When you travel to the other side of the World to play a sport such as tennis you are relying on a few things but memory is possibly the biggest thing. Let's face it , you know how to play tennis , you have done it for years and you are as fit as an athlete, it should just be a progression in your career. It's a pity the game of tennis is not anything like this. The reality of tennis is this, you are playing against more than just your opponent when you are doing it in another country.
The biggest issue that myself, Brett and Peter faced in 1991 on the European Money Tournament Circuit was the intimidation factor. Brett was a bloody good player, as was Peter, I was average, we all had ability of different levels, but we all played opponents of different levels also. So what made it so hard to win ? Culture. We were playing guys who didn't speak much English, players who would curse at both themselves and us in a different language. What did he say ? It sounded like "you are a stinking Aussie who I am going to smash in two easy sets" but I don't know Spanish, French or Croatian so I won't argue with him. Most of these players also had an 'entourage' of family,friends and acquaintances, support.
The clay courts were also an issue even though my days in Queensland playing on the surface gave me some experience. It gave me time to hit the shots, time to think. The problem with clay court tennis however is obvious, it's a game of chess, no easy fix, a game that will take a long time to figure out. Do I loop it and wear myself out or do I drive it and get in to finish the points a little quicker ? Do I wait for him to lose or do I force the issue and ask him if he can hit enough winners to beat me ?
Who am I as a tennis player ? Am I a baseliner or an attacker or am I both ? Do I have a game plan or do I make it up as I go along ?
This is where my days of training in Brisbane looking back were possibly wasted. We hit a lot of balls and played a lot of matches yet we lacked the one thing that possibly could have made us all a lot better, tactics. You know, how to actually play tennis, anyone can hit a tennis ball, very few know how to play tennis. I am sure now days there are 'tactical' tennis coaches at every tennis centre in this land going through scenarios not unlike an AFL coach does with his game plans. If not then it would be a waste of time being there.
Back to Europe. I remember watching Pete play a lefty from France who actually could speak good English and who was belting our mate into submission . He walks to the back of the court and says "What's his problem"? He was referring to Pete's acknowledgement that he was simply no match for him, his body language gave it away. The Frenchman hit such heavy spin on his shots , not unlike Rafa that Pete was playing 'reactive' tennis as this guy did not miss and dictated easily. The other factor was his height. He was around a foot taller than Peter so his spin would bounce at a height that Pete could not get on top of . I believe the score line of 2 and 0 to the Frenchman was no real surprise.
Crowds at European Tournaments are entertaining with some fair and others blatantly biased but that happens no matter where you play. The difference in Europe is that unless you have a good grasp of another language then it is a barrier that can cause a bit of friction between spectators . You have a fair idea that what they are saying is uncomplimentary towards your mate but you are powerless to do anything about it. Sit back, accept it, experience the culture.
Unless you have experienced tennis first hand at a level such as we did many years ago , and let's face it, it's only become stronger then I suggest one thing. Don't offer anything more than a chance to fulfil potential if you are a coach. If you are a budding young player and you want a reality check then pack the bags and spend some time at some obscure French Tennis Tournaments. The opposition will say things you will not understand as will the spectators yet you will find it strangely educational. When you come back home you may just have a little better grasp of two things;
The French language and a wonderful thing called perspective.......