The Physical Game

Tought It Out

By Roy Jones Jr.

Roy Jones Jr.
I've always been impressed by tennis-and tennis players. The game is one-on-one, like boxing. Nobody else is out there with you to help you. It's all about you against an opponent. The strong survive.

Just like in boxing, you've got to be strong and you've got to be fit to win at tennis. Hopefully, nobody is punching you in the head on a tennis court, but you've still got to be tough and fit enough to hang in and go the distance. Like boxing, tennis is a battle between gladiators. You've got two people, in the arena, going toe-to-toe. You see somebody like Andre Agassi knocking back a return against a big server like Andy Roddick, and it's like two heavyweights throwing punches at each other. Instead of using gloves and pounding each other's heads, they've got racquets driving balls at each other. You've got to be mentally tough and physically fit or you can't compete. You're going to get pounded.

Tennis, like boxing, is intense and demanding, a test of your head and your heart. I love that.

You need a lot of the same physical skills for both sports. First of all, you need to be agile. To compete well, your body's got to be flexible and supple. I've got to be able to punch and move and defend, and so does a tennis player. Of course, I'm hitting a bigger target and, unlike a tennis ball, my opponent is trying to hit me back.

Both sports require excellent hand-eye coordination. In both boxing and tennis, whenever there's an opening, you've got to be able to strike the target with consistency and power. You watch Serena Williams on a big point, and you can see how she's dialed in and ready to hit the best possible shot. For some people, that hand-eye just comes naturally. The rest of us have to work on improving this skill, which means putting in lots of practice time on the court or in the gym. I always try to be smart with my workouts by focusing on specific routines and drills.

Maybe the most important skill in both sports is footwork. Boxing takes place in such a confined area that footwork is especially important. You've got to keep your feet moving-all the time. You stand still, you're an easy target. Great tennis players have also mastered this skill. It's not enough to be fast, you've got to move smart. Strike and defend, strike and defend. Be aggressive and attack. That same game plan works in both sports.

Of course the physical skills are only part of the game. As individual sports, boxing and tennis are extremely demanding mentally as well. It's lonely out there, and as the match wears on, it's not always easy to keep going-especially when an opponent is making it hard for you. That's why, in both sports, you've got to love the experience no matter what the outcome.