Top 10: Tennis players and their very, very special diets

Nov 1, 2013, 12:00:00 AM

At the end of each match, Andy Murray gulps down large quantities of a Japanese specialty. Discover which one and especially why he does it by reading the Top of the week dedicated to the very special diets of tennis players.

Since he banned gluten from his diet, Novak Djokovic has been emulated among professional players. They are constantly changing, innovating and disrupting the way they eat. A fad like any other? We decided to analyse ten very original diets.


1 / Patty Schnyder and her litres of orange juice


When she left the family nest at 20 years old, Patty Schnyder found refuge in the arms of Rainer Harnecker, a coach who awarded himself with the title of "natural therapist". Amongst all his virtues, the man claimed to have found a vaccine against AIDS and cancer. He was also treating the injuries of his protégé with hot wax spread all over her body with a rolling pin. Scientologist, he also encouraged Schnyder to become vegan and to drink... three litres of orange juice a day! "At first, I was sceptical, but when I tried it, I realized that this was the solution," she said at the time. Very quickly, the two became lovers. Worried, the parents of the Swiss decided to hire a private detective and a bodyguard in order to protect their daughter. A bodyguard who saved the player from the master's claws, to finally marry her a few years later. A true professional.


2 / Suzanne Lenglen and the "alcoholics" crew


"You know, George, I was drunk last night. And when I'm drunk, well I'm the best player in the world" said the party-animal Arthur Larsen or "Tappy" in the ear of Georges Deniau during a change of sides at Roland Garros 1956. Indeed, back in the days, some athletes loved to have a little bit of gin, schnapps and especially brandy before entering the court. Why? To lose their inhibitions, as a miracle cure against the "stretched arm" phenomenon at the end of the match. Suzanne Lenglen loved it. And it ruined the Aussie Jack Crawford. The latter completely missed out on his 1993 U.S. Open final for a drink too much at the end of the third set. Match Report in the Tennis & Golf magazine: "Instead of following his opponent in order to get changed and have a massage, Jack went to the stands where his wife was sat, lit a cigarette, drank a beverage that looked suspiciously like a liquor and sat in his clothes all soaked with sweat."


3 / Djokovic and the gluten-free diet


Australian Open 2010: Novak Djokovic lost against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals. To explain his poor performance, he said was "tired". The Serb was then full of doubt. While he was having many difficulties physically, he crossed paths with a nutritionist who diagnosed him with gluten intolerance, a protein present in most cereal and dairy products. So goodbye pasta, bread, pizza and beer, time for a diet based on avocado, cashew butter, pea protein, honey and hot water. Yes, hot water. A diet that is becoming more and more successful on the tour (Tipsarevic, Lisicki and more recently Tsonga have all become "gluten-free” enthusiasts) and Djoko explained it in a book published this summer called Serve to win. What a good businessman...


4 / Andy Murray and his 6000 calories per day!


A few months ago, the Briton also joined the "gluten free" crew. A hype followed by Andy Murray not because of an allergy, but "by career choice". However, as explained by Sebastian Jaffeux from Schär, Europe's leader in gluten-free products "there are no scientific evidence that a gluten-free diet have benefits for a non-allergic person, but it's true that gluten makes the digestion heavier." To compensate for his lack of gluten, Murray is now eating around 6,000 calories per day. Tons of dried fruit in the morning, and after each match, his entourage prepare him about fifty sushis that he eats as a single meal in the locker room. Bizarre? Not really: without this diet, he would lose approximately 18 pounds of muscle per season!


5 / Björn Borg and junk food


Plenty of Beer, cheeseburgers and even a bit of cocaine - supposedly. In his scandalous book "Short Circuit", Michael Mewshaw talked about his six-month journey alongside the biggest stars of the tour in the eighties, day and especially night. A delicious book in which the author unveils the bribes and match fixing of the time but also the diet of the Swedish legend. Because Iceman loved junk food and his favourite meal was rare steak with potatoes. "One day, before an important match, I asked Borg what he had for lunch. He replied: 'Red meat and fries' said Pat Cash to CNN. Then he continued: 'I might be eating shit but that doesn't prevent me from being the best player in the world in five sets.'" True.


6 / Navratilova, from the Big Mac to green vegetables


Going from communist Czechoslovakia to Miami in the booming consumer society, it can be quite a shock. This is what happened to the young Martina Navratilova in 1973. She was then a gifted teenager racquet in hand, but she had a hard time resisting the temptations of supermarkets filled with junk food. Her escape to the United States was followed by a significant weight gain of almost 20 pounds. Mocked by the local press and far behind physically, Martina decided to regain control. From 1982, she started to work with the nutritionist Robert Haas, who forced her to follow a drastic diet, low in protein and fat, rich in carbohydrates and greens. His "Bionic Woman" as he called her, ironically became unbeatable in the following year, with 86 victories in 87 matches. But his scientific approach to physical preparation was maybe too revolutionary at the time and was turned into ridicule, including by McEnroe, who once said to prefer the "Häagen-Dazs diet" to the Dr. Haas diet.


7 / Ivanisevic: OCDs with a superstition dressing!


"It's a routine that I felt compelled to repeat day after day, which is what I did. Somehow, it helped me to have a more relaxed approach to competition." This is the story of one of the most stunning victory in Grand Slam history. In 2001, Goran Ivanisevic had an injured shoulder and owed his participation at Wimbledon to a wild card. On the London grass he loved so much, he passed rounds after rounds. The Croat, full of OCDs, forced himself to repeat the same program every day: half an hour of "Teletubbies" at the hotel every morning, training or match every afternoons and the same meal every night, in the same restaurant, at the same table: fish soup, grilled lamb with fries, ice cream with chocolate sauce. Until the day of the final and an unexpected victory over Patrick Rafter. A happy ending worthy of Groundhog Day with Bill Murray.


8 / The Williams Sisters and the veggie crew


There was a time when the Williams sisters were uninhibited carnivores. "If you were seated next to me and turned your head for just a second, your meat platter could vanish as if by magic" Venus recalled recently. But that was before. « Today, I have completely changed diet, continues the Williams older sister, I now go for vegetables ». Serena now claims to be a vegan fan of raw food, since she discovered that the muscle inflammations she suffered could be reduced by eliminating milk and meat from her diet. "But I'm not perfect, so it's OK if I fall off the diet bandwagon sometimes.. I drink a lot of fresh fruit, a lot of grass juice too." A diet adopted in the past by champions like Billie Jean King or Chris Evert.


9/ Sharapova, the banana power


U.S. Open 2006: Maria Sharapova had just won her second Grand Slam title against Justine Henin but at the press conference, a small controversy settled. She was accused of having benefited from coaching tips from her father Yuri, in the stands, who would have told her to eat something during the match. A banana later, the Russian was back on top and definitely took the upper hand on the Belgian. Except that receiving instructions during a match by a coach or a relative in the public is strictly prohibited. "I just won a Grand Slam and you talk to me about a banana, said an annoyed Sharapova to the reporters. Because someone told me to eat a banana, do you really think that's why I won this match?" Nevertheless, the banana is the fruit that is the most associated with tennis: rich in potassium and carbohydrates, it is also very easy to eat between games.


10 / A sceptical Roger Federer...


If all these champions have their very own diet, who's the greatest of all? Too bad, but none of these constraints have ever convinced Roger Federer, who thinks they "are only fads", "I don't know what all this means. I eat healthy and I think people should do the same. A good diet is of course important for an athlete but it's not everything. I understand that players try different things and do what works for them. But my diet is easy, natural and healthy." In truth, the little secret of the Swiss remains a good night: He never sleeps less than 10 hours. Apparently, he hasn't woke up yet this season...


By Régis Delanoë and Victor Le Grand