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Why Serena Williams Keeps Winning | Muscle & Body Magazine

After coming back from the recent U.S. Open in New York, I would like to take this time to stress the level of respect I have for the individual athlete. There is a difference between team sports and individual play. While both should be commended for their dedication and abilities, the individual athlete is the one who dominates with incredibly disciplined mental focus. The individual competitor is all alone with the opponent on the field of play.

Most people think of tennis as a country-club-type sport enjoyed by millions of people around the world. However, when you’re competing at the highest professional level, playing against the world’s best men and women at the U.S. Open, it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “hit and return.”

The Demands Of Elite Tennis

I would consider myself to be somewhat of an expert on tennis after working the last five years in WTA competition with my client Serena Williams. Tennis is a game where only the strong survive. For example, Serena will have rest times between points of 20 seconds, followed by 90 rest seconds between changeovers, and 120 seconds between sets.

If you consider that the average tennis match is about 1.5 hours, the female tennis player will be running close to 3 meters (about 9 feet) per shot and 8–15 meters to get a point, for a completion of 1,300–3,600 meters per hour of play. This, of course, is all depending on the player’s status as either amateur or advanced. A player like Serena will have about four directional changes to get a point, running about 75% of the time from baseline to baseline chasing the ball.

Typically, most male and female pro tennis players exercise at 70–90% of their maximum heart rate. However, the intensity can elevate to near maximum during long rallies.

With all this information in front of you, it is obvious to see the high levels of stress placed on the individual players. Many times these athletes are under hot, humid conditions, making the ability to recover both during and between matches an important key to moving on in what I would consider to be one of the toughest noncontact events in all of pro sports. I can tell you from first-hand experience, the women’s competition at the Grand Slam level is not for the faint of heart.

Now, I know I’m not the first to say it, but, in life, timing can be everything; however, in pro sports like tennis, it is the only thing.

Anticipating The Variables

The playing surface of the sport has a lot to do with the difficulty the athlete faces. For example, the NBA has hardwood courts, and the NFL, MLB and pro soccer teams play on grass and turf.

Those sports have consistency on their sides. Tennis, on the other hand, does not. On the Grand Slam circuit, tennis players go from a hard-court surface at the Australian Open, to a clay court at the French Open, to the grass courts of Wimbledon, then back to a hard court at the U.S. Open.

A recent research paper on the physiological demands of hitting and running in tennis on different surfaces states, “on clay courts, the friction and coefficient of restitution are higher than on hard courts, resulting in a high and relatively moderate bouncing of the ball, which gives the player more time to prepare to hit the ball than when they play on hard surfaces.”

Thus, players experience less difficulty in playing shots, giving them the opportunity for longer rallies from baseline on clay courts, requiring a need for a much higher fitness level.

However, as stated in the research, “faster surfaces, such as grass and hard courts, limit the time available to hit the ball and increase offensive playing situations.” This results in a heightened sense of hand-eye coordination and stellar footwork, much like the qualities of a boxer.

Keeping Your Head In The Game

Through my career, I have been blessed with many opportunities to participate in championship games, matches and series in sports, including the NFL, MLB, NHL and the NBA, as well as in individual matchups like championship boxing and WTA tennis. Through all of this, I have come to recognize how the mental game is truly the unseen aspect of sports that is rarely appreciated by the fan. Whether it is a team event or an individual matchup, the competition usually comes down to which team or individual athlete mentally crumbles first.

I recognized this concept firsthand in my 25 years working with top light-heavyweight and heavyweight boxing champions. Think about it: Can you imagine what goes through the mind of a boxer during a fight where he (or she) is getting points for the number of headshots and the quality of said headshots? Or what the boxer is thinking when defending against those devastating shots? My job was to make my fighter not only have the ability to become more effective at hurting his opponent, but also avoid incoming blows.

In world-class tennis, where you live by the “one or done” rule, every match along the two-week Slam road is a championship event. The key is that if you make it to the finals, you do not experience an emotional letdown.

I have found that succeeding comes from making your opponent do one thing: think. If your opponent is thinking, then you have taken away their most precious weapon: instinct. To protect from that downfall, you must have three attributes on board.

Focus: The ability to see your opponent’s next move before he or she does. NHL Hall-of-Famer Brett Hull was a master of this ability, and I saw it from my 10 years working for the St. Louis Blues.

Passion: You must enjoy what you do, which means you must have passion and a life force that allows you to reinvent yourself on a daily basis.

Clarity: You must be able to eliminate the collateral clutter — especially from your personal life — that tends to surround athletes and people during times of stress. You must not be distracted from the task at hand.

I encourage all of you, whether it be your place as part of a team, or an individual pastime that keeps you active, to have passion, to be focused, and to keep your personal life out of the game, because all you have is that one moment that could lead you to victory and make you a true champion.

One of the top trainers in the world, Mackie Shilstone has worked with such sports superstars as Roy Jones Jr., Serena Williams and Bernard Hopkins. You can learn more about Mackie by visiting his website at


via Why Serena Williams Keeps Winning | Muscle & Body Magazine.