ANTICIPATION IN TENNIS AND WHY TENNIS CHAMPIONS ARE CHAMPIONS

Through the course of tennis history, players’ performance enhancement evolved around the strokes and its effective application for the purpose of winning points in the competitive environment. Players’ stroke execution is surely one of the most researched field in the game of tennis as all tennis players, no matter of the level of their game or competitive involvement, are mostly attentive to the stroke mechanics and consistency of their body parts movement in space and time. Players usually try to be mostly aware of their own hitting space, with a tendency to underestimate the fact that tennis is a game of movements and interactions. 

Stroke execution can be explained in terms of the movement momentum of three interrelated entities – player, opponent, and ball. A goal of a tennis player is directing the own momentum through synchronized and coordinated body movements towards and throughout the zone of impact. An incoming ball, with its own movement momentum created by the opponent, is an object of interaction between the players. The fact that tennis is a sport of interactions between three entities should increase the awareness and attentiveness to the ways opponents move in relation to the incoming ball. Receiver players should observe the ways their opponents create and apply their movement momentum to intercept the ball which consequently directly influences dynamics of the point and the future impact zone of a receiver player. 

Skilled athletes have capability of detecting and extracting the meaning of the changes in their environment from two potential sources of information. They can use information of the context of the situation and movement mechanics from their opponents to predict affordances or limitations of the stroke execution and future ball flight trajectory. To facilitate earliest initiation of their movement, they tend to predict how the relation between the movement momentum of the opponent and the ball could potentially influence their own future zone of impact. Based on this information, player can create early decision about the most appropriate movement response and technical-tactical possibilities for their own stroke execution.

Prediction of the location and time of an own zone of impact is player’s priority, especially in the highly competitive conditions, for the sole purpose of own optimal stroke execution. Spatial structure refers to the location of the future impact zone and the distance the player needs to cover activating movement patterns. Temporal structure refers to the time of sequential deployment of the movement for the interception to be successful and effective. Movement competency is allowing players to get to the optimal positions before the arrival of the ball to ensure maximal movement efficiency with minimal energetic costs. 

Early prediction of these spatial-temporal structures ensures higher affordances for the stroke execution. In fact, the quality of the stroke mechanics throughout the execution is the consequence of preceding mental actions determined by the quality of observation (perception), speed of recognition (cognition) and in overall, speed of reaction. These actions, although not visible to the human eye, are the ones that initiate a movement response as a visible mechanical activity based on the previously mentally determined parameters.  

It is strongly suggested that in sports, especially of interceptive nature, expertise is based on the ways how these perceptual-cognitive abilities are used. Due to high spatial -temporal constraints in the fast ball sports like tennis, the game itself imposes limits to the player’s time of creating an optimal movement response, influencing dynamics of the game and the whole performance. Abilities of cutting the costs of the movement delay caused by reaction to the post-contact ball flight and enhancing the predictive reactions at the pre-contact phase, could be of crucial difference for the point outcome. 

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