If I’m reading the French Open schedule of play correctly, Brian Baker and Xavier Malisse are the last match scheduled on court #6 on Monday.
What’s that you say? You don’t know who Brian Baker is, or why anyone would care when he plays. He received brief mention on Sunday’s French Open telecast, and I predict that anyone who tunes in today will enjoy a full telling of his remarkable story.
And if you can’t wait for that, you can read my writeup about Baker from a few days ago – or just type “brian baker tennis” into Google and you’ll find no shortage of articles.
Beyond being a great tennis story, Baker’s journey contains lessons for all of us who play club-level tennis. As we all celebrate his achievements – and hopefully accomplishments during the French Open – we can also benefit from his experiences and apply the following insights to our own enjoyment of the game.
Listen to your body
Among the injuries that required Baker to go under the knife included those to his hips and elbow. As it turns out, these seemingly disconnected areas of the body were likely intertwined more than anyone, including Baker, realized.
According to a recent article in the NY Times, Baker’s hip issues forced him to use his arm more to generate pace on his serve, which eventually led to the elbow problems.
As club players, most of us are nearly constantly in some sort of pain or discomfort. And there’s little doubt much of this is the result of depending on one body part to overcompensate for another when the other is hurting. These issues will compound upon one another until we’re barely able to move, or at the very least our game is severely compromised.
When something starts hurting, pay attention. You don’t need to make a doctor’s appointment for every little ache and pain, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to conduct some online research and try to find out what might be causing the pain, and what you can do to alleviate it. More often than not, this will involve more stretching and strength training, which leads us into the next lesson…
Treat your body with care
Baker might never have needed to make a comeback if his body hadn’t betrayed him so ruthlessly, but conversely, his comeback has only been possible because he remained dedicated to his fitness the entire time he was out of tennis.
I’m sure I’m not alone in talking to club players who are despondent about their tennis games, and yet who are also woefully out of shape. I even resemble that remark from time to time :p
To have a chance to play our best, we need to maintain our fitness as much as possible. None of us are going to earn a wildcard into the French Open anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from a 30-minute daily walk, or fewer slices of pizza.
Give yourself a break
Brian Baker was out of tennis for six years. He watched as players he had once beaten won Grand Slams and achieved fame and fortune. It would have been easy for him to feel like he’d never again be able to play at that level and quit tennis altogether in favor of golf or gin rummy.
Thankfully he didn’t – and neither should you.
In my experience, when faced with a nagging injury too many club players play through the pain for fear of taking weeks or months off and losing all the progress they’ve achieved. It’s true, if you take some time off you might no longer be among the top doubles players on your 3.5 or 4.0 team.
So what. Take the time off to heal. It’s not like you’ll forget how to play the game, and once your body is feeling better you’ll play the better for it.
Enjoy the game
As Baker himself has said, it can all be gone in an instant. When you’re out on the court, appreciate the experience.
Hitting the ball poorly today? Who cares? You’re still out there hitting a tennis ball. Facing an annoying opponent? Let it roll off your back. At the end of the day, you’re one of the lucky ones because you are able to play the great sport of tennis.