In the morning the breeze was gentle, just enough to blunt the heat of a hot summer day. But three hours later, as the two men entered Court 3 at their local club, the wind had picked up considerably—not quite gale force, but enough for the flag to twist and snap against the pole in various directions.

“Oh no,” said player A, “these are just terrible conditions. We’ll never get a rhythm.” Player B said nothing.

The silent man was me. You see, I love competing in the wind. Why? Because you don’t. Because you hold the belief that you are entitled to rhythm and flow. Because you like to think that the ball should go where you aim it. Because you believe that life is hard enough and your sacred tennis party should not be crashed by this chaotic jester who pokes fun at your desire to get warm, work up a sweat and exit the court feeling good about those many smooth shots you love to hit.

I hold all those beliefs too. Few moments in life are better than a warm day, two crosscourt groundstrokes, an approach shot and a clipped volley winner. Wind blows all that off the table. Points will be earned, but rarely with particularly scintillating placements that close out crisp exchanges.

As a teenager, I competed often in Santa Monica, a Southern California town just off the Pacific Ocean. The wind cropped up frequently. It was easy to disparage the wind, to cite its presence as an excuse for poor play, as much a hindrance as a tweaked calf, stress from schoolwork or vexing family matters. “The wind is an equalizer,” the phrase went. But that didn’t make sense to me. Since the wind was concurrently affecting both players, wouldn’t each theoretically be hindered by the same degree?

That’s when I began to see how competing in the wind was a function of the power of the mind. The wind is not an equalizer. It’s an intruder, a third party raising major questions: Who is willing to acknowledge that tennis in the wind is less a matter of perceived beauty—as if that should matter in any form of non-judged athletic competition—and more about simply being effective? In other words, who is most willing to shed vanity and clearly stare face-to-face with reality?

Often invisible, the most sinister wind makes itself known at Roland Garros, where clay kicks up into a veritable dust bowl.

Often invisible, the most sinister wind makes itself known at Roland Garros, where clay kicks up into a veritable dust bowl.


This is where choice comes in. Vanity is mere illusion, a form of false pride quite prevalent in tennis. There is often some expectation of an aesthetically appealing experience. Then, along comes the wind to turn everything ugly. But consider: do basketball players apologize for the artistic quality of a tip-in? Since when is tennis judged like gymnastics or figure skating?

And so, knowing that my opponents’ discomfort, I opted to embrace the wind. I leaned in (but not over). Along with attitude come practical aspects. Since the ball will take many last-minute twists, it’s wise to put even more emphasis on aggressive footwork, and employ those little adjustment steps prior to contact. It’s also best to think less about angles and clever spins and instead focus on hitting deep and flat, aiming only slightly crosscourt rather than sharply to the corners. In other words, think of the court more like a bowling alley than a big rectangle.

With the wind at your back, a bit more topspin helps control the ball—and you should rarely drop shot from this position. On the other hand, against the wind, a well-struck drop shot can work magic so long as you don’t flirt with the sideline. You can also aim your drives deeper.

Lobs are also valuable on windy days, but of course, it’s critical to gauge the direction of the wind, be it behind you (tricky), against you (delightful), or, more complicated, those uncertain crosswinds.

As for the serve, a bit more deliberation before starting the motion will come in handy—otherwise you might just toss the ball and direct it into oblivion.

Should you charge the net or volley on a windy day? A former Wimbledon champion who’s a great volleyer told me that because playing in the wind makes it extremely difficult to volley with precision—be it short, angled, or soft—a net rusher can become a sitting duck. Then again, a baseliner who also won Grand Slam titles thinks threading the needle with passing shots on a windy day is no picnic. Perhaps it’s best to find your own comfortable mix. Don’t retreat, but maybe it’s best to come in well aware of which way the wind is blowing and seek to aim serves, approach shots and volleys accordingly. The last thing you want to do is be in attacking position and hit the ball wide.

Overheads demand excessive attention—everything from footwork to watching the ball even closer than usual. On the tactical and technical front, think of the wind as similar to driving on a rainy day: attentive and deliberate.

But the bigger challenge is in your mind. As Martina Navratilova has often said, “In tennis there are only two things you can control—your toss and your attitude.”