Malcolm Gladwell once suggested that to reach an elite level in any activity, around 10,000 hours of practice is required. This gives an indication of the level of dedication needed to reach the top in tennis. From a fairly young age, aspiring tennis players will be taking part in frequent, highly-focused hitting sessions, supplemented by regular strength and conditioning work. They will also be carefully monitoring their nutrition and recovery, and learning the mental skills they will need to compete at the highest level.
Top professionals spend 3-4 hours on court for at least four days per week, with less intense sessions on two other days. They will fit strength and conditioning sessions, incorporating speed, agility, and weights, in between on-court sessions. They will generally train at big academies or national training centers, and will work with coaches, fitness trainers, and sport psychologists.
How Often And How Many Hours Do Tennis Players Train?
If a player is on the main ATP or WTA tour, their year will normally (although not in 2020) consist primarily of traveling from place to place playing tournaments. Their training during these periods will depend on the number and intensity of the matches they are playing. If they are enjoying a successful spell, with 2 hours or more of match play each day, plus possibly doubles, there will not be a great need for on-court practice.
Instead, they will focus on recovery, rehabilitation of any injuries, and maintaining their overall fitness with core work and stretching. They will probably practice on court for 30-45 minutes on the morning of their match, just to ensure that everything is working as it should, and will have a regular pre-match physical warm-up routine to ready their muscles and ligaments for the battle ahead.
Recovery is an extremely important aspect of the routine of a tennis player. We have written a thorough guide with the most common recovery strategies players use, and you can incorporate those methods into your recovery as well.
During the off-season, or a period when the player is not winning and hence has fewer matches, a more intense training program will be instigated. These periods enable players to spend more time in the gym, to improve their strength and flexibility, as well as to build speed endurance and agility. Physical training sessions will last perhaps 1-2 hours each, and will take place on most days during a high intensity training block.
The other key element will be on-court work. Players will typically hit for 3-4 hours per day, probably in two or three highly focused sessions. This will enable them to build solidity and consistency, as well as to improve their game in any areas they and their coach consider necessary. It would be usual for players to follow two intense days with a lighter one, making the seventh day a rest day, but there are many different ways of structuring a training program. Around all of this, the crucial mental skills work will be done in association with a sport psychologist.
Where Do The Pros Train?
Top players will have to do a lot of their training ‘on the road’ due to the amount of time they spend playing tournaments. They will use the facilities at or around the tournament venue, and will take advantage of the presence of their peers to find practice partners.
During a training block, the players will tend to base themselves at large academies, like Sanchez Casal or Mouratoglou. Although this is not a cheap option, they know that by doing this they can assure themselves of a ready supply of practice partners, good courts, and high-class fitness facilities.
Some will use centers owned by their governing body, such as the UK’s National Tennis Centre at Roehampton. In theory, players can train anywhere there are courts and a gym, but they need access to fitness trainers, a physiotherapist, a nutritionist, a psychologist and a coach, plus hitting partners of an appropriate standard, so it is generally easier to train at the same site as a number of other players.
On Court Training
During their on-court sessions, players will perform several different types of practice. The solid base will be instilled by tough, physical sessions of doing drills, perhaps from a basket feed to enable the coach to maintain a high intensity. The drills might be aimed at consistency and repetition, or they may be intended to ingrain patterns of play which are likely to be effective in matches.
When two players are hitting together, there are likely to be structured drills which force certain combinations of shots, and others which allow more generic rallying. Many sessions will conclude with some competitive points being played, partly for enjoyment and partly because the effective playing of points is the ultimate objective. Sometimes a session may consist almost entirely of competitive matchplay, and a good coach will be able to assist by offering new tactical ideas to practice.
Fitness and Workouts
The most important point here is to remember what the player is training for. Speed endurance and agility are vital to support the playing of numerous high-intensity rallies. Flexibility is crucial for avoidance of injuries, as is strength to prevent undue stress on ligaments and joints. The daily fitness sessions described earlier will be designed to improve all of these elements, with the type of training being rotated to avoid boredom and overuse injuries.
If you want to get to the top, your mind must be at least as strong as your body. Mental toughness is largely a product of proficiency in a wide range of mental skills. Examples include effective inter-point routines, mastery of relaxation techniques, control of self-talk, positive thinking, and effective use of visualization. Ambitious players will work on these skills several times per week, regularly consulting a sport psychologist, whether in a tournament or training block. The psychologist will help them to analyze their psychological performance in matches in order to help them improve.
To become a top player, a huge amount of work is needed, and this can never stop if you hope to remain successful. The best players retain a hunger for training because they recognize its importance.