Rafa’s towel, Bartoli swishes, key to performance

LONDON, (Reuters) – When Rafa Nadal seeks refuge in  a towel or an angry Andy Murray mutters to himself, they are not  just amusing the Wimbledon crowd with their quirky habits but  honing their “peak performance state”.
Even top athletes need their rituals, whether it be Novak  Djokovic incessantly bouncing the ball or Maria Sharapova’s  famous grunts and mini-fist pump as she swivels on the baseline.

American Andy Roddick has a particularly memorable routine,  pulling his overly large shirt on to his shoulders and pointing  to the ballgirl to bring him his towel after almost every point.

Rafael Nadal

Like a baby and a blanket, the importance of the towel to a  tennis player cannot be underestimated with champion Nadal  wiping himself down regularly even when little sweat has been  produced.

“The idiosyncratic movements are very important. If you  remove them they are quite detrimental to performance,” Mark  Cheetham, lecturer in sports physiology at the UK’s University  of Derby, told Reuters.

“It’s all to do with them coping under pressure. A lot of  them aren’t aware of the extent and frequency of their  movements.”

France’s Marion Bartoli, who knocked out women’s defending  champion Serena Williams on Monday, has some of the biggest  idiosyncrasies on the women’s tour.

She bounces the ball exactly four times before serving and  frantically jumps around as she prepares to return serve while  also taking an array of practice swishes, a habit which can  annoy some opponents.

“It helps me to stay in the moment and not to think too much  about the scoreboard or the moment or the occasion or who I am  playing against,” she told reporters.

“It’s really important, especially on grass, you have to be  really quick. You cannot be slow on your footwork.  You cannot  wait for the ball.”

Nadal, meanwhile, is not confined to just a towel habit. The  Spanish world number one also consistently tugs at the back of  his shorts, causing sniggers from the crowd.

“With Rafa pulling on his shorts, it’s a comfort thing,”  added Derby’s assistant subject manager for Sports Charles  Spring.

“It would annoy him and put him off if he didn’t do it. You  are looking at people in absolutely peak performance state.”

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