The power of caffeine.
After Serena Williams recovered from a 0-6 first-set deficit to beat Flavia Pennetta in the Hopman Cup, she attributed her amazing turnaround to the cup of coffee she slurped in between games.
“I’m so jet-lagged,” she explained after eventually winning 0-6, 6-3, 6-0. “Everyone needs coffee every now and then. I needed coffee to get my feet moving.”
Mind you, the world No.1 checked with the umpire before putting in her order.
“I just asked them to get me a shot of espresso. I asked them if it was legal, because I've never done it before. I needed to wake up.”
Serena is by no means the first struggling pro to rely on an unorthodox change-of-end restorative.
Down and almost out at Wimbledon in 2002, as he sat in his chair Pete Sampras once read a letter from his wife in order to psyche himself up.
“It was basically to get out of the negative head space that I was in,” he later told The New York Times. “My head was spinning a bit, and I needed to switch gears.”
In 1993, on his way to losing in the ATP Tour World Championship, Jim Courier pulled from his bag a copy of the Armistead Maupin novel Maybe the Moon. He lost in three sets.
“It was out of desperation. It was the end of the year. I was fried and looking for solutions. It was a way for me to wipe out the stress on the changeover.”
Stress relief was what German player Karsten Braasch needed when, at 10 games-all in the fifth set of a very tough match, he once asked the umpire if he could sneak in a crafty cigarette between games. He was denied.
Look at how Vera Zvonareva likes to hide beneath her towel between games. “It really helps to relax my eyes,” she explains. “And then I can refocus and keep the concentration on the ball. I think that helps to avoid a lot of ups and downs in the game.”
When you’re playing in front of a huge crowd, a towel can hide a multitude of sins. Many players have been known to exchange text messages with their coaches – which at most tournaments is against the rules.
At the ATP event in Scottsdale one year, doubles player Mark Knowles, who had used up all his bathroom breaks, even managed to answer the call of nature… into an empty tennis-ball can.
Even violence has been known to occur. At the 1997 US Open Venus Williams and Irina Spirlea famously body-checked each other while switching ends, leading the American player’s father to describe the large Romanian as “a big, ugly, tall white turkey”.
And at the 2005 Australian Open, Argentinian player Juan Ignacio Chela resorted to spitting on his opponent Lleyton Hewitt.
Those brief moments in between games are tennis’s dead time. When thousands of spectators and millions of TV viewers are watching them in the hot seat, it’s difficult for players to switch off.
Perhaps it’s time the Grand Slams and the ATP took a leaf out of the WTA’s book and permitted on-court coaching. It’d certainly more fun to watch than towelling sweat, eating bananas and adjusting strings.
“We’re all looking for crutches to help survive those moments, because we’re out there on our own,” Courier tells The New York Times. “It’s really reflective of a bigger picture: of the loneliness of the tennis player on the change of ends. It’s the only major sport I can think of where you don’t get to talk to anybody when you take a break.”
Enjoy the change of ends at the upcoming Australian Open. In the men’s event Unibet have Novak Djokovic as favourite to win overall at 1.91, followed by Roger Federer at 6.00, Andy Murray at 7.00 and Stanislas Wawrinka at 14.00. In the women’s Serena is favourite at 3.00, followed by Maria Sharapova at 6.00 and Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep, both at 7.00.