What is the role of bananas in the sport of tennis?

Bananas share a long relationship with the game of tennis. From Ken Rosewall in the 60s till Rafael Nadal, bananas have been a key feature of tennis matches. The reason why tennis players prefer bananas over any other fruit is because of their ability to replace the potassium lost in long matches with long rallies in a shorter duration of time. This theory though lacks a very important factor of “time.”

Players usually have a bite or two of the banana midway in the match during an official timeout. This is actually the wrong time to have bananas. The ideal time to consume  a banana according to Go Ask Alice, a service provided by the Columbian University should be taken an hour before the match and an hour after the match.

Eating a banana in the middle of the match will cause the blood flow towards your muscles instead of directing it to your stomach and intestines for its proper digestion. Moreover, the energy that is obtained comes from three natural sweeteners, whose level increase as the fruit ripens. This can cause a “sugar rush” in the body which can get over soon and leave you dehydrated. So not only it can cause indigestion, but can also increase the chance for muscle cramps which you sure don’t need in the middle of a match! In order to replenish all the lost potassium, manganese and carbohydrates, a banana works just right if eaten an hour after the match.

The author of the book Be Your Own Nutritionist, George Cooper, suggests that tennis players should prefer rice balls over bananas.
‘To be honest, I think bananas are a pathetic fruit,’ said Andy Murray in his 2008 autobiography.

Despite all the scientific mechanisms of banana’s absorption in the body, it has had its own timeline in the sport over the years. In 1980s, Boris Becker, John McEnroe were some of the regular consumers of the fruit. Though, it was more popularised by Martina Navratilova. In 1982 when she was struggling against her form, her coach Robert Haas, put her on a low fat, high carb diet which included a lot of bananas. Navratilova went on to win 102 of her next 104 matches.

Bananas have even been an important character in the various dramas that occur on the court. Here are three memorable events involving the bananas:

  • Feliz Mantilla and Thomas Muster played each other in 1998 at the Rome Masters. When the change of ends took place, Muster walked towards Mantila, snatched a banana from his hands and ate it up. An angry Mantila refused to shake hands after the match.
  • After winning the US Open in 2006, Maria Sharapova was agitated at the reporters. During the match, Sharapova’s dad signalled her with a banana during the match. When the reporters piled up questions against her about the same, she said in frustration, ‘My life is not about a banana!!!’
  • Probably the most famous banana incident came in 2006. In the third round during his quest to win yet another French Open title, Rafael Nadal got a piece of banana stuck in his throat. When asked about it, he said,

          “Come on…I got one stuck, but I’m not going to stop eating bananas because of that.”

Despite all the scientific and dramatic history that surrounds it, banana it still a choice of fruit for many tennis champions. A superstitious element might come in play for the players’ reason to stick to bananas, for it has fed a long list of champions over the time. It would be fun to see Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal having a conversation on this topic.

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