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Jarkko Nieminen: Advantage Left-Hander

Nieminen© AFP/Getty ImagesJarkko Nieminen believes left-handers should practise together as much as possible.

Since turning pro in 2000, Jarkko Nieminen has established himself as one of the most consistent players on the ATP World Tour. The Finn will finish the 2012 season ranked inside the Top 100 of the South African Airways ATP Rankings for the 12th consecutive year.

Though he’s 31, Nieminen has showed no signs of slowing down. As a qualifier at the Apia International Sydney, he captured his second trophy, ending a six-year title drought. He has won 26 tour-level matches this season.

As part of Compeed’s Form & Fitness series, Nieminen discusses being one of the premier left-handers in the sport, overcoming a wrist injury and more…


As one of 11 left-handers currently in the Top 100, what shots in your game do you work on to give yourself a competitive advantage?
There are not too many left-handers in the Top 100. I think that is my biggest advantage. If players aren’t used to playing left-handers, the spins might feel strange at the beginning of the match. So when I’m at home and on the tour, I try to practise with the left-handers. I practise a lot on the wide serve to the advantage side. Otherwise, I practise similarly to the right-handers. 

Most of your opponents are right-handed and thus, are more likely to hit their forehand cross-court to your backhand. How much emphasis do you put in working on lateral movement and do you train running around to the forehand to mix up your shot-making?
I always practise footwork and movement on the court. The backhand has been the most natural shot for me since I was a kid, so it’s not a problem when a right-handed player hits a heavy forehand to my backhand. I think during these years, I have worked on running around to the forehand, because it’s so convenient for me to hit the backhand. This gives me more variation with my game, especially on the slower surfaces, when I have more time. This is one of the shots of mine that has improved a lot throughout my career.
In 2009, you overcame a right wrist injury. What exercises do you use to isolate your right wrist to build and maintain its power?
This was only my second serious injury. The first was in 2004 and that was also my right wrist. This is the wrist that helps with my two-handed backhand. I did a lot of rehab, trying to make it stronger. I think it’s pretty close to where it was before the injury. Maybe I’m lacking some of the final percentage there. That’s why I tape my wrist every time before I play a match. But I have no pain, I can hit normal backhands and I’ve worked to strengthen the right arm.
At the end of the year, you will finish inside the Top 100 for the 12th straight season. What do you attribute to your ability to stay competitive for so long?
This feels very good. I’ve put a lot of effort to do my routines and fitness on and off the court every day. You also need some luck to have this kind of statistic. I don’t think many players have finished inside the Top 100 for this many years in a row. I think the older I have got, the more time I have put towards the fitness side. I’ve tried to practise the same amount and get enough treatment.
You have worked with your fitness coach, Jarmo Ahonen, for a while. What are some important lessons you’ve taken away from your time with him?
He has helped me a lot since 2004. My fitness has always been pretty good but he has helped by showing me new exercises. My stomach and back were not in the right balance when I started with him. That area is really important to a tennis player. We paid a lot of attention to get the mid-body strength better. I felt a difference when I started doing those exercises. It’s helped me with moving to the corners and recovering quickly. I have better balance and endurance, so I can hit more relaxed strokes. Since I was lacking some strength in the stomach and back, I do many routines on a daily basis to keep that area strong.
Your wife was also a professional athlete. Did you ever workout or train together when you were in the same location?
She had a very long, successful badminton career. She stopped playing after the London 2012 Olympics. We worked out together when we were in the same place. Mostly, we were in the gym at the same time. Sometimes, we did the same exercises, and other times, different ones. It was nice to spend time together with both of us travelling a lot and not seeing each other every day.
What is an exercise, stretch or drill you’d recommend a left-handed recreational player add into their training program?
I don’t think there’s a special exercise for a left-handed player. I think they have to keep up in practising the same things as the right-handed players, but should remember to hit with other left-handers. It makes it fun, gives more variation and helps them learn to play against different spins.
Which player on tour do you think…
Has the best footwork?
Novak Djokovic
Has the greatest muscular endurance? Rafael Nadal
Is the quickest? Bjorn Phau
Is the most flexible? Novak Djokovic
Has the best balance? Roger Federer
With assistance from Martin Dagahs.

- COMPEED is an official supplier of the ATP.

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