Tim Ellis pinpoints some of the things that football can learn from tennis.
1) Tennis stamina on a higher planet than football
True, many of the big tennis beasts are currently hobbling around like Bear Grylls without a survival kit. However, their Mount Everest levels of endurance are not to be forgotten.
Andy Murray’s fitness regime resembles an episode of the world’s strongest man, but without the spare tyre. At his best, Novak Djokovic’s body appears to bend out of shape and then reattach itself in a way that Daniel Sturridge can only dream of.
In fact, when the Serb beat Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open in 2012, it was a six-hour epic of sheer physical brutality that embarrassed football’s pampered stars.
Cramp after 90 minutes? Pull the other leg. Most footballers would collapse in the Melbourne heat after the warm-up.
2) Tie-breaks harder than penalty shoot-outs
Tennis nut Jose Mourinho is often seen court side at venues like Queen’s Club Championship and the ATP Tour Finals at the O2 Arena. The Special One has made no secret of his admiration for the unique bottle of Murray and company.
“In tennis they take penalty shoot-outs all day,” the Portuguese swooned. “Every point is a tough decision so they have to be really strong. I always say that in my sport sometimes we hide behind each other, we can always find excuses in success and in failure and in this way tennis is phenomenal because you have to be really strong. ”
3) Individual responsibility stronger than the collective
Tennis coaches cannot consult their charges during a match to change the course of its voyage, something that Mourinho says he could not cope with. In 2001, plucky Brit Barry Cowan almost beat seven-time Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras by listening to Liverpool’s famous anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” on his headphones during the changeovers.
Serena Williams motivates herself by reading scribbly bits of paper. You know the ones – those that are thrust into a footballer’s face two seconds before they come on, only to be ignored.
Murray had already lost his first four Slam finals, when he let a two-set lead over Djokovic slip in the final of the US Open in 2012. The Scot vacated the court for a “comfort” break before the start of the fifth and looked at himself in the mirror. ‘You are not losing this match,’ he told himself. ‘You are NOT losing this match.’ He didn’t.
4) Dealing with fear
At the height of his blitz of all major trophies, Red Star Belgrade fan Djokovic said: “Everyone feels fear. I don’t trust a man who says he has no fear… How are you going to use it? Are you going to let it consume you, or are you going to accept its presence and say, ‘OK, let’s work together.’ ”
Imagine Wayne Rooney or Harry Kane thinking along those lines. Imagine either of them thinking.
Led by the “gentleman” of the sport, Roger Federer, tennis players have enormous respect for each other on and off the court, generally speaking. Let’s not talk about Maria Sharapova being handed a free entry back.
There is none of the spitting rage and throat-thrusting belligerence that a Jamie Vardy or a Roy Keane could thrust onto a referee.
John McEnroe clearly can’t bear the civility: “It was fun when guys were trash-talking each other and yelling at each other, me and [Jimmy] Connors, or whatever.”
Even when Kyle Edmund got into a rage against Marin Cilic, it was non-offensive but fun to watch. That’s the way it should be.
6) VAR technology kills controversy
In the 80s, McEnroe could call the referee out for a one-way discussion when a seventy-something line judge couldn’t see a puff of chalk fly up.
The introduction of Hawk Eye in tennis has virtually killed any discontent spilling out on the court over crucial decisions (notwithstanding Daniil Medvedev who started throwing coins at the umpire’s chair after five line calls went against him at last year’s Wimbledon).
Football’s arrogance and insularity has held back the advance of video assistance to such an extent that when the VAR was finally trialed in the Confederations Cup, the officials made a number of cock-ups or chose not to use it all. As Lee Dixon said on ITV: “If you look at sports that use VAR – we’re the laughing stock.”
8) Forget ’66. Murray proves you can break longer records of failure
That thoroughly decent Tim Henman was never quite good enough to win Wimbledon, but that didn’t stop success-starved fans hoping that he might suddenly find a way to stop being a glorious loser.
When Murray finally landed his first title in 2013, it broke the massive 77 year wait for a British winner. Even Jose was moved to tears: “It’s more than a tournament. He has broken the psychological wall that was there for every British person that loves the game.”
By Tim Ellis
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