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How the Pros Handle Inclement Weather
Tuesday, 12/21/2021
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When it comes to any sport, weather can be one of the most unpredictable and yet influential factors in a big win or a tough loss. Around the world, professional sports leagues tend to organize their season based on regional weather; hockey is played in winter, baseball in summer.

Despite mindful scheduling, tennis pros tend to face grueling conditions around the world. Despite seasonal averages, there are plenty of examples of spiking and plunging temperatures, as well as rain and sleet and wind. 

Considering even a delay can throw some pros off their game, it’s no surprise that inclement weather is an influential factor in wins and losses. As such, pundits and sportsbooks alike factor the weather into their predictions. For example, sports betting in Arizona includes a range of free deals from top brands, all of which carefully factor the hot and humid weather common in the state into their lines. 

Even computer predictions from sportsbooks, which make picks based on AI-driven algorithms, will factor weather reports into their historical data crunching. Compared to athletes in the US’s NFL or players in the UK’s Premier League, tennis players tend to endure more varied weather patterns—after all, WTA and ATP stars jet-set around the world regularly.

They face extreme heat and sudden cold chills, as well as strong winds and slippery courts. So, how do top pros prepare for unpredictable weather? Does it come down to game-day tricks or is there a larger training scheme in place?

Helping the Body Beat the Heat
The most common weather-based challenge that tennis pros will face is extreme heat. One of the most grueling tournaments was the 2018 US Open, which was held in New York during a stifling heatwave. For the first time, many fans got an up-close look at how pros like Novak Djokovic and John Millman beat the heat.

First, they shed layers during breaks and changed clothes—not just shirts and shorts, but socks and shoes, too. In high humidity, sweat doesn’t evaporate, so they have to change layers for better absorption. Pros also held cooling towels to lower their core body temperatures.

Altering Equipment for High Heat
Most surprising, however, were equipment changes. For example, some pros took to re-stringing their rackets as the heat warped the formation. The more heat, the more tension for racket strings; some increased their racket tension by up to two pounds. Others focused on regripping their rackets with materials that absorb sweat better.

Additionally, the ball tends to soar quicker in high heat—but, conversely, they bounce ‘slower’ off the court, as the humidity causes a ‘fluffier’ ball. With so much influenced by the heat, it’s clear to see why sportsbooks factor weather into the final lines… and why pros like Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka choose to train in the Florida heat and humidity.

Ball Weight & Extreme Cold
Above, we saw that heat and humidity can make the ball move and bounce at different paces. In cold weather, the air is denser than the ball, which means it drops quicker. It might feel softer in hand, but it’s a much physically harder ball to hit.

Back in 2020, the French Open was one of the coldest major tournaments of the 21st century. It was rainy, cloudy, and temperatures dipped into the 50s Fahrenheit. Most players adapted to conditions by layering their clothes, which included leggings for Coco Gauff and a hot pink puffer jacket for Victoria Azarenka.

While adding a few layers might not seem like much, tennis outfits are painstakingly optimized for freedom of movement. Some, like Stanislas Wawrinka, opted for a conservative short-sleeved turtleneck; he refused to sacrifice movement and the familiarity of his usual outfit to stay warm.
Damp and cold conditions are especially tricky—and even more so on clay courts, as with the French Open. Sliding is a huge issue for pros, who typically stop and accelerate at breakneck speed. And with balls already prone to dropping, their lack of bounce off the clay can mean disaster for some.