At the U.S. Open, I filmed an interview with ATP player Tim Smyczek in New York City. The 24-year-old Wisconsinite had just reached the second round, losing to Kei Nishikori in three sets. (Click here to learn about Smyczek’s customized Dunlop Biomimetic 300 Tour.) Afterwards, we spent a few minutes speaking further about Smyczek’s racquet preferences, as well as some of his off-court training. Do you work out your mental game by writing? According to Tim, you might want to start.
Justin diFeliciantonio: Looking at your racquet, it has a pretty thin, boxy beam.
Tim Smyczek: Yeah, it does. I find it’s got a pretty true feel. A lot of the guys are using thicker beams and a little more powerful racquets. They drop the tension, play full polyester, and all that. But it just depends on your game style and how you hit the ball. For me personally, I hit a little flatter, and this [beam] gives me the best and quickest feedback from any ball I hit. It’s dictated by how you swing at the ball and how much spin you [want to] get.
JD: This question of spin: I spoke with Michael Russell recently, and he told me that, because he’s smaller than the other tour guys, he wouldn't be able to compete if he hits with too much spin. Being less than six feet tall, do you feel similarly that you have to hit the ball flatter through the court?
TS: I think it’s different against every single person you play. Now, I think if you play somebody who likes pushing you around the court, and you’re trying to hit with too much spin or height over the net, you’re going to be running all day. As a smaller guy, [Michael] relies on his legs a lot. And I do feel like sometimes in order to get the ball through the court, I need to hit a little flatter. But it’s different every match.
Smyczek’s Racquet: Dunlop Biomimetic 300 Tour (370 grams, post-customization)
Smyzcek's String: Babolat Tonic+ 15L (mains); Babolat RPM Blast (crosses
JD: Have you ever tried going to a thicker beam?
TS: I have tried some. But I’ve managed to find something wrong with every other one—whether because there’s not enough feel on the volleys, or it’s, yeah, I’m hitting my forehand a lot bigger, but it doesn’t quite feel right on the backhand. For now, this feels like the right combo.
JD: Have you playtested the update of your 300 Tour, the Dunlop 3.0? [Note: The racquet will hit store in mid-October.] The frame will be wider in the two and ten o’clock positions, the idea being that, with players hitting so much topspin these days, people are missing less up-and-down and more side-to-side.
TS: No, I haven’t tried it yet. But I’m looking to try it soon. It’ll be interesting, for sure.
JD: Do you travel with any special equipment or gear that helps you exercise and prepare?
TS: Well, I have my exercise bands—some for the shoulders, others that go around my ankles and help fire the glutes. I also use what’s called a trigger-point roller, which is a massage tool. That’s about it, when it comes to exercise gear.
JD: No eye training? I heard from Kevin Anderson that he regularly works out eyes with online exercises.
TS: Really? Maybe I need that. I might have to talk to him. [Laughing]
JD: How about mental training? Are you into that?
TS: Yeah, I have some exercises that I do pretty much everyday. I work with a sports psychologist named Jim Loehr. But there’s no gear for that. Pen and paper, and you’re fine.
JD: What kind of exercises will you do?
TS: A lot of visualization work. I guess you could call it reinforcing good self-talk. Like, say, you think up a situation on the court that might normally bother you. And then you write about how you want to react to it. The idea behind it is, if you’ve been there on paper before, when it actually happens, you know how to react. It’s like you’re training yourself to react a certain way.
JD: Really? What’s an example of a circumstance you’ll write out?
TS: Bad line calls is one. Or your opponent’s doing something that bothers you. I’ll remind myself to take deep breaths. You revisit these things. They’re not the same thing every time.
JD: Do you think it works?
TS: Yeah, I’ve found it helps. It helps you stay calm. It helps you feel like you can handle whatever’s coming at you. It makes you feel like you’ve been there before and you know how to react. As for exercises, that’s pretty much all I’ll do. If I come across a completely new situation in a match, I’ll just remember the next time I’m writing to plug that in, too.
JD: So what really bothers you the most? What’s something that you find yourself continually writing about?
TS: I think anybody would talk about a bad line call. I think that’s always tough. That’s the one that gets you. [Smiling]
JD: This happens frequently?
TS: Bad line calls? Every match. If you think about how many times you make an error in a match—and this is another thing that I think about—the line judges are going to make errors, too. They’re not trying to. But you know, they make mistakes, too.