Is it really clever to have a drink before an important match? Is alcohol a doping substance or just a sugary drink? Tentative answer to read before the happy hour.
"Just impossible." Marc Rosset still enjoys an almost schoolboy memories. It was four years ago, with his friends, during a club tournament match in Switzerland. "The day before, we had a pretty big party and I don't know why we decided to go play tennis. This is also the only time I tried." The only time, really? In 1992, a week before the Barcelona Olympics he won, the Swiss player claimed to be coming back from a big party week near Geneva. He missed the opening ceremony and won his first round match breathless. "Maybe I need to sweat everything I drank last week" he said at the time. Indeed, on a physiological level, alcohol inhibits the production of a hormone that helps the reabsorption of water in the kidneys. Moral: under the influence of alcohol, a player sweats, urines more and gets dehydrated. Stephan Cascua, sports doctor in Paris, says: "These are technical terms but alcohol also blocks an enzyme called LDH as lactate dehydrogenase. LDH removes hydrogen to the lactic acid, the substance that invades your muscles during intense efforts. Alcohol prevents the elimination of this muscle toxin." Clearly, alcohol tends to get you really tired. Moreover, ethanol is not on the list of the substances banned by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and more generally by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), except in certain disciplines such as karate, auto racing or archery. Proof that alcohol doesn't help the performance. Above all, and this goes without saying, in case of abuse. In 1933, the Australian Jack Crawford (1908-1991) missed going down in history as the first to make the Grand Slam for a drink too much at the end of his third set of the U.S. Open finale. "Instead of following his opponent in order to get changed and get a massage, Jack went to the stands where his wife was sitting, lit a cigarette, drank a beverage that looked suspiciously like some liquor and sat in his clothes all soaked with sweat" says the report of Tennis & Golf.
Schnapps, brandy and pre-match stress
However, for Jean-Pierre de Mondenard former doctor of the Tour de France, alcohol has doping properties: "The first anti-doping controls have taken place on alcohol during the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Of the 670 controls, a modern pentathlete was caught before shooting test. He was drinking not to tremble." Cognac, gin, schnapps, the magic formula to avoid stress before concluding. "Alcohol is a stimulant of the central nervous system” says Jean-Pierre de Mondenard. In all the job interviews manuals, it is recommended to take a glass of champagne just before. On a court, it's the same thing. It disinhibits you, it gives you a better movement control. A theory confirmed by Andre Agassi in his autobiography. The Kid of Las Vegas said to have been helped by alcohol to play. The whole thing sometimes mixed with methamphetamine. "Agassi said so many contradictory things he should keep his mouth shut or give back all the awards he has won, answered Jean Paul Loth, former French captain of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. I give no credit to what Agassi said. He fooled everybody for 20 years. And when you fool the world for 20 years, you can at least have the decency to shut up.“ Apart from Agassi, who could have been helped by alcohol to play? Arthur Larsen, Whitney Reed, John McEnroe, Boris Becker or even Yannick Noah, who once explained:" When I'm nervous, I sometimes drink a shot of brandy to relax.”
« When I’m drunk, I’m the best player in the world »
And today then? From the seventies to the "Federer years," alcohol would then have gone from being glamorous and subversive to an offensive and taboo habit? Marc Rosset takes the problem the other way around: «In the past, the matches were very slow. I think if you drink a shot of brandy and you have to receive a service of Milos Raonic, it could be a little bit more complicated, right?" For Jean-Pierre de Mondenard, the answer is more like a simple question of image: "It devalues their performance. In the past, alcohol, such as doping, didn't have the same connotation. It was 'improvisation', we used to say. If you read the stories of the mountaineers, they were all soaked. Today, they don't talk about it anymore.» Not more than back in the days according to John Paul Loth: "Honestly, I've never seen in a tennis locker room, and God knows I have seen many, a player drink a drop of alcohol before or during a match. But somehow, if it could have helped them not to shit their pants before going on a court, I think I would not necessarily have been against it. But yes, I think it's possible that Arthur Larsen could have played under the influence of alcohol”. Indeed, in 1956, the American was facing Georges Deniau in the third round at Roland Garros. The latter still remember: "Tappy, his nickname, was a very fancy player, the party animal kind, who liked to sleep late, get up late, someone who was preparing his matches without training, without preparing them properly. On the other hand, he was a great player!". The day before, a party was held in the western suburbs of Paris. Of course, Larsen was there. "I personally went to bed relatively early. There, I had friends who told me: 'don’t worry George, Larsen will stay a bit longer. And besides, we will arrange him for you tomorrow.” "The next morning, no one knew exactly at what time Tappy finally went home. One thing is certain, he left the party at five o'clock in the morning, with two eggs and ham and a last beer in the belly. At the end of the day, I took 6/0 6/2 6/2. In the third game of the first set, Larsen still managed to take me out, 'you know George, I was drunk last night. And when I'm drunk, well I'm the best player in the world!’”
By Victor Le Grand