EXCLUSIVE: Key member of Alexander Zverev’s team, Jez Green, reveals “You have to look on fitness work as a long-term investment”
Jez Green, the physical conditioner for young German superstar Alexander Zverev, says that younger players find it hard to turn off for more than a few days in the off-season
Most tennis players find it difficult to relax. They’re athletes and don’t like sitting still for long. At the end of the season you encourage them to take a two-week holiday, turn off from tennis completely and just lie on a beach, read a book or go to the movies. The only other time in the year when they might get more than a day or two to relax is immediately after Wimbledon. I think it’s really important for anyone to take a break from their job.
The younger tennis players in particular find it hard to turn off. The maximum rest period you get out of them is maybe seven to 10 days before they’re on the phone to you pleading: “I’m so bored, man, can I just start on some fitness work?”
The men’s off-season is absurdly short. Everyone who played at the Davis Cup Finals this year will have maybe 10 or 14 days’ holiday afterwards. Then they might do three weeks’ pre-season work before they’re on the plane to Australia. However, I reckon you need a good six weeks to do a proper pre-season – eight weeks if you include a holiday at the start. That’s why I treat the period all the way from December through to Indian Wells in early March as pre-season. Once the Australian Open is over, you can do another three weeks of off-season work in February.
I think the women’s tour has got things right in terms of the off-season. The top women play their end-of-year finals in the last week of October, take a couple of weeks’ holiday and then have six weeks for pre-season training.
Pre-season is when you do your basic heavy endurance and strength work. It’s when you build your athletic foundation for the whole of the forthcoming season. Not a lot of tennis is involved. At the start in particular I much prefer it if the player never picks up a racket.
A lot depends on the individual player. Luckily those I’ve worked with haven’t had a huge problem with putting their rackets down. Andy Murray was always happy to do that and so is Alexander Zverev. I think it’s healthy to forget tennis for a while. By the time the players come to pick up their rackets again they’ve probably started to miss their tennis and are super-enthusiastic to play, which is healthy.
However, I’ve also had players who were really uncomfortable about putting their rackets down for even one week. They would ask if they could at least have a racket in their hand for an hour a day. The most I would allow would be 30 or 40 minutes – and only if the player really convinced me that they felt uncomfortable about not playing.
Almost every tennis coach and physical trainer have discussions about priorities in the off-season. We all want more time with the player. Generally, I’ve been lucky in that I’ve worked with modern forward-thinking coaches who understand that if they give me the player fully I can return that player physically capable of doing much more of what the coach wants to see on the court.
The best way to prepare for Australia is to train in heat. Some players do their off-seasons in places like Moscow or the Czech Republic, but I wouldn’t approve. Expecting the body to perform in heat after that is a big ask. With Andy we used to spend a month in Miami, while Sascha has gone to Australia before Christmas in each of the last two years.
You have to look on fitness work as a long-term investment. Just because you do three weeks of really hard work, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be an iron man in week four. In Australia, for example, particularly in the first few days of the season, players aren’t really at full power because they’ve been doing some pretty heavy work and are probably fatigued. They’re very fit but not 100 per cent tennis-fit (those are two completely different things) and in terms of their tennis they’re pretty rusty because they haven’t played for several weeks.
Add the effects of the time difference – and I go along with the theory that to recover from jet lag you need a day for every hour of change – and the first week or so in Australia is never that pretty. With that first hit in the heat a player can be shattered after just 30 minutes.
That’s why I always thought the Hopman Cup was a brilliant event. You had less pressure, three guaranteed singles matches and the chance to train hard in the heat on the days in between. It gave you time to acclimatise. I’m sure it was no coincidence that Roger Federer performed so brilliantly in Australia after playing at the Hopman Cup.
Next year, with the Hopman Cup taken off the calendar, the new ATP Cup will begin 17 days before the start of the Australian Open. Putting aside the politics, I think it’s a very good idea to have a team event in Australia at that time. It guarantees players matches and it ensures they will arrive Down Under in good time.
Jez Green is a physical conditioning specialist for tennis players. His philosophy of building the tennis athlete is both scientifically and functionally based after working with elite tennis players over the span of 20 years on the ATP & WTA Tour.
He is best known for his physical conditioning and fitness work with Andy Murray (2006-2015) during which time he won US Open, Wimbledon and Olympic Gold. He is also known for working with Tomas Berdych (2015-2016) and for his current work with USTA (2016 – present) and Harvard University Men’s Team (2014 – present)
He has been working with Alexander Zverev since 2015.
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