Tennis is destructive for your muscles, joints and ligaments. An enormous part of a tennis player’s career is re-habbing injuries and exercising for hours on end in order to avoid those injuries.
So why do people play tennis? If it’s so tough, how come it’s one of the world’s most popular sports? Well, like running a marathon or sitting through an Edmonton Oilers’ hockey game, it’s the journey that counts. The same high felt by runners when they reach the top of a mountain or the end of a race is felt by tennis players who experience success in one form or another.
Just because something is tough doesn’t mean it’s not worth finishing.
photo credit: 2014 US Open (Tennis) - Qualifying Rounds - Melanie Oudin via photopin (license)