Is Tennis The Hardest Sport?
ESPN published an in-depth analysis and concluded that tennis was the 7th most challenging sport when considering their list of factors which included things such as endurance, speed, and power. Below is a list of the Top 60, and here you can see their comprehensive list with the factors explained. Do you agree with their results?
We wanted to take into account some other factors that we thought were relevant to tennis and when discussing a sport's difficulty. Here are some of those factors:
As both a tennis coach and player, I am perhaps biased. I know for certain from my own experience, and I’m sure most coaches would agree, that tennis is one of the most challenging sports to learn. Sure hitting a ball about and having a 2-3 shot rally with some friends is not that hard. But, being able to serve and then rally the ball into the court with placement and spin is a different matter. Reaching a standard good enough to play an intermediate-level match takes at least 2-5 years of regular playing, depending on the player. So to advance to college and pro level takes years and 10s of 1000s of hours of dedication.
2. Dealing With Failure
Tennis is a game of mistakes. Most points won or lost in a match are from errors, not winners. Even when learning or training the percentage of mistakes is high. Having the perseverance to keep going and improving through this is often why most tennis players give up at the beginner level. Learning to deal with the failure of performance is part of being a tennis player. When you are playing a team sport, there is less pressure on the individual player, and it's easier to cope emotionally.
Sure, it’s glamorous at the top. Who wouldn’t want to be traveling the world to sunny and beautiful locations to play tennis full-time? But most fans only see the top players televised on the stadium courts. The other 98% of players (usually those outside the top 100) struggle daily to make ends meet and often load up credit cards just to pay for flights and travel. Players further down the rankings often have to share hotel rooms or sleep on couches just to be able to attend tournaments. They can't afford full-time coaches or physical trainers to travel with them. Take other major sports like soccer and American football, and a minimum of the top 500 players are all millionaires!
Tennis fitness requirements differ vastly depending on your style and whether you play singles or doubles. A leisurely beginner doubles game doesn’t need the same fitness level as an epic 5-hour singles match in the scorching heat! Other sports, such as soccer and basketball, require good fitness at all levels. But there’s no doubt that to succeed as a pro tennis player you need to be a high-level athlete. Here are some areas of fitness that are important for tennis:
- Endurance: The ability to keep working at a high rate for an extended period of time is crucial for pro tennis. Matches vary in length, but knowing you can last when a game is tight is critical for success.
- Strength and Power: Not as crucial as in other sports, but still a requirement for generating racket head speed and moving quickly around the court
- Agility: The tennis court is a relatively small area, so changing direction quickly from ball to ball is crucial at the pro level. Over a short distance of 10 meters, some of the fastest tennis players ever, such as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic could rival the best sprinters in the world.
Coordination and technique overlap somewhat. Primarily because if you have good coordination, developing the correct technical muscle memory is easier. But coordination is not just needed for technique execution. It’s essential for judging the ball's flight path (incoming and outgoing), moving your body in response to that, and timing the swing with the ball to make a good contact point, all while controlling with spin and speed of the swing!
- Contact Point: Unlike other sports like golf, tennis has an infinite number of contact point requirements. No ball you ever hit on the tennis court will be the same. Your position on the court varies and the incoming ball changes in speed and spin. The weather affects the flight path, plus your opponent changes in height, fitness, and strength, which also affects the ball. Your ability to adjust to these variables is what sets you up as a solid tennis player.
- Skills: Another complex area of tennis is that there are multiple skills that need mastering. You can’t be a successful player if you can’t hit all of the shots well. Sure, you might get away with not having a slice or never going to the net to volley. But, it takes 1000s of hours of dedicated practice to hone all the skills needed to be a competitive player. And once you have mastered them, you also have to be able to adjust the speed, spin, height, depth, and placement of each of those skills depending on what you want to do with the ball!
7. Mental Strength
The shifts in momentum and constant failures (as discussed above) make mental toughness a requirement for tennis. Most matches are an inevitable emotional rollercoaster. To excel in tennis means dealing with adversity. Tennis, like life, can be very unfair. Learning to manage your emotions rather than having them control you will allow you to reserve your energy for other areas of the game. Plus, being able to rely on your mental strength to stick in a match is crucial for success. To look more in-depth into this subject, you can read our blog on: 10 Life Lessons From tennis
Most sports are played on one type of surface or something very similar. Tennis has multiple surfaces, with three main ones at the Pro level: grass, clay, and hard court. Players must get used to the different speeds and bounces and factor in the changing environment and climate accompanying those court changes.
Check out this great video that explains the main differences between the three main surfaces:
ESPN labels this analytic aptitude. Tennis not only requires self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, but you also have to be able to analyze your opponent and pick out some areas to attack. The ever-changing momentum and situation of a tennis match requires tactical point-by-point planning to try and outsmart your opponent. And most of the time, you have to do this alone or with your doubles partner. There are no other teammates or coaches to help guide you through.
Perhaps the best way of comparing sports is to break them down into categories of similar types, such as racket sports. Comparing Ice Hockey to Tennis seems ludicrous as there are virtually no similarities! Passionate sports fans and players will also inevitably want their own sport to be the hardest!
Which sports do you think are as hard as tennis? Do you think we missed out on any important factors? Let us know in the comments below!
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