When the top women hit up …

WIMBLEDON – Unlike the men on the ATP Tour, the top women don’t practice together nearly as much as they could – or should.

Why? Well, it’s partly a matter of non-necessity. There aren’t too many coaches on the men’s side who are still young and spry enough to practice with their players with any degree of usefulness. So the men need each other more.

Carlos Moyá, who coached Milos Raonic last year and now is with Rafael Nadal, is one obvious exception.

The number of former players of varying abilities in their 30s and 40s coaching female players greatly outdistances their counterparts on the men’s side. 

hit upSo the top women most often choose to hit with the coaches, or with male hitting partners.

It’s lower maintenance. And they can spend all of the practice time working on the things they want to work on, without having to be concerned with whether the other player also is getting to work on what she needs to address.

If they can find guys who can hit flatter and mimic the groundstrokes in the women’s game, they’re in good shape. Often, though, especially with the serve, it’s hard for the men to duplicate.

Two top-10 women hit up

So when two top players do take the court together, and seem to have a really fun time while they do it, it’s a rare treat.

That was the case when Simona Halep and Svetlana Kuznetsova had their “championship hit” at Wimbledon, just before the tournament began.

Here’s what it looked like. The smiles are priceless.

It’s a tricky business, as it so often is with the women. There are some players (no, no names) who tend to treat a rival player as little more than a hitting partner on the practice court. The 411 on those players tends to get around pretty quickly.

hit upSometimes they’ll keep them waiting while they endlessly talk to their coaches. Or they won’t feed the ball as cooperatively as they should.

Most often, you’ll see the women sit on completely separate benches and not address a word in each other’s direction during a one-hour practice. (It happens on the men’s side, too, but not nearly as often).

That’s not all of them, of course. Some of the women are actually friends “in real life”. And some are friendly enough that they’ll at least pull their chairs together and chat during water breaks.

But it’s such a different world from the men. And not always in a good way.

Female cooperation not encouraged

When you see Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka practicing, or Rafael Nadal and Fabio Fognini, or Federer and young Alexander Zverev, it’s a huge treat for the fans who have a chance to watch.

How much would fans enjoy Serena and Karolina Pliskova practicing together? Or Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska. Or Angelique Kerber and Jelena Ostapenko, say. 

It’s a hard trend to go buck, though, especially as it seems to be institutional. And, on some levels, it’s often encouraged by some coaches who aren’t necessarily top-level technical instructors. Those coaches want to ensure they remain essential to the players they’re working with. Oh, and the parents often have a say, as well.

Even within a country, there’s often competition to be that nation’s No. 1. And that leads to an atmosphere where the players don’t want to give anything away – even to their countrywomen.

It’s the wrong approach, of course. If your mindset is to be the best in your country, you’re not getting the bigger picture. And if there are only a few WTA-level players in a country, they could help each other get better to take on the world – not just each other.

But as they say, it is what it is.

One final practice for Rafael Nadal

ROLAND GARROS – On Sunday, Rafael Nadal will attempt to do the unthinkable – win his 10th French Open.

On Saturday, the atmosphere was rather more relaxed on Court 3, where he went through a full practice with a full complement of team members.

There was Uncle Toni, who is guiding his nephew in one last Roland Garros – he says. There was associate coach Francisco Roig. And there was new super-coach Carlos Moyá. And the rest of the team.

His sparring partner was Joan Soler, a 26-year-old Frenchman who played some college tennis at St. Leo’s in the U.S. and has been on the Futures circuit.

After Soler departed (not before getting the obligatory selfie with Nadal), Moyá stayed on and practiced Nadal’s defence.

Uncle Toni would feed Moyá a short ball, and the former No. 1 would crunch it as hard as he could, with Nadal scrambling to defend.

Nadal did that pretty well. 

Here’s what it looked like.

Finding Nadal – the French challenge

The French federation isn’t big on letting the fans know where players are practicing during their tournament. It’s something most tournaments around the world have recognized is a very popular part of the tournament experience – and indeed have made infrastructure changes to accommodate. But the trend hasn’t yet made its way to Paris.

Nadal was originally scheduled for Court 4 at noon, with Wawrinka on Court 3 at the same time. But even with the court change and an earlier start time, plenty of fans found him on Court 3.

Father Sebastian Nadal was sitting in the stands, watching.

He took a break for a bit to take a peek at the junior girls’ doubles final going on next door on Court 2.


When a tennis player needs to do stairs, any stairs will do

INDIAN WELLS – To develop legs that can run all day – as Barbora Strycova did Friday in a first-round marathon victory in Indian Wells over fellow roadrunner Sara Errani, you have to do stairs.

With no empty sports stadium in the immediate vicinity to serve the purpose, Strycova and her coach found some in a rather unusual place.

That these were the stairs leading to the upper tier of the main stadium at the BNP Paribas Open was not a problem. Crowds were light Thursday and the duo (the coach had to do it, too – only fair) had no trouble getting their work in. Any fans going or returning to the upper level just went up the other half.

Here’s what it looked like.