Who's the most gifted to ever play tennis?

Feb. 8, 2013 at 5:04 a.m.
Updated Feb. 7, 2013 at 8:08 p.m.

What constitutes the natural athlete in the tennis realm?

Or better yet, the perfect athlete. Are they born with a gift, or is it genetic? Or is it just some skill and a lot of hard work. Remember, I'm only talking about the physical. There's also the mental side to this equation. Some athletes do not think, they just do. Many of us have to train ourselves so diligently to have the correct motor skills, combined with an assortment of mental training to teach ourselves how to react in certain situations without flinching or second guessing. Meanwhile the "natural" athlete does things both mentally and physically so effortlessly and with little forethought as to what they are about to do. It just happens.

I polled no less than a dozen tennis pros between Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, and of course Victoria. When I posed the question about the best natural athlete I received an array of answers. First, let me tell you who did not come up Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, The Williams Sisters, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Andre Agassi. But overwhelmingly, Roger Federer, got a huge response as the best natural tennis player because of his achievements in the major tournaments, and his amazing resistance to injury. Otis Sadler from Houston Racquet club believes it was Yannick Noah. Cindy Crawford (no not that Cindy Crawford) from The Woodlands believed it was Justine Henin because she was only 5-foot-2.

Locally, Alfred Serna voted for Pete Sampras. These athletes are pure natural tennis players both physically and mentally.

To be able to perform at the highest level, and execute beautiful shot making sometimes without even thinking is truly remarkable. These pro athletes could be compared against many other professional athletes from any other sport, and would stand on their own merit in a large debate, because true natural athletes are not pushed to perform.

They do it out of sheer passion and their natural ability to perform. At the highest level in the biggest moments on the grandest of stages.

I'm not going to mention athletes from other sports, because if you're reading this you're already developing your own opinions of the best natural athletes from a plethora of other sports.

Perhaps we have not seen the best natural athlete yet. The way that training and nutrition have evolved in the last thirty years it is truly extraordinary.

Today's athletes are better trained physically, and mentally. Through the use of video, bio-kinetics, and nutritional supplements (not steroids), today's athletes are truly superior to their predecessors.

Athletes today do not live on a diet of pizza and fast food like they used to. One of the first pioneers in athletic nutrition was Martina Navratilova. Since then, other athletes in all sports have followed. It is a testament to one's true passion for their sport. Mine just happens to be tennis.


It's with great sadness that I share with you that our United States Professional Tennis Association's former chief executive, Tim Heckler, passed away Feb. 5 in Houston.

His passion and commitment to tennis and the USPTA was inspiring, and he will truly be missed. The industry has lost a true giant.

Our deepest sympathy goes out to his wife, Renee, his children and the rest of his family.

Philip Perez is the assistant head tennis professional at Victoria Country Club. He can be reached by email at pperez@victoriacc.com.



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