While the majority of the tennis world is still astounded by the physical and mental powers of endurance shown by John Isner and Nicolas Mahut in last week’s record breaking marathon, sports scientists have been busy analyzing the performance and now see whole new barriers.
“Tennis, like boxing, is a much under-appreciated sport when it comes to endurance but these two players proved themselves to be superlative athletes and the aftereffects are frankly not going to be as bad as some people might think,” maintained Jamie Pringle, senior physiologist at the at the English Institute of Sport.
“I don’t think such a thing would have been possible even 20 years ago but advancements in the knowledge of sporting nutrition and conditioning served Isner and Mahut well.
“They were not really in any physical danger playing so long because they were constantly feeding and storing to the extent they were pre-empting for ten games or 45 minutes in advance. So no way would there have been metabolic damage or hypoglaecemia meaning they basically ran out of blood sugars to give the muscles fuel.
“Modern day tennis players are durable. They can easily play three normal matches in one day, but recovery for any athlete from an encounter of that magnitude takes days and perhaps even weeks. Effectively any chance Isner might have had of going further in the competition was frankly minimal.”
Isner’s mind as well as the body was effectively in submission. John F. Murray is a former touring tennis player who is now a leading sports psychologist who wrote the best selling ‘Smart Tennis, How to Play and Win the Mental Game’. “The most determinant factor in the match lasting so long and both players showing such powers of concentration was Wimbledon,” insisted Murray.
“It is the most special and hallowed tournament and players realize they only have so many opportunities of playing there.
“The more they got involved in the thing, the greater was the sense something very special was evolving. They could sense that from the growth of the crowd and the interest all around the court. Leading players and champions from the past were turning up to watch. No pro worth anything in that situation would not keep fighting. They were not going to give up and this subconsciously created a sense of almost super focus in both men’s mind.
“There was a massive amount of hormones going into the brain and adrenalin flowing. Yes it was superhuman in effort and a great study into how strong the sportsman’s mind can be but the trained body and mind can achieve wondrous levels of endurance.”
But now psychologist Murray’s major concern is for the loser. “For Mahut to hold serve 65 times in succession to stay in the match was a truly wonderful statistic but the aftermath of defeat could be very harmful.
“For Isner it will just be a matter of wanting to get away from tennis for a week or so, do other things and recharge the mind but he will be bolstered by the knowledge he achieved something very special that is never likely to be beaten. Mahut ended up being beaten and all the effort he put in seems in vain. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest this loss could manifest itself in him calling an end to his career.”
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