Tennis is for tough guys and gals

Vic Braden

by Vic Braden
Contributing Tennis Writer

The near picture perfect setting was that the March 9-19 Pacific Life Open Tennis Championships were scheduled for the desert in sunny Indian Wells, California. The beautiful mountains that surround the Palm Springs area and the entire Coachella Valley were shining in all their glory. Unfortunately, the shine was created by a major snow storm, strong winds, unrelenting rain and almost freezing cold in the first two days. The players had to adjust their game to some swirling winds at the floor of the stadium and loyal spectators stuck it out while donning blankets and wearing heavy coats. This was a rare set of events for the normally predictable desert weather during March.

As miserable as it might seem, it was often a beautiful sight to see a fan come out from under a blanket to scream approval of a shot, or disapproval of a line call. The conditions brought back many memories for me as a team member of the promotional staff for the old Jack Kramer Tennis Tours. In the 1940's and 1950's, the then declared four best professional players competed in some of the worst conditions possible. One year they played 102 cities in 110 nights before heading for foreign countries. When I say "worst" conditions, that's putting it mildly. There were armories with dim lighting and courts as slippery as ice. And, speaking of ice, the players fought it out on canvas courts that often covered the ice in hockey arenas. In those days, if the player had a great slice serve, he could move an opponent off the canvas and into a giant slide heading straight for the stands. True tennis aficionadoes are likely smiling broadly at these descriptions, especially those who took up the game at about the same time as the described events were taking place.

Keep in mind that, until 1968, the pros were a small group of the world's best players who were banned from playing in amateur tournaments, such as Wimbledon and the United States Nationals. As there were only four players on the tour, no one could afford to sustain an injury. It's been said that today's players are in better shape. Maybe but I doubt it. In the old days (why do I feel somewhat aged every time I use that phrase?), there were no tie-breakers to shorten the evening. Matches often continued well into the next morning while one player was etching out a 22-20 third set victory. I remember one night at the Los Angeles Tennis Club where one of our friends was dying in the stands during the final doubles match. It was close to one a.m. and I asked Lew Hoad and the rest of the gang if we could cancel the doubles. It didn't seem right be playing while the emergency crew was trying to get our friend's heart pumping again. Lew Hoads answer, "Screw you Braden, we have a service break." He was, as you can readily see, sympathetic and all heart.

In the old days, there were no tie-breakers to shorten the evening. Matches often continued well into the next morning while one player was etching out a 22-20 third set victory. I remember one night at the Los Angeles Tennis Club where one of our friends was dying in the stands during the final doubles match. It was close to one a.m. and I asked Lew Hoad and the rest of the gang if we could cancel the doubles. It didn't seem right be playing while the emergency crew was trying to get our friends heart pumping again. Lew Hoads answer, "Screw you Braden, we have a service break".

Late night matches were just the beginning of more problems to come. The players would often pile into a station wagon and head for the next city on the schedule. Or, if they stayed in the city, it would likely be a midnight dinner, a little sleep and an early departure for the next city. I kept waiting for someone to crack under the stress but it didn't happen. It seemed a little like the old time boxers who didn't wear gloves and fought through a potential of 15 rounds, bloodied and beaten but true to their sports and apparent calling.

Back to the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells. Two of the women wore sweat pants under their skirts. The men warmed up in jackets. The rains would come and go, but the huge staff was up to the challenge with blow driers at the ready the moment the rain ceased.

There was some complaining by players about the slippery lines and the fear of injury but the umpire kept the matches going until even the spectators under the blankets began to yell, "Time out." Even when the rains stopped and play continued, the swirling winds made the service toss difficult to track.

When it rains in the NFL the players are heavily padded, but tennis players are close to naked which would, if carried to extremes, make for a heck of a match and undoubtedly insure standing room only given some of the stars on tour today. I kept dreaming of making a video of the conditions to show young tennis players that there might be times when they will be asked to play for their food in lousy and dangerous conditions but then thought better of it realizing that is not the case today nor will it ever likely be in the future. But, for this tale, and those who won and moved into the second round, the sun finally came out and spectators were, at long last, getting a tan in the stands. For those who lost, I think they have some real stories to tell at the next tournament and tournament officials and volunteers deserve kudos for successfully working through a tennis tournament that, at times seemed like competition in a war zone. However, we expect nothing less when dealing with one of the world's best stadiums and class tournaments.

Hey, tennis is for tough guys and gals.

Vic Braden is a longtime sports science researcher, licensed psychologist and the founder of Vic Braden Sports Instruction and the Vic Braden Tennis College, which are held nationwide at premier resorts. He has produced sixteen instructional videos that incorporate his research and his coaching knowledge.

Vic has authored six books, contributed to publications such as Sports Illustrated, and continues to author editorials for several publications such as Tennis Week and Tennis Life. In addition, he has appeared on popular television shows including NBC?s Today Show, hosted his own television shows on PBS and ESPN, and provided televised tennis commentary for numerous professional events.

His lighthearted approach is endearing, and his motto of ?Laugh and Win? has helped shape the resoundingly positive attitudes of decades of students. In his books, videos, Tennis Colleges, and speeches, Vic strives to teach effectively and connect with students on a personal level, aiming to uncover the ?genius to perform? that he believes rests in every individual.

Working with famous sports researchers for several decades, Vic finds great joy in passing on new and valuable information. He strives to help students maximize their performance and enjoyment of this great sport in the shortest period of time. In our (thoroughly biased) opinion, Vic is ?simply the best!!!?

Comments? Contact Vic Braden at vicbraden@vicbraden.com.

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