"Superstition is the poetry of life" wrote the German thinker Goethe. However, he was not playing tennis, probably fearing the dark side of this mind game. A world of fetishes, full of superstitions and little quirks of all kinds. Vain, childish and magical at the same time.
1. Rafael Nadal
Always takes a cold shower before a game. Bunny hops at the coin toss and a sprint of a few meters to the baseline, to transcend. The socks are perfectly symmetrical, fitted to the millimetre. Two or three bottles are carefully aligned on the ground and perpendicular to the baseline, with the label facing the net. He brushes his foot on the service line, taps the soles of his shoes - even on a hard surface (sic), then readjusts his pants: on average, per set, Nadal plays with his underwear 85 to 97 times. "It's because I have a fat arse!" he joked one day. Preparing for his service, he passes his hand over his right shoulder. Left shoulder. Right ear. Nose. Left ear. Pushes the ball in his pocket. And so many more things besides... Leading Tony Nadal, his coach, to conclude: "Rafa is a bundle of nerves. To calm him down, we imagined a lot of small habits."
2. Novak Djokovic
Laid back and smart, this prototype of the perfect male really has only one flaw: his neurotic horror for bouncing the ball before his service. An obsession such that Novak Djokovic can even count it. "My record was in 2007 during the Davis Cup against Australia. I made the ball bounce 38 or 39 times [before his service, ed.]" confided Nole to CBS News. However, the Serbian said he has "no superstitions" except the mandatory presence of his poodle, Peter, at every Wimbledon tournament. This year will be no exception to the rule. "I have routines, I call it routines!"
3. Björn Borg
In 1976, four days before Wimbledon, the Swedish tennis legend decided not to shave until he was knocked out. Wearing the same Fila shirt, "Ice Man" grew out his long blond goatee five times for as many consecutive wins. In 1981, on the eve of the tournament, the headlines of the U.S. version of Sports Illustrated magazine read: "The Beard has begun." But that year, the bearded man lost in the final against John McEnroe, another legend of Wimbledon. The moral of the story, according to Agassi: "Superstition is like Fight Club, you should never talk about it." First rule.
4. Dominika Cibulkova
This year, the lovely Dominika Cibulkova stood out at Roland Garros by beating the former World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the second round. Beyond the victory, the French public discovered her lustful ritual: she tenderly kisses the new balls before her service. Well, not exactly "I don’t kiss the balls but I smell them. I love their smell, the smell of new balls. And then I think that it'll bring me luck." Gael Monfils likes this.
5. Lindsay Davenport
Not so much a compulsion, but more an economic matter. "In 1995, in Strasbourg, I dropped the trophy. Because of me and all the little pieces of the trophy that I had broken that spread all over the court, the doubles final had to be postponed. The sponsors were not happy at all (laughs)." After this incident, Lindsay Davenport promised that she would never raise a cup above her head, arms outstretched, but rather at her ears or just under her chin. Ambitious, she promised her fans to go higher up when she would win her first Grand Slam. Done in 1998, when she won the U.S. Open. Mazeltov!
6. Barry Cowan
In 2001, this modest British player was handed a wild card for Wimbledon. Then ranked 265th in the world, and supported fervently by the partisan London crowd, he played the biggest match of his career by pushing Pete Sampras to his limits. His inspiration? “You’ll never walk alone” the anthem of Liverpool Football Club, which he listened to in his Walkman at every change of side. "You can’t be focused all the time and to think of Liverpool helps me tremendously" said Cowan after the game, have finally gone down in five sets. Alone.
7. Conchita Martinez
When she was brushing the baseline with her shoe, Conchita Martinez would not be feeling good at all. In the evening, on her way back to her hotel, she could see danger everywhere, even under her bed, of which she had to inspect every corner. But above all, in a match, the Spanish always asked to serve using the same ball with which she had just won a point. Systematically. So one day, exasperated, the Swiss Patty Schnyder slipped the lucky charm that had just offered the advantage to Martinez under her skirt. The handshake was cold (non-existent, in fact) but followed by a heated argument in the dressing room. Discreet, but perverse.
8. Goran Ivanisevic
Goran Ivanisevic used to ask the ball boys to throw him the same ball with which he just made an ace. Less gloriously, on the day of a match, he would not leave his bed without watching an episode of the cartoon "Teletubbies". One morning, after a good victory in Australia, the giant Croatian even pushed the limits of vice by reproducing the identical program of the previous day: same clothes, same food and same people to talk to. Also, when at the change of side, this great picky man always stood up from his seat after his opponent. A few milliseconds were enough. And of course, he never touched the baseline... Perhaps not so unusual after all…
9. Serena Williams
A textbook case. Lucid, the American thinks she truly OCD. "Yeah, these are questions I ask myself. It's really a self-diagnosis. But I think I can choose to have it or not... maybe". As a proof, before each match, Serena Williams weary her shoes exactly the same way. Obsessed with her toenails, she always brings her shower sandals on the court, stashed in her bag as a lucky charm. But above all, she wears the same pair of socks during the whole tournament. Best not to think about the smell...
10. Catherine Tanvier
Psychiatrists all agree on this, it’s an underlying fear that lies behind all these strange rituals; a reassuring routine that one shouldn’t ever give up any cause. One day, the "Borgette" made this crucial mistake. When facing Martina Navratilova on the Central court at Roland Garros, the Frenchwoman, paralyzed by the event, forgot her little pre-game rituals and thought for a long time about forfeiting. She finally made it on to the court with earplugs so as not to hear the spectators. She thus played the game without being able to refer to the sound of the ball. Result: two donuts 6/0, 6/0. Deaf and blind, obviously.
But also... Andre Agassi, who used to wait for all ball boys to stop moving and get in place, even if it meant directing them to do so. Fabrice Santoro, who used to put dirt on his socks before his service. Lleyton Hewitt, who would listen to the Rocky soundtrack of when entering the court (Eye Of The Tiger, ed.) Nicolas Kiefer, who would touch the angles of the lines with his racket. Boris Becker, who yawned regularly. Ivan Lendl, who used to smear his racket handle with sawdust. Kent Carlsson, who displayed a dozen pair of socks on the floor at the change of side, not knowing which one to choose. Mary Pierce, who was playing with her plait to smooth her hair before her service. Zina Garrison, who was twisting her behind in the service return. And many others. Almost everyone actually...
By Victor Le Grand