To be a force in the game of tennis, it’s not enough to be just the tallest or strongest but being mentally sound is the most pertinent quality of a champion, says Spanish legend Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.
Sanchez’s 1989 triumph over German legend Steffi Graf in the final of the French Open is a part of tennis folklore. At the age of 17, she won her first Major trophy at Roland Garros and went on to collect 14 Grand Slam trophies, including four women’s singles.
The game of tennis is getting more and more physical with insane training schedules and disciplined diets but the 45- year-old, who is now a commentator, says being physically strong is not enough.
“You don’t have to be the tallest or strongest. Tennis is a very mental game and that’s most important. If you have that strength, after that you can be physically conditioned and then comes the technique. What makes a champion is your mentality, capacity to play right points at important moments and tenacity,” Sanchez told PTI in an interview.
The winner of six women’s doubles and four mixed doubles titles is in the capital to conduct tennis clinics for junior players as part of Rendez-Vous, an event run by FFT and AITA to give kids opportunity to compete at the junior French Open. Asked if champions can be created or they are born, Sanchez said talent is a must which can be polished.
“You have to have something when you play but after that, you can train and be a champion.”
She gave an example of her famous 1989 duel with Graf at the French Open final.
“My mentality was very strong, I never gave up. I played the right points and mixed up the game. I used my strength and defence but also played attacking, went to the net. I explored different options to play my best and win,” she said.
“You can work on it (mental aspect). You can work with a psychologist and an analyst to help you,” she suggested.
She also recalled how a journalist, before the final against Graf, asked her ‘how many games she thinks she can win in the final’ and later apologised after her title win.
“It was a dream to hold that trophy. Steffi had won a career golden Slam before that. I could not sleep the whole night and was so tired in the morning. But then I told myself, it’s your moment and have nothing to lose.
“It became 1-1 then 2-2. The crowd supported me and that motivated me and I won the first set. It was a surprise. Then she won the second set and I was down 3-5 in the third set. I broke back and held and it was 5-5. I again broke and was serving for the match. My legs were shaking but I did it.
“I went to the net, shook hands with Steffi. It took me three days to realise I had won. She brought the best out of me. I played my best against her.”
“Mentality has to be there from the first point,” she again emphasised.
American superstar Serena Williams, at the age of 35, is still a force to reckon with. The younger players still struggle to find chinks in her armour.
Sanchez, in eight meetings with Serena, emerged a winner five times. Asked what a player needs to do to beat Serena, the Spaniard said one has to mix up everything.
“She is a very powerful woman, if she is healthy she is the most dangerous player on the Tour and when she is not, she leaves the field open for others to win the tournament. I am one of the few players who beat her.
“You have to have variety, never play two shots in the same place. I was playing short, long, slice, nets, attacking her second serve to be able to play my aggressive game. That’s the way,” she suggested.