Expert tips on how to play tennis in extreme heat:
While we know top level tennis is about executing incredible skill under intense pressure, and that the players possess unbelievable athleticism, sometimes these qualities are not enough. Sometimes, like at the US Open, in the suffocating summer heat and humidity of New York, the ability to endure the conditions is the key factor in walking off the court victorious. Below are some tips that can help a player out-last their opponent in the heat:
Don’t Drink Too Much
Yes you read the correctly, and I’ll repeat it – Do Not Drink Too Much. This is contrary to what most people think. Most people are under the impression that we cannot trust our thirst; that we need to drink before we get thirsty and when in doubt, drink more! These are all fallacies which have the potential to cause serious harm. So the first piece of advice is to only drink when you are thirsty. Fortunately, as a parched player at a Grand Slam event it is easy to find water – there are fridges full of bottled water on the court, in the change rooms and in the gym.
Added to this, and unlike a lot of other sports, players have ample opportunity to drink on court. (The trick, and I’ll repeat myself, is to Not Drink Too Much).
Freeze a Bottle (or Make an Ice Towel)
Based on published research, and adopted by some military units, simply cooling the hands can allow the participant to continue to exercises harder for longer. While there are gadgets on the market that are specifically made for ‘hand-cooling’ they can cost upwards of US$3,000. Not practical for a tennis player.
A cheaper alternative is to freeze a bottle of water the night before, and have it on court with them during the match. Alternatively, they could take a small bucket filled with ice and water and a hand towel onto the court. At each change of ends they could either hold the iced bottle (preferably in their non-hitting hand) or put their hand in the ice bucket. They also have the opportunity to wipe their face, neck and arms with the ice cold towel.
Know, and Take Advantages of, the Rules
Knowing and understanding the rules of the tournament can go a long way in helping the player control the match. At the US Open, if the temperature is over 30 degrees Celsius, the Heat Policy kicks in. For some reason this only applies to the women, not to the men. Once this policy is activated the women are allowed to take a ten-minute break at the end of the second set.
The player and their coaching team need to understand the implications of this rule. Looks like it’s heading to the third set? Start running the ice bath or an ice ‘bucket’ (even to put their hands in for five minutes), organise a change of clothing, wet some towels with ice water to drape around their necks, find a cool, breezy, place in the shade to wait, anything that is going to bring down their body temperature.
Drink a Slushie
Having a drink on-court that is the consistency of a ‘slushie’- mainly crushed ice – can have a dramatic effect on cooling the player’s body temperature. Dropping their temperature will help them play harder for longer in the heat, possibly the key to winning that match. At the late Norman Cousins once said “He who keeps his cool best, wins”.
Grant Jenkins is the Physical Performance Coach at the National Academy Queensland in Australia. He oversees the physical development and rehabilitation of all the NAQ athletes. He also manages the Sport Science aspect of the program. Follow him on twitter @Grant_Jenkins or email firstname.lastname@example.org.