With tennis players repeatedly performing all alone in front of cameras in a 10-month season year after year, it’s impossible to ignore their quirky little habits. Some eccentricities are endearing, others are annoying and still more are just completely confounding. Here are 10 that stand out.
Rafa being Rafa
The King of Clay is also the King of Quirks. Rafael Nadal is a buffet of eccentricities, from walking on court with a single racket in hand, to rousing the crowd with his sprint to the baseline after the coin toss, to engaging in a lengthy toweling-off routine between points that just begs for a time violation. But his trademark quirks will always be his penchant for picking his shorts and aligning his water bottles just so.
They have to be perfect:
Marion being Marion
Marion Bartoli’s myriad quirky routines have fluctuated throughout her career, and sometimes even from match to match. She used to waggle her racket during an opponent’s serve or do full squat jumps between points. But she was actually pretty subdued while rolling to the title at Wimbledon, where she confined most of the wackiness to the practice court. Of course, it’s all relative. Here’s what Alix Ramsay wrote about the “weird, wonderful” Bartoli at Wimbledon:
Then there are the little quirks, a bizarre combination of tics and rituals that would leave the average player exhausted before they had hit a ball. There is the racquet swishing, the practise service swings, the bouncing up and down, the squatting and leaping, the sprinting to her chair – the New Zealand rugby team doing the Haka is only marginally more terrifying.
“I’ve been doing that forever,” she said. “I have some tapes of myself when I was seven years old or six years old, and I was still doing the same. It’s just part of me. It’s just a great way for me to, again, focus on the next point, focus on what I need to do, not thinking about this court, the occasion, the breakpoint, the game point, whatever. Just trying to be ready for what’s coming. It’s not like I want to annoy my opponent. It’s really me trying to be ready for the point that is coming out.”
When, finally, the preamble is done and she is ready to play, things don’t get any better. Playing double handed off both sides, she is not your natural stylist. As for the serve, that starts with her hands crossed and looks like she is fighting her way out of a pair of handcuffs. And the service return? Short of going around to the other side of the net and picking the ball off her opponent’s racquet strings, she could not take the ball any earlier, no matter what sort of delivery she is facing.
In short, Miss Bartoli looks to be as bonkers as conkers but, as we know, looks can be deceptive. All this faffing and flapping about actually works. Well, it does for her (it is highly unlikely that Bartoli’s technique could be taught to another and even if it was, the poor lass would struggle to get the ball over the net).
John Isner’s between-the-legs bounce before serving
Pre-serve routines are a good opportunity for unique habits, and Isner’s between-the-legs bounce — a nod to his roots in basketball-mad North Carolina — is one of the best. (Marcos Baghdatis is also known for this.)
Dominika Cibulkova sniffing new balls before serving
Cibulkova says she just loves the smell of new tennis balls. “I don’t need to do it,” Cibulkova explained at last year’s French Open, “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.”
Serena Williams’ changeover
Do you really need a water break after one game? Serena doesn’t. Instead of heading to her chair, she’ll change sides by walking around the opposite net post.
Ernests Gulbis’ funky forehand
Gulbis now shoots his left hand out when hitting a forehand, a stroke he’s changed a lot under coach Gunther Bresnik. “I’m not really thinking about it; it’s something natural,” Gulbis told The New York Times in March. “But the swing itself, I think it’s more relaxed, and I have more power in the shot. So it’s good, but it’s not perfect yet.”
Victoria Azarenka’s ponytail flip
It’s a unique tic. Before Azarenka serves, she swings her ponytail around so it rests in front of her left shoulder.
Richard Gasquet’s regripping
If your primary source of tennis coverage is American television, where commercials run during the changeovers, you probably haven’t noticed how often Gasquet changes his racket grips. I’ve watched matches where he seemingly does it on every changeover. As well-practiced as he is, I’d think he’s the fastest regripper on tour.
Novak Djokovic’s ball bouncing in high-pressure moments
To his credit, Djokovic has worked to phase out his habit of incessantly bouncing the ball before serving. But it can still creep up, especially on crucial points.
Maria Sharapova’s “perma-fist”
Sharapova’s pre-serve routine used to be the easiest thing to pinpoint, the basis of many an impression from the likes of Andy Roddick, Djokovic and her boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov. But Sharapova has actually cleaned up her routine and no longer pauses to push her hair behind her ear, one of the most recognizable tics in tennis for years. Now, her most amusing habit is a constantly clenched left fist.
What quirks have caught your eye? Let us know in the comments.