By Nicole Russin
As of last week, Michael Russell was ranked No. 8 among American men and No. 111 in the world. The difference between him and the others? He just turned 34 on May 1.
To put this in perspective for new tennis fans, many tennis players are retired by this point. Returning for a comeback from his career high of No. 60 back in 2007, he e-mailed about how tennis is different with more wisdom and the latest book he is tackling.
Q: Where are you today and what are you doing?
Currently, I am in Bordeaux, France playing a warm-up tournament for the French Open.
Q: You had a recent success against Mardy Fish in Houston. How does that make you feel?
It feels great to beat a Top 10 player for the first time in my career. To be able to play so well in Houston, my hometown, made the accomplishment even better.
Q: Guys younger than you are struggling to remain afloat and you’re still just under the Top 100 at age 34. What do you think it means for the old generation of people who think a tennis player’s career is over after age 25? How do you keep it going?
I think as long as you are healthy, have the motivation, and the talent, there is no reason why you can’t be successful no matter what age you are. I have the same work ethic now that I had when I was 18. I am just smarter and more experienced with my nutrition, recovery, and training methods.
Q: Are you also going to surprise us by doing a Top 50 jump? Where do you plan to go from here?
My ultimate goal is to break into the Top 50. For now, I would like to get inside the Top 100 so I can be main draw in the U.S. summer hardcourt tournaments.
Q: How are you going to amp-up your court presence now that everyone knows you can bring it and win? Five-foot-eight isn’t short in real life but is for pro tennis. However, while the tall players do get their good press, what are the many advantages of shorter height on the court that people may not know about?
Speed is definitely an advantage, so I have to use my speed on defense, but more importantly on offense by taking time away from my opponent. You can do this by taking the ball earlier in the rallies, the way Andre Agassi did.
Q: You have amazing muscle tone and your wife worked a lot in the fitness industry. What secrets do you have to people who want to get a more developed look, whether for sports or aesthetic reasons? Does your wife ever help you with your workouts?
I think it is important to cross train and also do interval training. This increases your heart rate the quickest and most important speeds up your metabolism for the rest of the day. For getting a toned physique, the best way is to eat four or five small meals a day. This keeps your metabolic rate high, constantly burning fat and fueling your body.
Q: What is your average off-day workout routine like? What do you try to focus on most?
I really enjoy working out, including running, lifting weights, sprints, etc. When I take days off from the tennis courts I still go to the gym. I like the “workout high” feeling after an intense gym session. Any exercise that gets my heart rate up and my lungs breathing heavily I like.
Q: What is it like training in Houston as opposed to the Florida area like everyone else? And what is it about Texas in general lately?
Houston has great training facilities. I train at both GTAC and the Houston Racquet Club. My coaches, Niclas Kroon and Peter Lundgren, are at GTAC. I am able to play on all surfaces in Houston which is a definite advantage to Florida where there is limited access to indoor courts. Also, in the summer it is extremely hot which enables me to get in stellar playing shape.
Q: Do you have any advice for kids who want to be pro tennis players later in life? Especially about keeping it up — how do you feel confident in yourself time after time when it can be so hard to beat yourself up over any failures?
Being a pro tennis player is an extremely difficult lifestyle. Only the Top 100 players play in the ATP events and Grand Slam tournaments. It can be very lonely if you travel by yourself, expensive if you travel with a coach or companion, and you have to be very strong mentally as there is only one winner each week. Therefore, you are losing a lot. However, there are many great things. It takes hard work, perseverance, a good attitude and love for the game to be able to be successful. The ability to travel around the world and play a sport that I love and get paid for is phenomenal!
Q: What do you do for fun when you aren’t playing tennis?
I am always playing tennis…just kidding. I enjoy going to the movies, or watching movies at home. I like nature a lot, so going to parks or to the beach to watch the ocean are activities I enjoy. On long flights and down time in the room when I have it I like to read. I just started The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Q: Do you have any movie, music or entertainment recommendations for tennis fans?
I am a big fan of U2. I saw them in concert and it was amazing. I enjoy all of the classic warrior movies such as Braveheart, The Last Samurai, Gladiator, 300, Rocky, etc.
Q: If people can think of one inspirational thing to take away from e-mail chatting with you now, what can you tell them about life and tennis?
Tennis, just like in life, a person has a lot of adversity to deal with. Things don’t always go your way or you can’t control a lot of things. It is how we deal with this adversity that ultimately decides our future based on our actions and emotions. The most successful people are those individuals who can adapt and deal with adversity the best.
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