By Craig Gabriel – BB&T Atlanta Open Contributor (@crosscourt1)
To be a professional athlete you have to be strong physically and mentally. There are varying degrees as to which aspect is more dominant from one athlete to the next. Some are stronger physically, others have a steel trap for a mind, but in sport you have to have both.
This conversation got me thinking about which athletes from which sport are the strongest. Could it be boxers? Could it be football players? Could it be basketball players? Could it be golfers? Golf? Seriously? Golf is just a frustration; as Mark Twain said: “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” So those of you into tees and fairways, you’re bunkered; golf is disqualified.
Tennis players are the ones who fit the bill as the strongest. Just hear me out.
A tennis player is not only battling an opponent but also themselves and must maintain mental strength. Boris Becker once said, “When it comes to a fifth set it’s not backhands and forehands, it’s the mind.”
Consider the physical differences between players. There is no handicap for someone playing the likes of a John Isner or Ivo Karlovic, the tallest men in tennis who make almost every other player look diminutive. Same as in the women’s game if Simona Halep or Dominika Cibulkova is facing Serena Williams.
Players constantly demonstrate how mentally, tactically, and physically strong they are. Consider the recent final of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas and the mental strength Juan Martin Del Potro showed by playing each day. Exhausted, del Potro saved the tie for Argentina in the first reverse singles to beat Croatia’s Marin Cilic, winning from two sets to love down for the first time in his life. And then in the deciding match of the final Federico Delbonis showed he was stronger tactically and mentally by beating Karlovic despite the Croat’s power and mammoth serve. How many athletes of other sports do that?
Almost every other sport works within a time frame. Tennis does not. A match can be 50 minutes or a four-hour grind, but the players have to use their mental and physical strength to rebound the next day and play again. How many other sports have that?
Then there is the continual evolution of equipment standards and players having to deal with it. A couple of years ago, even the great Roger Federer found it frustrating to get a grip (no pun intended) of the new racquet he was using. Working through such matters takes mental strength.
In football and basketball or hockey the make-up of the ball or the puck has not really changed, bin tennis, the ball itself changes for surfaces.
A tennis player criss-crosses the planet almost every week adjusting to time zones and different conditions, environments, food etc. Besides adapting to ball changes, a tennis player has to adapt to the surface itself changing time and again – from hard to clay to hard to clay to grass to clay to hard to indoor; no other athlete endures that.
A tennis player has to be strong physically to strike the ball ferociously and also be clever in a split second to change the momentum of a match. A tennis player has to try and work things out themselves – there are no teammates to huddle with. It’s them against the world. Now that’s strong.