Unlike athletes in team sports, singles tennis players shoulder the joy of victory and the agony of defeat all by their lonesome. But many of tennis' top players have developed some good luck rituals to keep them company on the court and help them cope with the immense pressure of competition. With Wimbledon action set to begin today, we’re taking a look at seven tennis stars and the quirky habits they believe keep them at the top of their game.
To say the reigning king of the men's game is a creature of habit would be an understatement. Prior to a match, Nadal carefully lines up his water bottles on the ground with the labels pointing in the same direction. And between points, he follows the same compulsive routine of touching his shoulders, his nose, his ears, and yanking his shorts out of his butt. Australian Marinko Matosevic once attempted a bold experiment by knocking over the Spaniard's water bottles during a changeover, but it had little effect; Nadal simply laughed, set his bottles back in place, and continued to thrash his opponent.
The women's answer to Nadal, top-ranked American Serena Williams has blasted her way to numerous championships while maintaining her own quirky rituals. Among these are her insistence on using the same shower and tying her shoelaces the same way before every match. Williams also possesses the odorific habit of wearing the same socks throughout a tournament, a duration that can last a good two weeks during one of the Grand Slams. And we thought her opponents were rattled simply by the power of her punishing groundstrokes.
Victoria Azarenka undergoes an intense pre-match routine in which she bounces around to music blasting from her headphones, and then struts onto the court in a hooded sweatshirt. It's an act more likely to be seen outside a boxing ring than a tennis court, but the Belarus native claims it gets her pumped up and ready to have fun. And who are we to argue with success? Azarenka is a two-time Australian Open champion and a former No. 1-ranked player. And her methods helped grab the attention of boyfriend and LMFAO party rocker RedFoo, another tennis nut known to shake his moneymaker to the beat.
Despite owning one of the great one-handed backhand shots in tennis, Frenchman Richard Gasquet places his faith in higher powers for athletic success. No, we’re not talking about God; we mean the karmic capacities of a tennis ball. Specifically, if Gasquet wins a point, then he absolutely must begin the next point with the same “lucky ball.” The 2013 U.S. Open semifinalist will go to great lengths to retrieve the lucky item and, in some cases, he has harassed fans to return the ball if it bounces into the stands.
Wise elders say to stop and smell the roses in life, but Slovakian Dominika Cibulková may have gotten confused by the gist of the message. During her service games, the world's No. 10-ranked woman showcases the unusual habit of smelling the tennis balls before blasting them across the net. “I don’t need to do it,” she once explained, “but it’s just my habit, what I do on the court when I have new balls. It’s maybe also for the luck. I do it all my life.” Creature of habit Cibulková also eats at the same restaurant throughout a tournament.
Multi-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic possesses his share of idiosyncrasies, such as his refusal to use the same shower twice in a row. The wiry Serb also considers his pet poodle Pierre to be a good-luck charm, which means the pampered animal travels with him to tournaments and enjoys such perks as its own Twitter account (@PierreDjoko). Djokovic was understandably upset when Pierre was denied entry to the Wimbledon grounds in 2011, but he took out his anger on the rest of the men’s field en route to the championship. #everydoghasitsday
Finally, we'll jump in the BIO time machine to revisit American tennis great Andre Agassi, who set the gold standard for obsessiveness during the 1999 French Open. After realizing he forgot to pack underwear for his trip, Agassi won his first-round match sans undergarments. Of course, he took that to be a good omen, so he continued to go au naturel right up to the point where he claimed the men’s singles title. Agassi soon began a relationship with women’s champ Steffi Graf, so perhaps going commando was a win-win on and off the court.