Gear Q&A: Bag of Tricks

by: Jon Levey | May 04, 2018

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Jon Levey answers your equipment questions in Gear Q&A. Click here to email your question, or send him a tweet at @72unforced.

I’m traveling to play in a multi-day team competition for the first time. We are going to be playing anywhere from 3 to 5 matches over the course of a weekend. I’m somewhat new to tennis and have actually never done anything like this before. Any advice on what gear I should bring?—Jay C.


Team tournaments are a blast. In a sport that features a lot of individuality, it’s a welcome reprieve to compete as part of a group. Especially when it requires just enough travel that you’re forced to put down roots and make an entire weekend out of it. Racking up some wins along the way makes it all the better.

I’ve played in my share of these events over the years and have picked up a few pointers. Some are obvious, others less so. You certainly don’t need everything on this list—I don’t subscribe to them all—but many of the items have come in handy for me and my teammates.

Extras of the essentials: Racquets, strings, shirts, shorts, socks, hats, sweatbands, overgrips. I tend to be overzealous in this regard. Better to be overstocked than left wanting. I’ve never heard a player regret having an extra set of strings. 

Sun protection: Between playing your matches, watching teammates play their matches, and waiting to play and watch more matches, these types of team events can call for half the day to be spent outdoors. Besides wearing a hat, sunscreen is virtually a must to protect skin and sunglasses—even if you don’t wear them on court—can save your eyes. Grabbing some shade whenever possible wouldn’t hurt, either.

Energy/electrolyte supplements: Lots of tennis takes lots of energy. Nobody wants to bonk with a match on the line and drinking just plain old water isn’t going to cut it. Plus, the scheduling during these types of events isn’t always reliable, and matches can creep close to—and frequently cross—mealtimes. And I wouldn't count on there being enough bagels and bananas to satisfy everyone. So, energy bars, gels and sports drinks can help with fueling and hydration. I personally like gummies with a small amount of caffeine. I’ve also had issues with cramping and like to use Salt Stick during these types of endurance tests. And serious crampers may want to keep aids like CrampsAway and Hotshot handy.

Stretching/massage apparatus: Most players have a warm-up routine they employ before hitting courts. Many of these tournament sites don’t have a gym, workout area or equipment to help loosen up. This becomes particularly problematic if you’ve had a long ride to get to the location, or have had a lengthy break between matches, and your muscles feel especially tight. Foam rollers, massage balls/sticks, resistance/stretch bands, a yoga mat and jump rope are all useful, light, portable tools for pre-match prep.

Water jug/sports drink bottle: I’ve played at venues that had access to water on each court, but most of the time it’s provided at filling stations somewhere on the grounds. Which, depending on the size of the facility, may not be very close to your court. Unless you know for sure from past experience that water and cups will be available on each court, bring an insulated beverage container. Make it a big one so you won’t have to leave your court during the match to get a refill.

First aid supplies: To get through a five match in three days tournament last summer, a teammate joked he swallowed enough Ibuprofen to burn a hole in an elephant’s stomach. Muscle soreness and achy joints are common adversaries in multi-day competition. Topical and oral analgesics can be some of your best friends in getting through it. Ankle braces, elbow sleeves, Kinesio tape and jumper’s knee bands can also come in handy to minimize a joint flare up. Ice is usually at a premium, making instant cold packs—available online, drug stores and big box sporting goods chains—convenient alternatives.

Second pair of shoes: If you’ve got the resources, having an alternate pair of shoes can be a valuable item. For one thing, there’s the (slim) possibility of tearing an upper or blowing through the outsole. Otherwise, if you played a tough match in warm conditions earlier in the day, it can feel nice to have a dry option for the doubleheader. There’s also the possibility of inclement weather pushing matches indoors on a different surface, where another tread would be preferable. At the very least, I’d recommend having some sort of cushioned slide/sandal/post-exercise footwear to allow your feet to relax and breathe between matches.

Towels: If you’ll want to do more than just dab your brow with your wristband, you’ll probably have to bring your own towel. Even places that have towels are loathe to loan them out to avoid the influx of laundry. And if you’re the type who likes to wash-up between or immediately after matches—assuming there are showers—you’ll want a proper-sized towel. I’ve been at facilities that hand out what can best be described as a loin cloth. 

Chair: The first time I was advised to bring a camping/folding chair I scoffed at the idea. Now I won’t show up without one. If the event is being held at a public park, there may not be seating on the court to take a break during changeovers. Even if chairs are on-court, with all the people around, there’s generally not enough seating on the grounds in-between matches for team strategy/bonding sessions. These chairs are lightweight, inexpensive and some even come with a canopy for added shade. And the drink holder will go to good use once it’s Miller time. 

That’s both an exhaustive and somewhat incomplete list. I’m sure readers have some of their favorite tournament gear that I missed. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments below.

In the meantime, good luck, expect a few questionable line calls and make some memories.

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