Barry Cowan’s guide to How to make the most of the changeover.
This year’s Australian Open final was a bruising affair. Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal played an incredible 369 points in their match that lasted just a few minutes shy of 6 hours. Yet over three quarters of the final was taken up with down-time. There were 26 changeovers lasting 90 seconds to 2 minutes. It is necessary to practice and work on the time between points and the changeovers, in order to get the best results. This can take years of gaining the appropriate experiences to perfect this process.
We have seen Rafa being very meticulous just before matches and during the changeovers. When Rafa sits down, he wants to feel comfortable and able to be as relaxed as much as possible. He treats it as his own home. Everything is put in the same place. This is all designed to help Rafa stay focused and relaxed.
During my five-set match against Pete Sampras in Wimbledon in 2001, I listened to You’ll Never Walk Alone (Liverpool’s football club anthem) at the end of each set. I’m a big Liverpool fan and this was all designed to help me through the process of staying focused and relaxed. Whether it has been going to the matches or listening to the song, it has always been special for me and it made me feel very relaxed. Listening to the song also stopped me thinking negatively during a time of inactivity.
Crucially the player has to understand what best suits his personality. I’ve listed six areas which I believe will help tennis players have a better routine for the 90-second changover.
This is required to wipe down the sweat but also to start the relaxation process during the changeover. Many players actually use the towel as a comfort blanket.
Drinking the right amount of liquid in order to stay hydrated. If dehydrated, the physical performance will be affected, and the thought process will also be clouded. Many of the top players have been instructed to drink the exact amount of litres of liquid per hour while they are on court. Over-drinking can also have a negative affect on performance.
Focus on breathing.
It’s vital to get your heart rate down to help recovery but also to stay relaxed. Many times in a match the player will be energized and buzzing with adrenalin after playing a great shot or a great game. He must be experienced to use the changeover to remain in the present. Often, after an adrenalin rush, there will be a dip in the player’s energy levels. Mastering this only comes with learning from mistakes and successes.
Andre Agassi always pointed out that there is a need to assess your own strengths and weaknesses and how they are matching up with your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
Remain positive and stay in the present.
Tennis and golf are similar sports in that there is down-time. It is very easy to slip into a very negative mindset and to focus on the past. Sometimes, this happens without even realising what the player is saying to himself.
Be ready for the first point.
If the player hasn’t used the 90 seconds properly, he will be caught cold at the beginning of the next game. Two hours of good tennis can be undone by the loss of concentration or an emotional lapse.
Barry Cowan is a commentator for Sky.