© Ella Ling

Miami 2012 - Nadal drinks bottles

Top 10 twitches and idiosyncrasies


For reasons unknown, tennis players seem to have more twitches and foibles than other athletes. Whether it’s singing to themselves between points, always taking the chair one side of the umpire or grabbing back the same ball after an ace, they all have their individual needs. We chart the top 10.

Rafael Nadal’s positioning of his bottles, pulling of his shorts
“If I was playing him,” said former British No 1 John Lloyd a few years ago, “I would kick them over and see what happens.” The two bottles, turned to face the court, look like the work of an ADHD sufferer but Nadal says it’s just his routine. “It’s a way of placing myself in a match, ordering my surroundings to match the order I seek in my head,” he says in his book. As for the pulling of the shorts, I may be wrong, but he seems to be cutting down on that one.

Andy Roddick’s pre-serve twitches
Pull cap down and then back up, sniff left armpit, shake watch on left wrist, pull up the fabric on one shoulder followed by the other, then bounce ball vigorously on the ground with racket. Then hit. The American is a bundle of nervous energy on the court but when it comes to actually hitting the ball, the routine obviously helps.

Maria Sharapova not stepping on lines
Sharapova is no different and she has her own unique pre-service routine. However, it is her loathing for the lines that makes this list. Between points, you will never, I repeat never, see her stand on any of them. It results in her familiar stuttering walk and it’s altogether ridiculous, seeing as she will obviously run all over them when she’s battling to win points. Bonkers.

John Isner and Marcos Baghdatis bouncing the ball through their legs before serve
It was Roger Federer who started this one, back when his image briefly outweighed performance. Instead of bouncing the ball in front of him, he used to bounce it from the side, through his legs. It takes co-ordination because it’s easy to hit one leg and send the ball flying away, to much embarrassment. Federer got rid of the habit but Isner and Bahdatis are keeping the trend going. Don’t try it at home.

Svetlana Kuznetsova spinning 360 degrees before returning serve
This one is truly bizarre. The former US Open and French Open champion does not do it every time but it happens regularly enough to consider it a routine. Especially when she is walking back to her mark, she will often turn through 360 degrees before taking her return position. Truly bizarre. And not helping.

Ivan Lendl hitting sand off his shoes with his racquet
Andy Murray’s new coach had plenty of quirks on court. I was always impressed by his ability to take three balls in his left hand and rotate them until he was happy with the best two before serving. But it was the habitual hitting of his racket on the underside of his shoes that was the best. Obviously on clay it’s a necessity but it became so ingrained that he did it even on grass. And on the evidence of Indian Wells, Murray is already picking up the habit.

Andy Murray grabbing his sweatband after a missed serve
Talking of Murray, it’s his clothing that often gives him more trouble than his opponents. When the Scot is not playing his best and in particular when he is missing first serves, he will routinely tug on his left sweatband after the ball missed its mark. Obviously it’s irrational, but when he is generally tugging at his shirt, he is often in trouble.

Novak Djokovic bouncing the ball more times than anyone cares to remember
It’s quite amusing how many people get upset about this. There is no question it can mess about with the returner’s rhythm but in terms of time taken, it’s no worse than going to the back of the court to towel down after every point. It’s more obvious but the thing to watch is the number. There was a period where it was always an uneven number of bounces. It’s basically just his thought process about where to serve but it looks irritating. Then again, he’s No 1.

Zina Garrison’s, ahem, pre-return routine
The American came to many people’s attention outside of her home country when she beat Monica Seles and then Steffi Graf to reach the final at Wimbledon before losing out to Martina Navratilova. But it was the wiggling of her backside as she prepared to return serve for which she may be equally remembered. YouTube it

John McEnroe’s serving routine
We couldn’ t have a top 10 without this one. The former world No 1 had a fantastic serve but it came with a bundle of twitches. Turned sideways, he would lift one arm up to brush his head, followed by the other, lean down low, swing backwards and forwards three times, slowly pull back and then finally uncoil into the ball. Brilliant and as un-text book as you could dream up.

  • Walter

    Very nice top ten. Another one that popps into my mind, is Boris Becker’s cough before serving.

    • Scambers

      Ah – good one. I’d forgotten about that. I remember the story about McEnroe imitating his cough in Paris in the late 1980s and Becker got really mad. 

  • Conradklank

    Another good one is Kiefer and how he had to touch the doubles sideline with his racquet before each return of serve.  What about Hewitt’s twitch of touching his mouth before each return of serve?

  • Stanbag1

    Very enjoyable article.

    What do we think about the jigging around on the baseline by Marion Bartoli? Does that serve any purpose?

    • Scambers

      I think she’s such a bundle of nerves that she has found something that works for her, and no matter how weird it looks, that’s all that matters. Mind you, it looks exhausting!

  • Cheesecake

    Great article, many other players have the bottle thing too, Gasquet a good example.

  • Audreytwitchen

    but who invented taking 3 balls each serve and wiping face with towel each serve

  • Audreytwitchen

    who invented 3 balls each serve and wiping face with towel after each serve