How long does it take to get good at something? That's a question that fits into the "How long is a piece of string?" category, but there has been some research that suggests that it is possible to quantify the amount of time needed to develop a skill. Of course we shouldn't confuse developing a skill with achieving excellence. That is something on a different level.
In sport there is always a debate about the relationship between natural talent and hard work. Some have argued that talent is more a myth than a reality and that hard work and hours of practice is the true measure of what makes an elite athlete. Personally I think there's a middle ground somewhere that recognises talent but also understands than without hard work, commitment and long hours of purposeful practice, it will go to waste.
The bottom line is that you can't improve unless you practice, the only question that remains is how much are you willing to do, or able to do, to make practice a priority. Actually there is another question you need to answer: Do you love to practice?
Over the last 6 or 7 years of playing tennis I have grown to love practice. I miss when I can't do it. I don't miss playing anywhere near as much as I miss practising! Sounds odd, but the pleasure I get from working on shots, technique and strategy in a practice session makes all the sweat and effort worthwhile. Playing is a whole other dimension with different pressures. I still enjoy it, but it's definitely different.
This has become even more clear to me recently. I've suffered a knee injury that has made playing difficult. As I work on rehab I've started to practice again and I realised the other day that if I couldn't play another tournament because of the knee, I'd still turn up and practice. Weird or what! This last week I've managed about 6 hours of practice. The knee aches a little and yet I feel great.
Maybe it's the purposefulness of the practice that makes it so much fun. Maybe it's the folk with whom I get to practice. I suspect it's a bit of both plus the coaching.
If, as some have suggested, it take an average of 10,000 hours of purposeful practice to achieve excellence, then I'm fast running out of time! On other the hand, no practice equals no improvement. So I'll keep putting in maximum effort while I can.
Yes, I'll admit it. I love practice!