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Life in the locker room

World No.1 Novak Djokovic at practice
by Stuart Fraser
Thursday 4 July 2013

The locker room is uncharted territory for most of us. We are all well used to seeing the players fierce in battle on the court, but how do they get on with each other behind the scenes?

While we have heard of players spending their downtime challenging each other to a fun clash on the pool table, computer consoles or table football, recent reports would have us think that it is not always a place of fun and happiness.

Some have suggested that the atmosphere is a bit edgier on the women's tour compared to the men’s. 29-year-old Elena Baltacha, who has spent more than 16 years travelling to tournaments, acknowledges that there may be an element of truth in that, although she rightly points out that it is similar to other areas of life.

“If you put tennis to the side, I think women probably find it a bit more difficult anyway,” says Baltacha. “If you look at a business environment, men are more relaxed. I think if there’s something that happens, guys don’t take it as personally, whereas I think sometimes for the women, just because the way we are genetically, it is probably a bit more harder.

“I’m sure in the guys’ [tour] you get some who are not as friendly. You get it anywhere. If you take tennis out of it, it will be exactly same in the workplace. You are bound to get two people who don’t get on in the same office. It’s like that also in tennis because there is a lot at stake, you are all thrown in the same thing and I think that’s what makes tennis difficult.

“You get types of players who like to socialise with other players so you will see them go out for dinner. Then you get others who just stick to their own team and I am a bit more like that. I see everyone every day so I don’t really want to go out for dinner with the girls I am potentially going to be playing against. I like to keep it quite personal and quite private and just keep it within my team.

“You see each other on a week to week basis, you need each other for warm ups, for hits, for practice or playing doubles, but at the same time you could be drawn to play each other. It is a bit of a weird atmosphere.”

While there can be awkward moments in the locker room at times, the intimate working environment also has its good sides. When Ross Hutchins announced he had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the start of this year, he was overwhelmed by the reaction of the tennis family.  

“It has been of huge support,” says 28-year-old Hutchins. “It just proved to me what the tennis community is, getting messages, cards and letters from people I didn’t really spend time with on tour. That showed me how close everyone feels on tour.

“The strange relationships on the court almost were pushed to one side when it comes to this illness and they reached out to me and I really appreciated it. It gave me a lot of strength right at the start to push on. At Queen’s, when I went into the player lounge there was a huge amount of warmth and love around from everyone.”

Having completed chemotherapy, Hutchins will undergo a scan later this month and again in October to discover whether he is in remission or not. The target for him is a return to the Australian Open, where in the past he has shared apartments with Andy Murray and Colin Fleming. During his time away from the game, the opportunity to spend time with his fellow Brits on the tour is something he has desperately missed.

Hutchins says: “When I am sharing rooms or apartments with Andy and Colin, generally you do your tennis, you do your fitness, you do your physio and you look forward to coming back in the evening and spending time with Lynsey [Hutchins' fiance] and Kim Sears [Murray's girlfriend] or Andy and the guys. That’s what you miss.

“In Australia the last few years we have all shared apartments and in the evenings we have watched the night sessions or when I am here I go back to Andy’s place in the evening and watch the tennis. It’s just a special moment to be able to banter and talk about the match, what happened today, what people said, who did what. It’s just exciting and enjoyable to talk a bit of rubbish with each other.”

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