The tennis racket is sometimes collateral damage. Often soiled, sometimes mistreated, occasionally destroyed, it serves as a scapegoat for players lacking in confidence. However, is there a single technique or can methods diverge? We did some research on rackets meeting their maker…
John McEnroe gave it its letters of nobility, Marat Safin codified it, Marcos Baghdatis made his a star on YouTube... Nowadays, you don't go to a tournament without expecting to see at least one good meltdown resulting in a hasty reconfiguration of strings and graphite which adds a palpable air of violence and drama to the proceedings. However, for the players, the goal is first and foremost a sense of relief. "It is almost always for the same reasons: when you lose a match; when you're frustrated with a shot that doesn't work out…" says Benoit Paire, who, in his own way, is kind of an expert on the subject. With its limited lifespan, the racket is a great stress reliever. Better than barking at a linesman or cursing an opponent, it essentially contains personal grudges. "I only broke my racket when it was my own fault, it has nothing to do with my opponent" admits the French player. Which seems fair enough.
For some players, breaking their racket even became a trademark. In this, Marat Safin is the undisputed number one. According to the oh-so-serious ATP, Safinator has broken 1055 frames throughout his career. He even received an award for this achievement, which may have given something else for the players to play for. Since then, the Russian fire has never dimmed. Between Mikhail Youzhny and Dmitry Tursunov, the succession has been fully assured. For the latter, Marat’s brother-in-law for a while, the explanation is crystal clear: "The closest object is your racket, and you know that it will make you feel better to smash it."
"We aren’t necessarily emotionally disturbed"
Looking at the list of recidivists, the question of predispositions arises. According to Benoit Paire "you don't need to be emotionally disturbed to break a racket. It may simply be a moment of doubt. Inevitably, someone with a strong character will be more inclined to get carried away. But someone calm, on an impulse, may very well do it too.” And the Frenchman reels off a few examples: "Someone like Roger broke a lot of rackets when he was younger. So did Djoko. The only one I don't think I've ever seen break a racket is Rafa."
However, predispositions do exist. More than in the technique, breaking a racket is first and foremost cerebral. As confided by Rafael Nadal, "If I miss a shot, it's my fault and not that of an object." A reflection that the Frenchman endorses: "I used to be very temperamental but as I’ve grown I've tried to calm down. At first it felt good, it released tension. But, after a while, I was breaking so many rackets that it stopped working." So whether you have a suave character or are a bit more nervous, the result differs.
Smash rather than throw
Especially if you don't train. For what could be more ridiculous than a failed attempt? A moment of stress relief turning into performance anxiety? To avoid this, Tursunov explains how to do it successfully: "I think it's better if you don't throw it. If you smash it, you have more control - it is actually you who breaks it. You feel the vibration and the strength in your arm." A solid analysis, born of experience, which is shared by Benoit Paire: "I used all possible techniques to break rackets. The simplest: Hit the ground with all your strength. "
Others, less traditional, cultivate their own idiosyncratic approaches. Thus, the Chilean Fernando Gonzalez vented his frustration by punishing himself. With an elaborated flick of his wrist, he used to break his racket with his own thigh:
On another level altogether, the Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis could smash four rackets in 25 seconds:
In short, according to these multiple examples, "when you want to break a racket, you're so upset that your strength increases tenfold and it becomes difficult to stop you" according to Paire.
“Racket constitution doesn’t change”
The various evolutions in racket hardware also explain why this "trend" entered tennis playing customs. Since the appearance of iron in the seventies, rigid wooden frames gave way to more sophisticated lighter rackets, which were more fragile. But, to believe the equipment manufacturers, they could do without these slow zooms on their damaged products. For Babolat - sponsor of Nadal, Tsonga and Paire among others - "a player that breaks Babolat rackets on the courts shouldn’t do it too frequently. In terms of image for the brand, it's not the best" says David Gire, sales director for Babolat France.
"The rackets' constitution doesn't change anymore,” explains David Gire. “Graphite remains graphite, and therefore doesn't become more fragile. We see it with our after-sales service where return rates declined in recent years. But at the end of the day, rackets are not made to be thrown ...” On the danger side, there are few concerns, "there’s no risk when breaking a racket" according to Benoit Paire. "Depending on the model, it is more or less easy to break; some are more fragile than others. When I started, it seems that I only had the fragile kind (laughs)."An observation surely shared by Messrs McEnroe and Safin.
By Robin Delorme