While we don’t hit the ball as hard or as accurately as the pros, it pays to be prepared. We all have our own “Grand Slam” whether it be a singles ladder showdown, a league championship, or just a hard court battle with a friend. But if we take a professional approach to preparation, it will provide us a chance to be at our best more often than not. Here is a short checklist of essentials to have packed in your tennis bag for a big match.
I know this is a no-brainer, but forgetting the racquet happens more than you might think. I advise competitors to have at least two racquets in their bag. While you can certainly survive with a couple of slightly different racquets, having two of the same model, strung the same way can provide you greater consistency during stressful moments of competition. Many professional players travel with 5-6 racquets to the court, all with the same string, at the same tension, not to mention the racquets are the same model, weight, and balance. This gives them a level of confidence that they have “controlled what they can control”. Now you don’t need to go buy a bunch of racquets, but having a backup for your primary racquet is crucial should you break a string or God forbid, a racquet :). Having an extra frame can be a benefit when playing in hot and humid conditions. You can use a racquet until the grip gets a little sweaty, then switch to your other frame at the next changeover, allowing your racquet grips to dry out. Nothing is worse than trying to swing a racquet when you feel it might slip out of your hand.
It is a good idea to have an extra set of strings in your bag. This won’t matter as much if you are only playing one match, but if you are in a tournament and you break a string, the tournament should have a stringer that can string it up before your next match. So many players out there do not know what string they use or what tension they play with. Take the time to ask your stringer, or teaching pro what string is in your racquet and how tight it is. This way you are ready if you do break a string.
How well you grip the racquet is essential to success on the court, and if your grip is torn up, or unraveling, it is much harder to focus on the cross-court passing shot you are trying to hit. Even if sweat is not an issue, a quick spill of your water jug can thoroughly drench your grip and make it unusable. Sometimes changing a grip during a match can be nerve-racking, but all you have to do is use the allotted time at the change of ends to get the job done. Don’t forget the finishing tape (Tourna grip has the red finishing tape, and the popular Wilson Pro Overgrip has the white tape).
Towels are an absolute MUST in the heat and humidity. It is nice to have a larger absorbent one to help wipe the sweat away, and maybe a smaller one you can soak in cold water to help lower your body temperature.
Don’t laugh, it is the worst feeling in the world when you show up for your big match and you were supposed to bring the balls, and you don’t have them. It is a good idea to just have a new can in your bag at all times.
a small plastic water bottle will probably not be sufficient. We are in the era of steel-walled bottles of all shapes and sizes. They keep water cold for a long time and are easier to pack than the jumbo Igloo jugs of old. Make sure there is plenty of ice, that way you can add water that is not cold and still keep it refreshing. Electrolyte tablets are very portable and easy to toss in your tennis bag, just mix with water and instant hydration.
Having just been scorched pretty well myself, sunscreen is very important. A visor or cap can protect from direct sunlight, but watch out for the reflected light off of the court surface. The sunscreen will perform better if you can apply it about an hour before you start sweating.
Though they can block the sun and make it easier to serve on the “tough side” a cap can also control your hair, and at least partially keep the sweat from dripping into your eyes. In really hot weather, it makes sense to have a couple of hats so one is always drying.
After a tough first set, sometimes it is very refreshing to get in a clean t-shirt and reset your mind to get back to work. You probably won’t need a wholesale gear change during most matches, but post-match it is always a plus to have some dry clothes. Don’t underestimate how good a fresh pair of socks feel.
No tennis player wants to talk about it, but weather delays are the worst. During a long rain delay at a tournament, it helps to have your phone so you can check the status of the rain delay and when you need to be ready to play. The charger is important as well so you don’t lose the ability to communicate with your doubles partner or site director. Earbuds are great for pre-match to get your energy up, or for a weather delay to pass the time.
Sometimes you are playing a match on a site you are unfamiliar with. It helps to have a few dollars in the event the pro shop only has cash transactions or only a vending machine.
Though not everyone competes for wearing sunglasses, they can give your eyes a break when you are not playing your match. They also do a great job reducing the sun’s glare to keep you focused on the next ball, and not the spots you are seeing.
Sometimes you are on the court for a while and you start running out of calories to burn. A lot of the professionals use a gel, banana, or energy bar to get some fuel quickly during a match. I would recommend avoiding the chocolate-covered options in the heat as they can get a bit messy.
So there you have it, the best way to pack your tennis bag. And remember, failing to prepare is preparing to fail! To help stock your bag with all the essentials, visit Tennis Express.