Don’t shoot arrows, get creative in Australian Open lockdown

If I was coaching a tennis player stuck in two weeks of hard hotel quarantine before the Australian Open I would expect them to lose very little, if any, physical conditioning.

By this point the physical work should have been done in the recent off-season, and given this off-season happened after a year of pandemic disruptions every player has been well aware that situations can change on a whim.

You can create a program in your hotel room, which will be quite physical and demanding, there is no doubt about that.

Pablo Cuevas practises his backhand against a mattress in hotel quarantine ahead of the Australian Open.Credit:Instagram

When I was young and playing on the tour, and my parents couldn't afford hotels with great training facilities and gyms, I would do a lot of activity in my rooms using chairs and beds for core strength and all sorts of things in the room to exercise. You have to be creative.

Players look to be getting exercise bikes, and you can do yoga or pilates and train using your full body weight to keep in shape.

Look at Uruguayan player Pablo Cuevas, who is one of the unlucky ones in the 14-day hard hotel lockdown. He's been hitting tennis balls into his upturned mattress to stay on top of his game. It's brilliant.

Pablo has thought automatically, 'OK, how can I make this work?', instead of shooting arrows at Tennis Australia or the government on social media.

He is a very resilient player, he has been on tour for a long time, he has a calm persona and has decided to hit the ball into the mattress.

Can you do it for hours? No. It would be tough. But he is looking for ways to stimulate himself through the process. That keeps your eye in, and you are never going to lose your natural hitting ability over two weeks.

The mental side of things is tougher than the physical, but it is not an insurmountable challenge.

Your mental strength needs to be your number one weapon in times like these. If you took a positive look at this and said, 'OK, this is what I have got to work with, what's my agenda look like? Let's make a plan' you will get through it.

Sure, you will have your moments but if you connect with enough people on the phone to stay in the daily moment, and know the prize at the end of it is to get on the court in a grand slam, then you'lll make it work.

Most players seem to be taking this mindset into their two weeks. Only a handful have complained on social media, with most saying nothing at all.

From a tournament integrity standpoint, the fact some players are confined to their hotel rooms and others can leave theirs for five hours to practise also should not be an issue. That's because not every player has the perfect preparation going into every grand slam anyway. Many play injured and many others play low on confidence because they have performed poorly in lead-up events. Then you get to the second week of the tournament and some players will have inevitably played more sets than others.

Fairness is usually compromised too. The bigger players enjoy playing on better courts at grand slams and the fact they make more money means their living or travel arrangements and entourages are better than those not as successful, to some level.

I don't think in this current climate that you can complain about the conditions if you want to participate. You have to understand you may be caught up in things that might be a bit of a hinderance to your normal preparation, this is realistically the new normal for now.

If you're being negatively dictated by your emotions here inside a lockdown then you'll probably only have yourself to blame anyway.

While I hope the players can overcome the challenges they face in their hotels I worry for Tennis Australia staff too. They have worked overtime to even get approval for this grand slam to go ahead, and still have a lot more to do to make sure the players can happily get to the starting line.

The players are lucky to come to a country with strict health measures and the safety of their community at the forefront of planning, and should be grateful they can play a grand slam during the pandemic.

Roger Rasheed is a former professional tennis player and went onto coach Lleyton Hewitt, Gael Monfils, Grigor Dimitrov and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

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