Pros Put Game in Perspective

Retired pro tennis players Gigi Fernandez (left) and Tommy Haas with actress Donna Mills highlighted “Tennis in the Park” on Nov. 10 hosted by the Palisades Tennis Center.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

So what does it take to become a professional tennis player?

A former ATP player and a former WTA player visited the Palisades Tennis Center to discuss that and other related topics in a riveting question-and-answer session at a special event on Nov. 10 called “Tennis in the Park.”

The evening began with music, food trucks and a live DJ and included a raffle to win signed racquets, shoes, balls and box seats to Indian Wells.

That set the stage for recently-retired pro Tommy Haas, who reached the quarterfinals or better in each of the sport’s four major tournaments (Wimbledon, Australian Open, French Open and the U.S. Open) in a 21-year career from 1996-2017.

“Obviously, the basics have to be there, but you have to be passionate about the game,” Haas said. “I grew up in Germany and watched Boris Becker win Wimbledon on TV. My dad was a tennis teacher, so my happy place was on the tennis court. Do I miss it? I don’t miss all of the surroundings and the training, but I miss competing. You have to have a vision. You have to have a plan and go for it. That’s the case no matter what career you choose. In tennis, you lose every week unless you win the tournament. The last match I ever won on tour was in Stuttgart against Roger Federer. Why are some players ranked higher?  Mental belief is the biggest reason.”

Doubles specialist Gigi Fernandez took the microphone next and the 17-time Grand Slam champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist shared her “Seven Pillars” philosophy about the sport she began playing as a 7-year-old in Puerto Rico.   

“There are four aspects of the game you need to  learn in order to improve and of those (execution, positioning, shot selection and tactics), only execution is dependent on your opponent. You have to play like it’s the same whether you win or lose. Sixty percent of all points end with an error and 84.3 percent of the time you’re on the court you’re not in a point. So when people ask me how much of the game is mental, that’s my answer. Another important thing is to visualize. I won Wimbledon 1,500 times in my head before I ever actually won it. The brain doesn’t know the difference between perception and reality.”