Annabel Croft tells The Tennis Space why life as a professional is a stressful one: “Playing tennis is like being a deer rucking in the park.”
“I think that professional tennis is one of the most stressful professional sports because of the length of time that you’re out on court. Other sports, I guess golf would be quite similar, but others are over in minutes and your stress levels are for that short period of time. But tennis is this emotional personal journey that can last up to three or four hours or more. I think it’s incredibly stressful. You have to be the right sort of personality to deal with those pressures, certain personalities like a Roger Federer just deal with it effortlessly, whereas others are so wrought and fraught internally, and you can see it, as an opponent. That’s why it’s such a great spectator sport because the audience can see these pressure moments presenting themselves during the course of matches.
“There are lots of different techniques now to try to deal with stress, there are a lot of sports psychologists who will give players certain things to do where they are focusing forwards not backwards. A lot of it’s in your own personality.
“I think players are encouraged to switch off and do other things away from the sport, but there’s so little time. Now every moment of their day is planned out, the physio, warm, down, stretching, almost every moment of every day is planned, so it’s quite difficult to suddenly go oh I’m going to go off shopping today and switch off. That would be exhausting So it’s very difficult.
“Other sports too, you’re often in a team, it’s not so exposing, whereas this is such a mental sport, it is like two boxers going up against each other, deer rucking in the park. Ultimately it’s who’s got the strongest mind, mentally you are exposed to what everyone who’s watching the match can see, if you put in a short second serve or double fault, and tense up, and get tight on your forehand, everyone knows it’s getting to you, it’s very transparent, we can all see that, and that’s why it’s so fascinating, you are watching the two minds go head to head, it transfers through to what the mental side is.
“When I was playing there was so much less money on the tour, I was constantly aware of saving money. We didn’t have mobile phones so I was constantly on payphones, I was on red eye flights, I was going to Greyhound bus stations at three in the morning, but that was the cheapest way to get to the next event. There’s so much more money in the game now and so many more teams that that isn’t such a problem, but lower down the rankings players do struggle, that’s another pressure It is really tough and that’s not helpful in terms of your best performance. Dodig for example slept rough in tube stations and things to save money to get to the next tournament. If you get through qualifying, which is so tough, you get your hotel paid for. It made such a difference, a real reward for getting through.
“One of the ways they cope is having teams, they feel much more part of the team, they are always thanking the team, talking in terms of ‘we’ so that does alleviate some of the stress, if you feel that you can offload some of that stress onto your team.”
Annabel Croft is a commentator for Eurosport.