What tennis players do on days off, from Gauff's musicals to Kasatkina's vlog

Tennis players regularly face a dilemma that most people who travel with work experience: the question of what to do during down time.

Chill out and recharge? Try and see some of the place you’re visiting? Let your hair down a bit?

The Athletic has spent the first week of Wimbledon asking players what they get up to between matches. None have gone down the Nick Kyrgios route of staying at the nearby Dog and Fox pub until almost midnight the night before playing one of the greatest players of all time. That was Kyrgios’s prep for playing Rafael Nadal five years ago.

Generally, the players this year have indulged in more wholesome pursuits — from escape rooms to West End shows to a Kings of Leon concert — with one former legend of the off-court world admitting that their glory days of excess are over.

Some of the players have enjoyed sampling English pubs. On the eve of the Cinch Championships getting under way at Queen’s Club, America’s world No 14 Ben Shelton wanted to get a taste of this prominent part of British culture.

“I like the football culture here in London,” he says.

“The pub culture is pretty cool. I went to a place called the Pelican in Notting Hill, that was pretty dope. There was football on — the Euros. I’m not even that into football but the energy was cool. It must have been England’s first game (against Serbia).”

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Shelton is focussed on the tennis at Wimbledon, but doesn’t mind a London pub (Ben Stansall / AFP via Getty Images)

Once Wimbledon starts though, it’s been strictly business.

“When I’m here at Wimbledon, I mainly stay in the house. Whenever I go outside, it’s just tennis people and tennis fans you see around. But I’m glad I’m staying in a house in the village as it’s quiet and driving in London is not fun.”

Shelton is joined by Tommy Paul in hating driving in the city. Staying more centrally last year “killed me”, Shelton said.

No 5 seed Jessica Pegula exited the singles in the second round on Thursday, but is still in the doubles, so she’s wanted to keep her mind stimulated. In that pursuit, Pegula and her crew went to one of the many very popular London escape rooms, this one in Kingston, a few miles from Wimbledon. Pegula is a seasoned escape room artist; she’s discussed using them to bond with doubles partner Coco Gauff.

“We were bored so we gave it a go, and we crushed it,” Pegula says proudly.

“It was me and my sister, and another player, Desirae Krawczyk. We got out.

“It was only three of us, so we were a little nervous; we were like, ‘Ooh, three, it’s a little light’. But we actually crushed it.”

Danielle Collins, the world No 11, has gone for a mixture of the relaxing and the rock and roll. Starting with the latter, Collins went to the Kings of Leon concert at Hyde Park last Sunday night on the eve of the tournament. “It was a wonderful concert, I love them,” she says. “Rock and roll, right? And I’m trying to have some rock-and-roll tennis these next two weeks. I love going to the concerts in Hyde Park.”

Collins also loves wandering around Hyde Park and visiting areas like Marylebone. Her boyfriend used to live in London and she’s spent a lot of time here in off-seasons so she knows the city well.



Danielle Collins is on fire. She’s quitting tennis at the end of the year anyway.

“The thing that I enjoy the most I think about London is the florals and all of the gardens. They’re some of the best in the world, I think,” she says.

“And you have seasons, whereas where I’m from in Florida, we have some beautiful plants but it’s different because of the heat and everything. I always said if I wasn’t a tennis player, maybe I’d be like a florist.

“I love going to the gardens here, they’re pretty spectacular … I’m sure (coach) Ryan (Harrison) can attest to how many times I’ve been like, ‘Oh, wait, like we got to take a picture of this plant. I’ve never seen this plant before’.

“And I’m on my app trying to figure out what it’s called and where it came from.”

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Wimbledon is famous for flowers of its own (Bradley Collyer / PA Images via Getty Images)

Various other players like to find their own little corner of London, where they can be away from the Wimbledon throng. “Over the years, I’ve spent more and more time here in London,” says Australia’s world No 9 Alex de Minaur. “I’ve gotten to know it quite well. There are different nooks and places that we (he and his girlfriend, Britain’s Katie Boulter) enjoy. Anything that involves disconnecting from tennis, that’s the main goal.

“So we’re probably going to stay clear from Wimbledon. We don’t really want to be, here even in the village. We love the village, but at this time it’s crazy. Anything that’s on the outskirts that we can forget about tennis and be normal human beings, that’s where we’ll be.”

World No 1 Iga Swiatek, a natural introvert, takes a similar approach when it comes to avoiding the crowds.

“I’ve kind of changed my routine for the past year and a half,” she says.

“I’ve been going out more often, but here it’s not easy because in the village there are probably only tennis fans, everybody will recognize you.

“I’m that kind of person that likes to have my peace when I have time off. So I’m going to parks and hopefully to see some nature.”

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Iga Swiatek likes to take it easy (AELTC / Florian Eisele)

Others opt for more energetic pursuits. Gauff, America’s World No 2, is planning on taking in a West End show: “I saw the Michael Jackson one in New York. It was amazing, so maybe that again. I don’t know if they have The Wiz here, I don’t know. I’ll have to look. Either that or something I’ve never seen before. I think they have Lion King, but I’ve already seen that, like, six times.”

She adds, laughing: “I can make it seven.”

Otherwise, she’s chilling out — watching The Bear, reading Small Worlds, the Caleb Azumah Nelson novel set in Peckham or, if she’s got the energy, continuing with her attempts to learn French.

At a tournament like this, it’s natural for players to discover favourite coffee shops and restaurants. For Frances Tiafoe, that place is Sticks’n’Sushi on Wimbledon Hill Road — though he’s also been ordering in Chipotle, like the night before his second-round match against Borna Coric. He heated up what was left and ate it the following morning prior to the match. It must have done him good: he won.

Ahead of the tournament, Tiafoe was travelling further afield — into central London to eat and do some shopping in the glitzy areas of Mayfair and Soho. Gauff went for some Korean barbecue in the centre of town early in the week too.

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When not relaxing on the grass, Tiafoe is a fan of sushi (Julian Finney / Getty Images)

For the world No 4 Alexander Zverev, the priority has been keeping himself entertained at the house he’s staying in.

“My brother’s family is here, so both of his kids are here,” he says.

“We have a big garden, fortunately. At the moment we arrived at the house, we went straight on Amazon, ordered a mini tennis net. Then I ordered myself a nine-hole golf course which I can put in the garden and play with plastic balls. I do that every day. I compete with my physio, who gets very angry when he loses.”

He adds with a smile: “I love seeing that.”

Norway’s No 15 seed Holger Rune, meanwhile, has been doing some domestic work. “I did some cooking actually — healthy pancakes and some eggs,” he says proudly, with the air of a student taking their first tentative steps in the kitchen. He and his team have also been watching the Euros together, while other players like America’s world No 13 Tommy Paul say they’ve largely been watching Wimbledon when not competing. Ditto Paula Badosa, who calls herself a “freak of tennis”.

Former champion Elena Rybakina, who has struggled with illness this year, has been recharging at home with her family and team. Elina Svitolina stays closer to the city with husband Gael Monfils because “I know so many nice places, parks and areas and, of course, shopping as well. It’s nice to go around. I just really love London.”

World No 12 Daria Kasatkina, whose YouTube series What the Vlog reveals a predilection for properly good coffee (most recently at The Barn, in Berlin) says: “I’m just chilling, even outside of tournaments I’m not someone who will go and explore stuff around me. I like to spend some time outside, maybe go for a walk, cinema, coffee or a nice restaurant.” Wait and see which London cafe gets her seal of approval.

The last word goes to Grigor Dimitrov, who says he has been on a journey when it comes to his downtime. Now 33, he’s barely left Wimbledon this year and says: “I just want to maximise my time off the court in terms of rehab and things that I can do better.



‘One of the worst things’: How Grigor Dimitrov shook off ‘Baby Fed’ label to find himself

“I think before I could keep up with a lot more things outside the court and make sure that I come back the next day and still feel fully ready and with fresh legs, fresh mind.

“But at the same time now, I cannot just walk all around London and come back and expect the next day to be fully at my best.”

So what about that younger version of himself — what would he do? “Oh, don’t open that door,” Dimitrov says, laughing. “Yeah, next question, please.”

(Top photo: Daria Kasatkina and Natasha Zabaiiko / YouTube)

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