JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best
Less Bling is the Thing
All you need to relate to this title is to consider, or perhaps I should say observe, the accompanying images (see photo inserts and new video on site home page too) of the 21 year old wunderkind, Alexander Zverev, in his recent triumph at the 2018 year end prestigious ATP Final 8 Championships, where he handled Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic back to back in straights(!) to capture the title.
Prior to his consistently spectacular play in the semis and finals at the O2 arena, he was rapidly becoming acknowledged as the most unfulfilled next gen player – showing great promise, ability, and results in lesser tour events, but always failing to impress in the majors despite his top 5 ranking. He seemed to lack that intangible x-factor to get him over the top, or even close to the top, when it really counted in the big ones.
His all too often self-absorbed optic, albeit youthful, was tennis' modern day version of the 80s television "A-Team" character Mr. T, with an array of gold chains fashioned around his neck, constantly fussing with them, and regularly placing one with an attached medallion in his mouth after a troubled point. Not even going there.
Lots of flash, but perhaps not enough focused dash.
Enter new coach Ivan Lendl, the dour, old school, hard taskmaster who previously transformed a similarly missing linker, the underachieving Andy Murray, from his histrionic Scottish self, sans kilt, to reach world #1 in 2016, and win Wimbledon in the same year to the great relief of the champion starved British fan base (no male British titleholder since, would you believe, 1936 when the long since departed Fred Perry won).
Understanding better than most from his own comparable experience – reaching a first of many grand slam finals in 1981 but failing to actually win one until 1984 – Lendl learned, knows, how to actualize the daunting transition, not to be trivialized by any means, from incredibly promising every day talent to Grand Slam champion.
Not only did Zverev show a new steadfastness and self-belief in the face of the formidable Fed-Djoker duality – as in not moping around when things got tough, sucking on his medallion, and folding like a deck chair in the pivotal moments – but also with an underestimated, new, important, symbolic toned down look that was a reflection of a new beginning.
One couldn't help but notice the Mr. T bling look was mostly not visible in London, not only typically hidden - possibly even fewer chains now - but not fussed with much as well while kept in check by his high crew neck Adidas shirt. Gee, I wonder who was responsible for the less flashy, more all business, non-costume jewelry look. You get three guesses and you won't need the last two.
No coincidence. That would be the Lendl factor.
All things optic being somewhat relative, that leads me to some of our often over accessorized, over the top, clubland warriors, men and women, sporting pro tour looks that would get them through the player's security entrance at a professional event.
Now don't get me wrong. I absolutely believe in dressing for success. There's nothing like a good clean, crisp outfit ("kit" as some tennis internationalist would say) to make you feel good and ready to play your best tennis. Although, being somewhat of a traditionalist, I am hopeful that the recent wave of garish wallpaper inspired outfits that I see being worn in ladies league matches would go the way of the 8-track tape. Thank you Venus Williams Designs.
Otherwise, that stated, is there really a need for a racket bag big enough to hold 6+ rackets, an extra pair of shoes, two changes of clothes, grip tape, multiple compression wraps, wrist bands, visors, hats, extra sunscreen, energy gels, first aid kit, and large quantities of electrolyte drinks, all of which would be applicable if you were going on a weeklong tennis safari somewhere off the beaten path?
Sure, one has to recognize that today's tennis equipment manufacturers have consumerized the game to the nth degree, beginning in the tennis boom of the 1970s. Prior to then, with no gold chains in sight - unless you were playing on the Jersey Shore - it was a Spartan affair with no one in club tennis showing up for a match with an overstuffed, Volkswagon sized racket bag since they had not yet been conjured up. It was 2 rackets in hand – remember those tiny little zipper covers that only covered the head of the racket - and maybe a hand towel you could place on your chair or bench, that is if one was even provided.
How times have changed.
Yet, I'm reminded of a fellow pro, a former Naples USPTA Pro-of-the-Year and a Div. I college #1, who showed up for a local charity event a few years ago with a small backpack over his shoulder, and those aforementioned 2 rackets dangling in hand. I happened to be standing next to a knowledgeable local 3.5 player who observed his entrance, never having seen him previously, who noted, "Here comes trouble," a recognition of his understated, yet considerable presence.
By the way, he turned out to be the best doubles player in the open division of the event.
Personally, I still have one of my very own giant racket bags – big enough for a weekend in South Beach - with my name specially embroidered on it in big letters, a gift from HEAD when I was a big deal with them back in the day. I now use it to store my classic racket collection, and I wouldn't be caught dead showing up for an event with it.
While I'm at it, I would be remiss if I left out having distressingly seen a few clubbers with one of those ridiculous new accessory bags, like the ones Federer and Serena bring to the court over their other shoulder. But that's a requirement of their Nike contractual obligations. C'mon folks, let's get real, unless of course it's for the post-match snacks.
So, hopefully inspired by the Lendl-Zverev example, albeit a variation on the above noted theme but, nonetheless, in the very same stratum, isn't it more about your game, how you perform, and not about your stuff, as George Carlin once famously coined it. Isn't a smallish, over the shoulder racket bag suitable for 2-3 rackets and a few basic necessities, or a backpack with the same capability, or a tote that I see some of the ladies now sporting enough?
Lisa Scully-O'Grady, in Tennis Quotations, had a good take on our game's true essence: "Playing a good tennis match gives you an overwhelming feeling of elation. Nothing else in the world matters at that point in time. All the stress and strain of the mundane, the housework, the nine-to-five job, are buried and forgotten as you concentrate on the game at hand."
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