The Washington Kastles don’t just win. They rule. In only four seasons of playing World TeamTennis, they’ve been champions twice. Last year, they won all 16 of their matches, something no team had ever done in the 36-year history of the league. That means the team’s serving up some high expectations for its upcoming season, which starts July 12 at the team’s stadium on the Southwest Waterfront.
No one has his eye more on the ball than the king of the Kastles, Coach Murphy Jensen. The former Tennis Channel star, who won the men’s doubles title at the ’93 French Open (with his brother Luke), acknowledges that it helps to have a stellar roster that includes both Venus and Serena Williams. But they still wouldn’t win, he says, if they didn’t work so hard. “There are no superstars on the team, even though I’ve got superstars,” Jensen says. “We’re a family that cares about each other, and we’re always adding our two cents to get the most out of each other.”
So I got him to share some of those Kastles pointers, which could come in handy when you’re holding court.
Before getting their rackets swinging, Kastles players warm up by doing the same movements using resistance bands. “Put one end under your foot and pull it around with your arm. Just have fun with it,” says Jensen, who recommends repeating this process after you play to help with recovery. The bands allow you to perform traditional exercises, such as biceps curls and triceps kickbacks, as well as common tennis moves, so you can practice serving or nabbing a high volley.
Flexibility is critical: If you can’t reach the ball, you’re not hitting it, either. That’s why Kastles players benefit from keeping up a yoga practice. Jensen says downward-facing dog, pigeon and other poses that open up the hips and lower body have become part of their pregame stretch routine. “It’s a way to center mentally and physically before matches,” Jensen says. The mental side of yoga is what the players really need to tap into in the minutes before a match. “There’s a quiet intensity that builds, and you can imagine what your goal is and what your stroke is going to look like,” he adds.
No matter how much you focus your mind on winning, however, sometimes you don’t. That’s true even for the Kastles — they won every match last year, but not every game. “You have to put that behind you,” Jensen says. When you’re frustrated, it might feel like it’s time to hang up your racket, but Jensen’s strategy is to keep practicing post-match until you regain your confidence and change your perspective. That way, the next time things aren’t going your way, you can remember that it’s possible to turn the situation around. “Sometimes I feel more like a psychiatrist than a coach,” Jensen says.
The brain is an important body part, but you also need to think on your feet — and about your feet. “I don’t care if it’s a pedicure or a massage, but you need to do something,” he says. Players have also been known to take a bucket of ice, fill it with water and dunk their legs up to their calves. “It cools those doggies down,” adds Jensen.
“Every tennis player needs a jump rope,” Jensen says. A few minutes of hopping is part of the team warmup, and many of the players do much more. The reason, Jensen explains, is that the quick plyometric action mimics what they’ll do in a game. “You need to be on the balls of your feet. If your first step is quicker, you’ll be better,” he says. You can also boost those skills with other drills — Jensen often rolls balls across the court and has players chase them, sans racket. Or, you can follow in the footsteps of Serena Williams. “She will actually dance and do the Dougie,” he says. That’s useful for not only improving your game but also rehearsing your victory celebration.
Hallett edits the Fit section of Express.
6Also at washingtonpost.com Read past columns by Hallett and Lenny Bernstein at washingtonpost.com/wellness . There, you can subscribe to the Lean & Fit newsletter to get health news e-mailed to you every Tuesday.