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Romain Deffet: Importance of physical training in tennis


Romain Deffet: Importance of physical training in tennis

Renowned physical coach, Romain Deffet, was in town for the week of March 4  when he hosted a number of workshops and sharing sessions for coaches and parents, in addition to on-court training sessions with NTS players.  He worked with Chinese legend Li Na during the final stretch of her career when she posted some of her best results on tour, which included an Australian Open title and the No. 2 ranking in the world.  

Romain elaborated on the importance of fitness training for a tennis player and how being in peak physical condition alone can raise a player’s confidence.  Tennis is a high-intensity sport that puts a lot of stress on the body, as the player needs to pivot, turn, stop, balance, accelerate, and decelerate in an array of movements of varying angles and speeds. Therefore, tennis players need the appropriate physical training to improve performance and durability, thereby enabling them to achieve their potential while avoiding injuries.

His schedule for the week was as follows:

Mar 4
5-7pm ETG Players Workshop

Mar 5
11-1pm Local Coaches Workshop
4-7pm Training with NTE Players

Mar 6
11-1pm Fitness Coaches Team Workshop
4-7pm Training with NTW Players

Mar 7
4-7pm Training with CB Players
8-10pm Parents’ Sharing Session

Mar 8
11-1pm Full Time Coaches Workshop
4-7pm Training with KT players

Mar 9
8-11am Training with GAP and SKM players (Rained out)

Romain is a well-known figure in the world of tennis, particularly in the realm of sports performance training. He has worked with players such as Li Na, Peng Shuai, Daniela Hantuchova, and a young Zheng Qinwen in her junior days, among others. In addition, he was the HKCTA’s High Performance Trainer from 2021-23 and has worked extensively with Hong Kong No. 1, Eudice Chong.  He has since returned to the Justine Henin Academy to manage the physical preparation of elite tennis players.

It takes years to master the intricacies of the technical, tactical, physical, and mental demands of tennis.  So, how does one even know where to begin with integrating fitness into a tennis routine, especially when the sport is played year-round?  

His general breakdown for a tennis player is as follows:

Under-12: Learn to train
Under-14: Train to train
Under-16: Train to compete
Under-18: Train to win
Professionals: Push the limit

A physical trainer can be beneficial in a variety of ways.  For instance, they can create workout plans specifically tailored to the player’s individual needs and goals, help push the player to his/her limits but making sure they do not overexert themselves, especially if they have specific medical conditions or chronic injuries. Another advantage is accountability.  A trainer can hold an athlete accountable for his/her workouts. They can provide the necessary motivation to stay on track, even on days when the player does not feel like working out at all.

Although Romain has been involved in coaching and training of professionals and junior tennis players alike, his stint with Li Na from August 2012 to July 2014, the final stretch of her career, is most fascinating.  For Li Na had a string of disappointing results following her unprecedented French Open triumph in 2011 and she tended to fade in the latter stages of each season due to a combination of fatigue, focus, and injury issues.  It was after the first round exit from the London Olympics that she started working with Justine Henin’s former coach Carlos Rodriguez at the Potter’s Wheel International Tennis Academy in Beijing.  That was when she started working out with Romain. She reached the final at Montreal the first week they worked together in August 2012, and then won the Masters 1000 in Cincinnati the following week, her first tournament victory in 15 months.

To cut a long story short, post-Wimbledon 2013:  Li Na was training six days a week in Beijing with Romain from morning to late afternoon, alternating fitness sessions and tennis, in a punishing mid-season training regimen to make a push for the US Open title. Historically, she reached the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows just once, in 2009.

She went semis in Toronto, Cincinnati, and New York, losing only to Serena in the latter two. She also reached the final of the year-end WTA Championships.  She ended the season ranked No. 3, her career-best at the time.  She began 2014 by winning Shenzhen, then romped through the Australian Open draw to capture her second major, and peaked at a new career-high No. 2 in the world before she announced her retirement shortly after playing her last tournament at Wimbledon that year.

Fitness is to become a key part of a player’s training under HKCTA programmes so that they are more equipped physically to compete at the highest levels.  These Speaker Series/Workshops are a sustained effort to tap into the knowledge base of international experts whose benchmark of excellence can help HKCTA target KPIs that will raise the standard and quality of the Association’s training programmes.  There is more to come, so stay tuned.

Romain Deffet: “It was a pleasure to be back in Hong Kong to see the evolution of the players. I saw a lot of interesting things, especially on the physical training part. We know that the key of modern tennis success is directly link with the physical abilities of the players. It’s very important for all players from the young age to invest time for physical training to develop their bodies properly and avoid injuries.”

See also:

Li Na, China’s Tennis Rebel (New York Times Magazine, 22 Aug 2013)

Training Day, Starring Li Na (New York Times, 29 Aug 2013)