Friday, August 25, 2017

Tennis Player Superstitions

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Contributor

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t believe in superstitions. This past summer season I played a particularly awesome 1st match, so what did I do? Wear the same outfit (granted I wore a team uniform) along with the same earrings and the same socks. First it happened to be coincidental, but then I kept on wearing them. Hey, whatever it takes to win! I had a great season thanks to feeling like my exact same outfit was my lucky charm.

Rafa Nadal's water bottles have to be 
perfectly facing out.
You’ll see athletes from across all sports with their odd and outlandish quirks, like Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky who had a specific order of putting on his equipment and the order never changed, or baseball legend Babe Ruth always stepping on 2nd base on his way out to the outfield, and even Ecuador’s national soccer team calling in a witch doctor to give them extra luck in the 2006 World Cup. Superstitions can be tricky. Sometimes they give you that extra boost in confidence on court, while other times it can be mentally exhausting and detrimental to your game. In tennis, you see this a lot amongst players. It’s not uncommon to see players avoiding stepping on the lines, stepping onto the court with their right foot only, or (like me) wearing the same outfit or certain jewelry for good luck. With the US Open starting, I thought it would be interesting to dive into what some of our favorite pros are superstitious of and see for ourselves if any of these are true. Can you guess which quirk belongs to which player?

No Undies  Realizing he forgot his underwear before his 1st match at the 1999 French Open, Andre Agassi decided to go commando and won against an incredibly tough competitor. He then went on to win in his only French Open triumph and continued to play without undies for the rest of his career.

Lucky Beard  For several years in a row, Bjorn Borg started growing out his beard in the first round of each Wimbledon tournament. He went on to win each year that he did, (1976-1980).

Watching Teletubbies  Goran Ivanisevic made one of the sport's most unlikely title run in the 2001 Wimbledon Championships by depending on his routine. Not only did he reportedly dine at the same restaurant, sat at the same table, and ordered the same exact meal every night for the duration of the tourney, but he began each day by watching an episode of Teletubbies!

Pulling Eyebrows  I don't know if this was really a superstition or a nervous tick, but Ivan Lendl would be patchy and bald by the end of some tournaments.

Twirling on Court  Svetlana Kuznetsova would often spin 360 degrees on her way to returning serve.

King of Quirks  Rafa Nadal will 1) always walk on court with one racquet in his hand. 2) stay seated until his opponent has approached the umpire at the beginning of a match. 3) make sure his opponent crosses the net before he does on a changeover. 4) perfectly align his water bottles facing the court. 5) place his hair behind each ear and fiddles with his shorts (and butt) before every serve.

Dirty Socks – I’ve heard of a few quirks about the 23 Grand Slam Championista, like having to be the first to shake the umpires hand after a match, or requiring every member of her player box to sit in the exact same spot for every match. But, the most notorious/gross superstition from Serena Williams is reportedly wearing the same pair of (dirty) socks throughout her entire tournament run.

Power of 8 – He’s not perfect people! Roger Federer apparently has an obsession with the number 8. Keep a lookout for 8 towel-rubs after a set, 8 bottles of water (Evian only) and 8 rackets in his bag. P.S. He did just win his 8th Wimbledon Championship.

Off the Social Grid – Andy Murray owed much of his success in tournaments by going dark on twitter. He went as far as to blame one particular loss of his because he tweeted before his match. 

No Calls Please - Kei Nishikori chooses not to call his parents until the end of tournaments for fear of jinxing his results.

3 Balls EachJack Sock becomes completely distracted if each ball handler on his side doesn’t have exactly three balls in hand.

Kissing Tennis Balls  Dominika Cibulkova appears to kiss new tennis balls before serving them, but really she’s smelling them. Cibulkova says she loves the smell, but does believe smelling will give them good luck.

Shower Story – Yes, Novak Djokovic is mainly known for his ball bouncing obsession (his highest number of bounces was 38 bounces), but because players will adamantly shower in the same stall during tournaments, Djokovic will not use the same shower twice.

Strict Serving Routine – 1) Turn back on opponents and focus on racquet strings. 2) Take balls to nominated corner of the court. 3) Walk to baseline, bounce on the spot. 4) Brush hair away from face. 5) Bounce ball twice, slowly. 6) Serve, repeat. You guessed it, Maria Sharapova stays true to her service routine EVERY TIME.
In-Betweener – John Isner doesn’t have an obsession over performing in-between the legs trick shots, but he does bounce the ball between his legs before each serve.

Lucky Ball – Richard Gasquet is known for demanding to serve with the same “lucky ball” after he wins a point.

Nixed Her Superstitions  Sam Stosur used to be controlled by her superstitions, until she kicked the habit. “I stopped being superstitious in 2009 after the (French Open),” she explained. “For the whole tournament (she reached the semifinals), I wore the same dress, the same socks, the same hat – it drove me crazy. Every night, I had to put it all in the wash. Everything had to be the same, even my hair. It was enough to drive you around the bend, so I stopped and now I don’t have any superstitions.”

With many of these players ready to get the ball rolling at this year's US Open, it'll be fun to watch their quirks in action. Also, feel free to share with us what kind of superstitions you follow or have been able to kick. Don't worry, you're not alone!

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