In a previous article, we told you about our monthly meetups called Labors of Hercules. Last December, our guest was top tennis player Raluca Olaru and our questions to her, limitless 🙂
Who Is Raluca Olaru?
Raluca Olaru is a Romanian tennis player, currently ranked #54 by WTA (Women’s Tennis Association). She is one of the first tennis players sprouting from the ’90s generation to make headlines world-wide. Raluca holds 9 singles titles and 6 doubles titles won in various ITF (International Tennis Federation) circuits. She further holds 4 doubles titles at the WTA circuits.
Raluca told us about her passion for tennis like few can. Behind the glory and prizes, the life of a top tennis player is known for being though. Hours of dedication from a very early age, fierce competition, inevitable injuries, the high pressure on the body and the mind, traveling and time away from home, all these put players to the test.
What is it then that drives Raluca to international competition grounds every year? How’s it like to play tennis at this level?
Insights from a Pro
Preparing for a Match
How do you prepare before a match? we asked Raluca. Tennis is, after all, a very competitive game, and each time different. There are 3 angles through which Raluca analyzes an upcoming match before hitting the ground. One is deciding what strategies and tactics would work best for that scenario, something she learns through practice. Another angle concerns the mental training – Raluca looks into herself but also reaches out to her coach in order to get mentally prepared for the upcoming game. Last, but not least, there’s the subjective angle. This mostly has to do with the other player’s style – the tennis world is small and Raluca knows her opponents well. Yet the subjective angle also has to do with little things, like the weather or the surface (she prefers clay over hard ground or grass). Each match has a myriad of factors that need to be considered, she concluded.
Improving the Game
How do you improve your game? was another question we asked her. Raluca answered that she’s in the habit of rewinding every match after it’s finished, in order to learn and improve her level. This is not merely an intrinsic analysis. Tennis players have access to video tapes of each confrontation they have at a big slam. She carefully watches these tapes and thus observes herself from the outside. She can then analyze her mistakes, missed opportunities, and where she needs to improve. Coupled with counseling with the coach and intense practice, she paves her way to the top.
Singles vs. Doubles
Raluca has played both in single matches as well as in doubles. What’s the difference between the two? Raluca explains that single matches can take up to 3 hours, which gives players more time to adapt their strategies. Even if the first set is lost, a player can recover in the 2nd and then win in the 3rd. Doubles last half the time but are much more intense. Teamwork is essential and players need to communicate all the time, not just during the breaks. Encouragement is also important: if one is feeling down, the other must encourage her.
An Inspiring Mentor
Our guest was only 6 years old when she first started playing. It was not love at first sight, because her first coach did not invest time and effort into her. Luckily, Raluca changed coaches soon after. The new coach inspired her and Raluca started playing with enthusiasm. Looking back, she thinks it’s very important to have a good coach, but the latter are hard to find. In her opinion, not only do they need to master tennis with all its strategies and developments, but they also need to inspire, to adapt to the player’s style and personality, to support them mentally, to encourage whenever necessary. Not so different from a mentor in any other industry.
Challenges and… Opportunities
To play tennis at its highest level is tremendously hard, Raluca admits. Tennis today is much faster and dynamic than 20 years ago. It requires quick decisions and the ability to adapt along the way. While talent is necessary, success never stirs from it alone. It’s a matter of intense practice and continuous improvement.
Here’s where we stepped in with scenarios of new technologies that could help athletes monitor their physical health and improve their techniques. It’s been done for F1, but can it be done for tennis – both a strategic and a technical sport?
How do you manage not to give up when it becomes extremely tough? What do you do when you come to ask yourself this question: should I give up? You must always go back to your passion and you will find the answer within yourself!
Life after Tennis
Becoming a coach is the most foreseeable career for top players after they retreat from tournaments. Surprisingly though, Raluca is not much passionate about the idea. She explained how living in the competitive world of tennis has left her with little time to explore other opportunities. It’s much like living in a bubble, not knowing what else is unfolding in other industries. Curious and open minded, Raluca fancies the idea of becoming an events manager. She also finds time for writing and would like to pursue this ability as well. While it’s great to have that one, big passion, it’s nice to keep the mind fresh with others as well.
Playing tennis and building products for the cloud might look like completely different worlds, but we’ve learned that they are governed by similar rules. We identified with Raluca’s imperative for practice and strategies, the need to cultivate team work abilities, as well as the importance of being inspired. 2015 will definitely bring even more inspiring people to share their passion with us, so stayed tuned if you want a piece of that for yourself!