Touch the socks, leave the underwear and enter the court

Fri 24 Mar 2023

Skip the line, enter the court with you left foot forward, put on the same sock first, touch wood, kiss the cross, let your beard grow, touch ear, step on cat’s tail etc. are just some of the rituals tennis players rely on during a tournament. It’s nothing unusual among the top athletes these rituals are supposed to serve as a source of strength and an encouragement to achieve another success.

Generally speaking, all athletes are known for their little rituals and superstitions and tennis players are no exception. Many players have their own little rules and beliefs they almost never breach because they believe that these tiny habits (mere mortals might find them funny) affect their game, and thus the final result.

Although it is simply unbelievable that top athletes believe that tennis balls, wristbands, bottles, socks and cats can be of crucial importance during tennis matches, this is nothing out of ordinary in tennis. Maybe the actual value of all sports rituals lies in their power to add to players’ self-confidence on court and the feeling of control.

Nowadays, Rafael Nadal is probably a tennis player whose his on-court rituals and quirks we know best. The Spaniard, for example, carefully places water bottles and the brand name must face the court he is about to play on at every change.

Then, during the break, between the games, he takes a sip from each of the three bottles. Nadal also always adjust his socks before the serve as well as his underwear.

– I’m not superstitious. Otherwise, I would have to change my rituals after every defeat. I don’t stick to any routine either. My life is constantly evolving, Nadal tried to justify his actions but almost no one believes that he’s not superstitious.

Youtube: Australian Open TV

Far from it that Nadal is the only tennis player with weird on-court routines.

Serena Williams never changes her bra during a tournament, or the socks she wore when she made her first victory. She also has her routine before the serve. She taps the ball five times before the first serve and twice before the second. The American also always brings her shower sandals to the court with her.

Novak Đoković might as well be one of the greatest players in the history of this sport with least rituals and superstitions. However, it is obvious that the Serbian tennis player greets the audience after each victory with the same gesture – pushing both arms outside from his chest – to all four sides of the stadium. He also always looks at the sky and thanks God.

Whilst Novak Đoković doesn’t care about the locker at an ATP tournament, Federer and Nadal pay close attention to that. Both of them have to have the same locker number they previously had whereas with female tennis players these superstitious are even more prominent.

Not to go any further, it is enough to mention current Novak Đoković’s coach, Goran Ivanišević. Before retiring, the Croatian tennis player used to wear the same T-shirt whilst winning at Wimbledon, used the same toilet and insisted on serving with the same tennis balls. However, one thing really makes him special. He used to watch children’s television show called Teletubbies every morning.

For example, between each point, Ana Ivanović avoided the lines on a tennis court. Martina Higgins played every match in her career while wearing white underwear whereas Björn Borg rituals were reserved for Wimbledon only. He would let his beard grow ahead of the tournament and always wear the same shirt. And it paid off. Having in mind that he won five consecutive Wimbledon titles.

Marija Sharapova also had funny rituals before her serve. She used talk to the wall and face away from her opponent before every point.  She would also do hop-skips and place strands of hair out of her face and behind her ear.

For those of you who don’t know, South African tennis player Dustin Brown also has a weird choice of shots and on-court behaviour. After every point he wins, he wants the next point to be played with the same tennis ball. So every time a ball boy forgets to give him the “right” ball, he goes to the net to take the ball himself.

Tennis player Christopher O’Connell took a step further. Before every change of sides, the Australian has a special routine. He rubs the string on his racquet with balls he had brought onto the court.

However, legendary tennis player Andre Agassi certainly had the most bizarre rituals of all time he developed quite by accident:

– I went out to play the first round of the French Open against a really tough opponent. I realised when I was in the locker room getting ready that I’d forgotten my underwear. My coach wanted to lend me his and I was like ‘sorry man I’d rather go commando than wear yours‘.

That didn’t prevent him from winning the tournament so he decided to do the same for every match in the future.

– So I played the first round so well I proceeded to not wear underwear the rest of the tournament and I won the tournament so I proceeded to not wear underwear the rest of my career, Agassi concluded.

Many tennis players genuinely believe that their success depends on different talismans, unusual habits and rituals. However, some of them have gone so far that they apply their on-court superstitions in their private life as well. However, if tennis players believe that rituals add to their confidence then an ordinary tennis fan is left with only one thing to do and that is to support these rituals even if it meant that tennis players entered the court with two left sneakers and without proper equipment, like Agassi.

Fun fact: 80.3% athletes have a superstition of some kind.