You would think that world ranked tennis players would be able to rely on their training and skill to win big at tournaments. But many of them aren't comfortable with just leaving their success up to fate. Believe it or not, a lot of professional athletes have developed routines, rituals, and superstitions that they believe will give them the winning edge if they continually adhere to them before, during, and sometimes after each match.
Here’s a list of some of the quirky things your favorite tennis players do to put their minds at ease:
The current Women’s Tennis Association No. 1 ranked player Serena Williams has developed a couple of routines while she’s competing in tournaments just to make sure she remains a contender. It’s pretty well known around the professional tennis circuit that Serena does something pretty funky with her socks—she doesn't change them. That’s right, from the first round to the last round, Serena wears the same pair of socks. Does she wash them between matches? The world may never know. In addition to her socks, Serena also ties her shoes in the same way before each match and has been known to bring her shower shoes to the court. Also, on her first serve, Serena makes sure to bounce the ball exactly 5 times and twice on her 2nd serve. She’s even blamed losses on not following this exact routine.
What about the No. 1 man Novak Djokovic? He never uses the same shower twice in a row and always makes sure to bring his poodle friend Pierre with him to tournaments. In 2011 he even lobbied the All England Club, where Wimbledon is held, to get them to allow Pierre to attend the tournament when officials initially said Pierre couldn't attend.
French Pro Richard Gasquet demands to use the same “lucky ball” he uses each time he wins a point. When he loses a point, Gasquet will try to find the ball he used when he last won a point. American Vania King wears the same clothes and wristbands while retired Russian pro Marat Safin wore an “evil eye” pendant to ward off bad spirits. But Andre Agassi, on the other hand, chose to leave one particular clothing item behind during the 1999 French Open. In his autobiography Open, Agassi recounts the moment when he realized that he forgot to pack underwear for the first round and decided just to play without instead of buying a new pair. He won that round and went on to play the rest of the tournament…without underwear…and he won.
Another tournament specific ritual was Bjorn Borg’s Wimbledon beard. From 1976-1980, he started growing out his beard in the first round of each Wimbledon tournament and won each year.
Justine Henin, Ana Ivanovic, and Maria Sharapova never walk on the court lines. Ryan Sweeting always uses the same locker and Ryan Harrison listens to the same song every time he wins.
Retired Croatian professional Goran Ivanisevic had one of the strangest pre-game rituals—watching an episode of Teletubbies before getting out of bed. And once he finally did get out of bed and head to the court, he would make sure that his opponent got up out of his chair before he did. Lindsay Davenport made a point to never raise a trophy above her head until she won a grand slam. He first was the 1998 US Open.
The last on this list is probably the easiest to spot, and that’s Rafael Nadal. His list of rituals includes only crossing the court lines leading with his right foot, adjusting his sock height so that they match, and the placement of his water bottles. His water bottles have to be placed on the ground in front of him with their labels facing the court and he can be seen meticulously arranging them when he takes his seat. Nadal also never drinks from the same water bottle twice in a row.