Eat, sleep and eat some more: How to win a grand slam
Spain's Rafael Nadal is looking to win a record-extending ninth men's singles title at the French Open.
June 3rd, 2014
11:11 AM ET

Eat, sleep and eat some more: How to win a grand slam

It’s the first week of June and the world’s leading tennis stars are bidding for glory at one of the sport’s blue riband events - the French Open.

There’s nothing quite like the clay courts at Roland Garros, and the prize on offer is huge.

But what’s the secret to success?

Like any grand slam, getting to the latter stages requires meticulous planning, preparation, support and, where you can find it, routine.

One of the difficult things about these major tournaments, especially in the men’s events, is you have got to be prepared to play plenty of five-set matches.

In theory, you have a day off in between each tie but, with rain and delays, play can be squashed together.

There may be times when you have to play two five-set matches back-to-back, which is absolutely brutal.

Then there’s adapting to the surface.

At the French Open, rallies tend to be longer, which brings its own set of challenges.

Clay is softer on the joints than hard or grass surfaces, but it’s harder on the muscles because you’re sliding across the court and holding the movement longer.

This means your muscles have got to recover pretty quickly.

I’ve seen players who played five sets of tennis over four hours walk past me in the locker room and go straight to the gym to ride a bike.

It sounds crazy but what they are doing is letting their muscles calm down and getting out any excess lactic acid.

Then they’ll go to the ice bath or the massage table, which is great for the muscles and takes any swelling out of the knees and the joints.

Their trainers will be making high-calorie protein and carb shakes for them, because one of the most important things is refueling. You need fuel to rebuild the muscles and to recover the joints.

It’s difficult to gauge how much energy is burned during a tennis match for sure, but it can be somewhere between 500 and 800 calories per set.

If you’re a guy playing five long sets that’s 4,000 calories.

Then you’ve got the warm-up beforehand and the cooling down afterwards, as well as general living and breathing. It’s not inconceivable to think that you need to refuel 5,000 calories.

And that’s just to replace what you’ve lost.

Giant meals are required, and a lot of the time you don’t have the time to get that sort of intake, so the trainers have the protein shakes ready as soon as possible.

Naturally, the fewer calories you burn the less you have to put into your body to recover.

If Serena Williams comes out and wins 6-0 6-0 in 45 minutes, for example, then she’d almost want a light meal so as not to be playing the next day with a heavy stomach.

Yet even with all this science and the best care, a perfect recovery is by no means guaranteed.

Schedules are difficult to gauge and it’s almost impossible to plan too far in advance or decide upon the best sleeping pattern if your matches last late into the night.

I’ve seen Novak Djokovic pop in ear-plugs, slip on a night mask and just fall asleep in the corner backstage at tournaments.

Players snooze all over the place. It’s not easy to find a space at Roland Garros as it is a very small venue but there is a quiet room which has some reclining chairs.

On top of all this, if you play a couple of five-set matches you usually start to feel it by the second week.

Not too many players can play more than two five-set matches in a row before they start to hurt.

I played and won two five-set matches back-to-back at the U.S. Open one year when I was coming back from injury. By the next match, my legs were gone.
But everyone is different.

Gustavo Kuerten won three five-set matches in a row as he went on to win the French Open title in 1997.

It was almost superhuman, just one of the most incredible efforts of recovery I’ve ever seen in my life.

Then you’ve got guys like Roger Federer.

For me there’s no secret to why Federer always looks so fresh going into the second week at the majors. It’s because he thrashes everybody in the first few rounds.

The nature of his game is to be attacking and aggressive.

The lesser players are generally shell-shocked for about half the match and the next thing you know, it’s all over. That’s his great advantage.

Obviously, everyone is different and there’s no perfect formula to ensure you’ll end up winning or even playing in the latter stages of events like the French Open.

But if you can get to the second week fresh and by having the most recovery time from your matches, then you give yourself the best chance.

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Filed under:  Tennis
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Congratulations to champion Rafa and to his regular challenger and runner up Novak. Wonderful players of the current era. May they go on and on.

    June 11, 2014 at 7:35 am | Reply
  2. Vassili Stroganov

    Congratulations Rafa. I belive you can surpass Federer in Grand Slam victories.

    June 22, 2014 at 5:08 pm | Reply

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