The Association of Tennis Professionals or ATP is filled with athletically gifted athletes working diligently to hone their skills through extensive practice. And the mantra “When you are not practicing, remember, someone, somewhere, is practicing, and when you meet him he will win”, no more relevant than on the ATP tour. The connection between practice and results has been firmly established in professional level tennis. So when recent rumors of Rafael Nadal training 8 hours a day, every day, surfaced many simply saw this as an intensification in the overall level of play and increased or sharpened their own training efforts.

Athletic ability, highly honed skills and a tremendously strong mental willpower are all requirements for success on the ATP Tour. Add to this the ability to hold your cool under a 100 mph serve and all the challenges of independent self funded travel makes this sport an especially difficult calling. With this in mind and an obscure question about tennis elbow, I was keen to sit down with Peter Wessels a former top one hundred ATP player and veteran tennis professional.

Originally from the small medieval town of Zwolle in the Netherlands, Peter grew rapidly to a towering height of 6’ 5” and could have played basketball but choose tennis as his sport of choice. He excelled at it early. With a cannon for a serve, he had a stellar junior/amateur career, which was followed by a successful professional career spanning more than 10 years in both singles and doubles play. In a profession where success is publicly measured by prize money, Peter has raked in an impressive prize money total approaching one million dollars. He’s played in all the big tournaments, including prestigious Wimbledon and competed (and won) against some of the greats of his era (Agassi, Rafter, Bjorkman and Federer) to name a few. In short, a journeyman professional with a passion for the game.

I fired off these questions to Peter.

Over the years what has been the biggest change in your preparation for your sport?

Stretching, both before and after. In the old days I’d just run out and play. As my career progressed I used my practice time more efficiently. I looked for more quality, and not just the quantity of time. In my early twenties I practiced tennis four hours a day and did at least one hour of fitness/running/weights. Towards the end of my career I have focused more by limiting my training to two to three hours a day but with high intensity and for specific skills.

Do you have a routine, exercise or secret approach to your game that you’d like to share?

Tactically speaking I always want to play my own game: a serve and volley, attacking style. I want my opponents to be under constant pressure because a lot of tennis players hate being under pressure. They like to hit the ball up and down for fifteen times waiting for a mistake from their opponent. I put pressure on them, keeping the rallies short so they wouldn’t feel comfortable playing against me.

Apart from the tactical side, I do what every player does before a big match. I warm up for half an hour on the match day, make sure I eat some pasta or something that will give me energy, rest a bit, and for the last 45 minutes before the match I always like to be by myself, thinking about my game plan and relaxing the mind.

What was the most difficult injury or setback?

I’ve fought through so many injuries. Ankles and shoulders being the most significant. But this is all just part of the game and doing what you do. I suppose the most pivotal injury was a game ending ankle injury in the US Open when playing against Roger Federer and leading 2-0.

Do Tennis Elbow Bands work?

Not really. It may allow you to play through the injury during a critical match or time, but the best thing to do is stop playing and give the elbow a good long rest.

We chatted about a wide range of things from politics and world events and I was impressed with his broad wide ranging knowledge and easy going friendly manner. He’s a great guy! Peter is now a tennis coach in Dubai in the Middle East but he can be tempted away to play in the odd tournament. Recently he won the prestigious Sheikh Zayed Cup for singles. “I play to win!”, he said with a smile and a wink. Here’s a photo of Peter and the legendary Roger Federer after a training session with PSS Tennis Academy in Dubai.