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Optimum Performance: Recovery is the operative word on the pro tennis circuit

Serena Williams celebrates after winning a point against Sabine Lisicki, of Germany, during their match at the Miami Open tennis tournament in Key Biscayne, Fla., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Williams won 7-6(4), 1-6, 6-3. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter) (J Pat Carter)

Over the course of this last week, my client – Serena Williams – was forced to play three consecutive tennis matches in a row, as a result of a rain delay and the cancellation of all the evening matches on the first day of her competition. While the Miami Open is looked upon as a mini slam (two weeks in duration), it comes immediately after another mini slam – the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif.

If you are lucky enough to go all the way at Indian Wells, you must then take “the red eye” flight (and Team Serena did) across the country and two time zones to begin the practice sessions and tournament play in Key Biscayne, Fla., where there is a totally different weather pattern — hot and humid with rain — than was previously experienced in the California dessert.

If you add to the fact that the first of Williams’ three games was at night followed by two day games, it’s easy to see how and why professional tennis can be a physically and emotionally draining sport – where survival of the fittest is an understatement.

Also add to the mix that you learn who your next opponent is usually around 6 p.m. the night before the match. Can you imagine what it would be like if the Saints played three games in three days and had less than 24 hours to review game film of their next opponent.
Typically for a night match, we might have a 9 a.m. short practice session. It also is not uncommon, as an alternative, for Serena and me to go to our hotel gym and have a light “loosing up” session to keep the body in motion, while not overtaxing the system on the day of the match.

Last Tuesday, the day after the third match, we practiced for two hours then went to the hotel gym for a light 30 minute functional training session – emphasizing core, shoulder, and ankle stability, balance training, and stretching of the shoulder and hip capsules.

On the day of the match, a short pre-match warm up session takes place on the court 2.5 hours before the competition – emphasizing timing and ball placement. Then it’s off for ankle taping, a light meal, work with the physio (physical therapist), a conversion with the tennis coach – Patrick Mouratoglou – followed by the waiting game.

You might be the first, second, or third match after 11 a.m. or you could be on promptly at 11, 1 p.m. – maybe even 7 or 9 p.m. – all of which you would know the night before.

Just this week, we followed Venus Williams’ match against Caroline Wozniacki (Williams won), which came within one point of going to a third set. You do not want to warm up in the fitness room too soon, but you certainly do not want to be caught off guard with the TV people telling you it’s time to go.

Speaking of the warm up in the fitness room before the match, each player has their own variation. Some players opt to use a jump rope or ladder for footwork, medicine balls to simulate the forehand and backhand rotation, tubing to simulate the serve, and the list goes on.

After the match, players typically will go into the locker room to change clothing, then go to “press” (post match press conference), followed by going to the fitness room to cool down by riding a stationary cycle, manual stretching by the physio, and in Serena’s case, perform supervised shoulder re-stabilization exercises.

If you’re lucky enough to survive and move on to the next round, you wait to see whom you next face and when. As a professional boxer told me once, you don’t count the rounds. You just look across the ring to see if your opponent gets up off the canvas or stool for the fight to continue.

Mackie Shilstone, a regular contributor to | The Times-Picayune, has been involved in the wellness sports performance industry for nearly 40 years. He is currently a fitness consultant to Serena Williams and has trained numerous other professional athletes and consulted a litany of professional sports franchises. Contact him at