Tennis and Cricket-two different sports where one is physically supremely demanding and in the other, different formats demand different levels of fitness.
But there is a common thread between two legends who qualify as the ultimate names in their respective sports. Sheer durability!
Sachin Tendulkar in cricket and Roger Federer in tennis have defied a lot of exercise science by ruling the world of sports for more than two decades.
Gone are the days when a Don Bradman or a Rod Lever stretched their careers the same length as they had fewer games and more time for recovery to cool their heels.
It’s an era when the off-season sounds like dinosaur. Amateurism has given way to extreme professionalism. Sustaining two decades of excellence is as wondrous as the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’. Just think about the physical resilience.
Cricket, the game Sachin played is predominantly power-based. Force with speed is power. Say whacking a six. The prime energy source is ATP-CP. However, in Test and One-Day cricket, you don’t whack every ball. The power demand is intermittent.
Tennis, too is out and out a power sport. For Federer, both his serve and forehands are sustained use of power. In fitness parlance, it’s called power endurance. So his task is tougher. He needs to spend more time with weights. He has a greater chance of an overuse injury.
Sachin never believed in lifting much weight. His routine was more of the basic stuffs like squats and lunges. But how come he sprinted like a hare? How come his joints be strong enough to withstand 200 test matches and 500 ODIs?
Sachin’s body inherently had abundance of type-2 fast twitch muscle fibres like M.S. Dhoni. His fibre type made up for his lack of hours in gym like Mahendra Singh Dhoni. I would see Sachin leaving gym early and focus on his knocking. He would do the rituals with team but not push the extra mile like Mohammad Azharuddin.
Federer too is gifted with type-2 fast twitch muscle fibres. But his sport is unforgiving. He has to lift barbells and do the jerk to develop power. He has to do medicine ball slam and overhead throws to make his deeper abdominal muscles known as core rock, solid.
His long standing trainer Pierre Paganini, makes him lift thrice a week during pre-season preparations as the off-season does not exist unless there are injury sabbaticals.
While the essence of Sachin’s power is inherent muscle fibre type, Federer’s hand-eye coordination is a combo of power training and skill.
Now comes the intrigue. Federer has to play on four different surfaces – grass, clay, hard court and synthetic. Sachin’s is easier – only grass. Federer’s legs have withstood a real torture test.
For clay, his legs needs muscular endurance. For grass and hard court, power is required to reach fast. That’s why he had myriad knee issues.
After the recent knee surgery, now he is protecting his knees. Sachin did the same by skipping some tours to save his elbow (tennis elbow) and staying away from T20 internationals. But the hiatus had always been short.
Federer does a lot of rope jumping or skipping for cardio-respiratory endurance, in common man’s language stamina. That apart, tennis specific band resistant movements and shuttle runs in court are staple training schedule.
By choosing more interval based cardio training which is stop and start in nature like tennis, Federer saved his knee from crumbling too many times.
Sachin too did not fancy much long distance runs since he had a niggling toe injury. He never liked the ‘Beep test’ that Indian cricket team did for aerobic fitness. Rather he chose fielding as his running drills.
While a Mohammad Kaif would do 4-5 extra laps, I could see Sachin pounce on a ball and throw it to the coach. He listened to his body and trained accordingly, not trying to be like Ricky Ponting.
Another key factor for their sustenance is the role of trainers and physios, along with advanced rehabilitation techniques prevalent nowadays that say a John McEnroe hadn’t privy to. Adrian Le Roux or Shanker Basu enlightened Sachin with what was best for him. Pierre Paganini did the same with Federer.
This backup worked as a catalyst behind the two wonders unraveling magic in their respective sports, day in and day out.
There is one last resemblance. Both could stretch their mind. No matter how athletic you be, eventually your mind propels your body. And so, when buddy Vinod Kambli was in oblivion Sachin still carried a billion dreams. When Federer serves an ace, Goran Ivanisevic commentates from the box.
(Chinmoy Roy is a veteran fitness expert & trainer and has been associated in different capacities with Indian and Bengal cricket for decades).