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Sometimes Tennis Is a Waiting Game. And Waiting and Waiting.


When Felix Auger-Aliassime won the primary two sets of his men’s quarterfinals against Daniil Medvedev eventually 12 months’s Australian Open, Gonzalo Escobar began prepping for his mixed doubles semifinals, the subsequent match in Rod Laver Arena. Because the third set progressed, Escobar and his partner Lucie Hradecka, together with their opponents Jason Kubler and Jaimee Fourlis, began loosening up.

But Medvedev won that set in a tiebreaker, forcing the doubles players to change gears. They lay down, covering their bodies to remain warm. At first they chatted, then Hradecka listened to music while Escobar talked to his wife before watching the match.

With Auger-Aliassime ahead within the fourth set, the doubles players again grew silent and serious, resuming their physical preparations. But again Medvedev prevailed.

“It was very tiring,” Escobar said.

Again, they lay down. Escobar ate a banana, energy bars and gels to maintain his body fueled. The fifth set lasted one other hour until Medvedev won. Escobar said that when the doubles players finally entered the court, Medvedev “checked out us and said, ‘Sorry guys.’”

In most major sports, the athletes know their start time. Tennis, nevertheless, is a guessing game: The previous match could also be over in an hour or last for 3. And Grand Slams deepen the uncertainty because men play a best-of-five as an alternative of best-of-three format, as they do in other tournaments. Longer matches produce more seesaw battles, forcing waiting players to repeatedly adjust their physical routine and mental preparations.

Even a match seemingly near the finish offers no guarantees.

“It may be two sets to like with one player up 5-4 and the match could possibly be over in five minutes, or it could last greater than two hours,” said Craig Boynton, who coaches Hubert Hurkacz. “You’re estimating and observing, but it surely’s all guesswork.”

Boynton was coaching John Isner in 2010 when Isner beat Nicholas Mahut at Wimbledon in a 70-68 fifth set that stretched across multiple days, eventually forcing officials to shift waiting players to other courts. “I’m glad all of the Slams now do fifth-set tiebreakers,” Boynton said, which prevent final sets from happening indefinitely.

Alex de Minaur, who followed a four-hour five-setter in his first 2022 United States Open match, said afterward that the important thing was to be “mentally versatile.”

“You will have to do all the pieces to organize as if the match before yours will go three sets after which adapt,” he said. “You may’t let it have a negative impact or waste an excessive amount of energy, although that’s easier said than done.”

Many coaches request the primary match of the day to avoid this issue, said David Nainkin, who coaches Brandon Holt (the son of Tracy Austin, who won the U.S. Open in 1979 and 1981). “The third match is the hardest slot — you possibly can be on any time from 2 to six p.m.”

Certain matches offer more predictability, said Peter Polansky, who coaches Denis Shapovalov. If Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal is trailing the Fiftieth-ranked player two sets to at least one, Polansky would say “let’s wait it out,” but when either superstar is leading by a set it’s more likely time for “high-alert mode” to get able to play.

But repeatedly leaping into high alert will be draining, said Austin, whose 1981 U.S. Open final against Martina Navratilova followed a five-setter between John McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis. Austin didn’t wish to feel rushed so, anticipating an ending, she taped her feet and got dressed.

“I used to be able to go and I’d get charged up, but then their match would extend,” she said. When the lads finished, Austin felt “a bit sapped by the emotional roller coaster” and lost the primary set 6-1, but bounced back to win the match.

Shifting scenarios give experienced players an edge, Austin said. “It’s a gradual learning process. You develop tools and routines in those situations.” She said one factor was determining whether you like being around people or in a quiet space alone.

After waiting out a five-setter before her fourth-round match on the U.S. Open, Caroline Garcia noted that she passed a part of her limbo reading, before prepping her rackets after which going to the gym to “fire myself up a bit.”

Some players meditate and even nap once a match extends, Polansky said, even though it’s tricky because a final set is usually a quick 6-1 laugher. At the other end, many players will gather with their team and play cards or board games.

“You don’t wish to do anything that may fatigue you mentally,” Polansky said, noting that spending an excessive amount of time gazing a phone as matches elongate will be detrimental.

When a match suddenly goes to a fourth or fifth set, Nainkin said some waiting players change their location, perhaps leaving the locker room for the lounge, “simply to reset mentally and get out of ‘able to go mode’ for half-hour.”

If the tip of the match is exciting, many players watch while preparing, he said, which also helps them pace their warm-ups. Some players, nevertheless, just have their coaches tracking the rating. “The coach’s job is to have a read on the match so the player can switch off entirely if the match goes to a fifth set.”

Timing your food can be essential, Garcia said. “You don’t wish to eat an excessive amount of, but when it goes to a fifth set it is advisable have one other snack while waiting.”

But quite a few smaller details must even be factored in. “Some players want their ankles taped right before match time so it’s stiffer, while others wish to walk around and break it in,” Boynton said. “Some wish to get limber and sweaty after which use the previous few minutes to undergo the sport plan, but others don’t.”

In an in depth fourth set, he added, Hurkacz will get on the treadmill and do sprints then undo his shoelaces and do just a few stretches and wait. During a tiebreaker, he’ll lace up again, but when the match goes to a fifth set, the shoes come off and he’ll ask for an additional round of rice and vegetables.

“Everyone has their very own process and talking about it sounds crazy, but it surely’s just normal to us,” Boynton said. “You don’t must be one of the best at coping with it, you simply must be higher than your opponent.”

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