Friday, September 6, 2013

A Tale of Two Faces

A few days ago, Ana Ivanovic lost her 4th round match at the US Open to Victoria (love to shriek) Azarenka.  On multiple occasions, Azarenka played amazing drop shots, resulting generally in Ivanovic arriving a step late to make a decent shot.  It happened twice in a single game.  Ana's response?  SHE SMILED both times!  Yep.  And Ivanovic lost a close, tight three set match.  But she was IN the match!

About two days later, Andy Murray lost his quarterfinal match to Stanislas Warinka.  On more occasions than I care to recall, Andy completely lost it, having more in common with a petulant 4 year old, than a world class athlete.  It was embarrassing to watch.  Oh yeah, he lost too. But he didn't lose, he sucked.  He had as much chance of winning than I have of convincing Miley Cyrus to keep her clothes on.

In lots of sports, it helps to have a bad memory.  You hit a bad putt, throw an interception, miss a volley, fugetaboutit!  To focus on the bad shot only helps your opponent. But in Murray's case, he took it a step further.  To add insult to insult, Murray would scream at himself even when Warinka would hit an amazing winner.  A classy response would be clapping your own racquet, not a tantrum.

I guess the moral of the story is if you are going to lose, keep it classy.  Ivanovic did and almost won.  Murray didn't and got clobbered.  And here's another thought, let's get a Kickstarter campaign going for Andy Murray so this millionaire can get him some psychological help.  I'm serious.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Playing tennis, outside the box

You hit the best junk, and I mean that as a compliment.  My friend said that to me on the courts the other day.  And he did mean it as a compliment.  And why do I hit "junk"?  Because variety of shots is a weapon.   There is nothing worse than watching two juniors hitting long baseline rallies, no one getting close to the net for fear of getting passed.  When you get off the baseline and take the ball early, amazing opportunities are available. 

I never really watched Martina Hingis in her prime but she was alleged to see the court differently, and hit shots that no one else hit because she actually came in, or sometimes found out that "no man's land" still afforded some opportunities. 

At my age and size, I can occasionally flatten out a ball (or two) and hit some groundies probably over 60mph.  I would guess many of mine are less than 50.  But when you move into the court and take the ball early, that 48mph approach into the corner, or right up the middle or hitting a 35mph slice into a corner for a clean winner actually happens.  That was a common shot until the mid 70's when POWER became king and people forgot about finesse.  Today grunting is common, touch - not so much.

I am THRILLED when I see a junior that can slice a backhand, not in desperation, but to change tactics and variety.  I am also thrilled when I see it because it's so rare but I also know that this junior also knows how to play the power game, but smartly shifting gears and throw in some unorthodox shots to see how the opponent will handle it.

When I was coaching high school boys back in the 2005-2009 years, one of the first years a boy yelled at me and walked off the court because "nobody hits like you, you're not helping us prepare at all".  What sin had I committed?  When he pounded my backhand, I hit slices back to him which he generally hit wide or dumped into the net.  True, most guys his age didn't hit that shot, but the top 100 players in the state absolutely hit that shot, to great effect.

Variety. It's a good thing.  You wouldn't want to eat your favorite meal every day for a month would you?  Spice up your tennis by moving into the court almost whenever possible.  You will see angles you have never seen before and hit approach shots that will suprisingly go for winners because your opponents time will be cut short.  Do it.  Have some fun out there by trying out some new things, new shots, new strategy.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My LOVE of Doubles!

The first step in any good ol' 12 Step Group is to admit you have a problem and need help.  It wasn't exactly like that but close when I spoke the immortal words about 2 weeks ago out on the court, I like doubles MORE than singles!  I like it for several reasons.  One is it's more social.  I like the guys (and sometimes gals) I play with.  I like them a lot.  Second, it's more unpredictable.  In singles, I know that I am going to hit (or try to) every ball that comes over the net.  In doubles, it may be zero balls in a 20 ball rally, or it may be the 2nd, 6th, 8th, 10th.  There is strategy also.  When you are positioned at the net, you can use intuition or flat out guess and try and intercept a diagonal baseline rally.

Don't get me wrong. I still love singles, but the added unpredictability and the additional partners in doubles, (we rotate after each set) really set it apart from the singles game.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Classic Dilemma

Okay, summer is here - I think we established that factoid in the last post.  And yesterday I am playing with my friend who can't seem to put most of his shots in.  Today he's off by a lot,  maybe 6 feet on most of his shots.  We sit and talk.  I look at his strings.  They are all over the place and of course since I strung it myself in April, I can only blame myself.  But he says both his racquets are strung way too loose and he has no control.  He does use an oversized racquet.  I think it's 27.75 inches and 110+ head size so with a 28mm beam, power is no problem.  He wanted it strung at the low end because to string higher he has arm pain.  The classic dilemma.  We talked for a bit and I mentioned that the better strings, the multifilaments, while costing a lot more, have more power AND better control.  They seem to "pocket" the ball.

There is another solution however.  Switch to a more flexible racquet.  His beam of 28+mm tells me that he has stiffness to spare.  And since the racquet is really big too, that may translate into a lighter than good for your arm sub 11 ounces.

This is a site I have referred many people to. . It starts off a bit technical but then explains in fairly basic layman terms why a heavy racquet is good and so is a flexible one compared to stiff.  It's worth a read.  If you have a sore arm problem, it may thank you.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Welcome Back Summer!

It's that time of the year again!  Summer!  And while I get to play more now, I also play in hotter weather and I am snapping strings every two weeks now.  Bummer.  Good thing I string my own.  And as I may have said in posts of long ago, strings act differently at 65 degrees than they do at 85.  Therefore, I adjust my strings to about 2 - 4 pounds tighter to make up for the elasticity that seems to go with the hot weather.

What else do I adjust?  I bring a FULL 2 liters now to drink.  Rarely do I finish it all but have about once a week for the last 3 weeks shared some of my Cytomax brew with partners and opponents who did not plan ahead and run dry.

Finally, in addition to lathering on the sunscreen (30, or 50 SPF is my preferred range), I also do the popular if not nerdy thing and bring LAWN CHAIRS so we don't have to sit in full sun at changeovers and wonder why or why are we playing on such a hot day.  A little breeze while sitting in the shade during a changeover is almost pleasant enough to help you forget that sitter you blew at the net a minute earlier.

Enjoy the summer hitting and let's be prepared out there!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Serving in Doubles

I am not the only one. I serve differently in doubles than I do in singles. And I am not so sure this is a good thing.

I serve harder in singles than I do in doubles and I have noticed the same in others. If I miss the first serve in singles, no big deal. If however, I float a safe second serve, at say 70% in for doubles, my partner at the net might lose his neck- literally!
I am willing to suffer the consequences more in singles for a weak 2nd serve but in doubles, I will pull back to 80-85% power on a first serve - not wanting to fear an aggressive second serve return.

There are others however, that DO serve the same in singles as well as doubles. And these people also generally serve the same first and second serve. This explains why some of my friends in doubles who I partner with will have 6 to 8 double faults, in a set! I am not upset with them but feel bad for them as they probably feel lousy for letting me down.

What's the secret? Not sure, I may have to query the Bryan Bros, tandem team extraordinaire! But for me, for now, I will continue to move my serves around the box, mixing flat and spin and work on beefing up my 2nd serve to a 75-80% power.

So what about you? Do you have a different serve based on playing singles or doubles?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Two Handed Monica!

Remember Monica?
She was a terror on the court, hitting big off both sides, with 2 hands both sides! But actually when I googled photos of Seles, I found a variety of pictures of her actually hitting a number of shots with one hand. Though I think she preferred to hit with power the two-handed forehand and backhand, she would pull her hand off the racquet with some frequency when the shot necessitated it.

I recall watching a match recently that Maria Sharapova played and the only time she didn't try and hit a two handed backhand was when someone hit very short to her, like a half volley or a drop shot to draw her in. With hard balls driven to her backhand side deep, she routinely chose not to be able to reach and make the shot- rather than pull one hand off the racquet and give herself the extra inches to make a play on the ball. There is stubborn, and there is shoot yourself in the foot stubborn.

I noticed Agassi later in his career made it a habit of hitting the wide running forehand "chop shot", a desperation (defensive) forehand hack slice to save time when he couldn't get there and make a proper topspin forehand.

I don't know. To me when you are in a defensive posture on the court, I think it's smart to employ an attitude of whatever-it-takes. When I go back to cover a lob over my head, it's sure more stylish to hit a one handed shot, but I take the granny free-throw dorky approach, and grip my racquet with two hands and hit it straight back over my head. Compared to the one-handed shot, this for me is much more successful, looks be damned.

So Maria, (Venus Williams) and others out there glued to the two handed backhand-- (which I personally hit 70% of the time in singles, and 95% of the time in doubles), free up the racquet and block the ball back with one hand when you can just barely get to it. Sure it won't be an offensive shot, but rather give yourself a chance, rather than lunging at the ball with two hands unsuccessfully, time after time.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Oh Maria...

Apparently Maria Shriek-a-pova isn't a big reader of my blog. If she had looked over this post from February--
-- about double faulting, maybe she wouldn't be back to making wedding plans with her LA Laker Lover instead of playing in the Roland Garros finals.
Of the 10 double faults she had in two sets, 2 were particularly troubling. One was on a break point against her at 4-3 in the second set and the other was on match point. That's right, Maria lost her Roland Garros semi-final match by double faulting on MATCH POINT. Here is what she had to say after the match: “At times, I didn’t serve well, and was rushing more than maybe I had to, and maybe—considering the conditions—maybe I was just trying to go for too big of second serves, especially.” Really Maria, ya think?

Granted, Li Na is an excellent returner, most of the women on the pro tour are. And look at Maria's serving speed average, 158 and 154Km per hr. For those of you who can't do the math in your head-- including me-- that's 2.54 MPH slower on her second serve. What are you thinking Maria? On a windy day when you have already been broken on a double fault, after 9 double faults, you go for too much on your serve on MATCH POINT?

But she's young, only 24. She'll have lots more time for weddings, and shrieks of delight and... frustration in her future.

And to you Li Na, you go girl!
(are people still saying that?=)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Using Our Tennis Brain

I am playing EPIC doubles yesterday with the guys. I double faulted - which is not my usual M.O. but you know, it happens. Then before my next serve I remembered my rule: GET THE NEXT SERVE IN. I did, but I watch lots of other players who after a double fault put a third serve OUT... then it's like a 50-50 with lots of players, half the time it's ANOTHER double fault or they get it in.

What tennis rules do you have for yourself? Don't overswing when trying to pass someone at the net? A well placed lob can be as good as a pass?

Our tennis brain can STORE this information but we need to retrieve it when needed and apply it. Make rules for yourself regarding your warm-up, second serve returns, or whatever has worked for you in the past that you think is important.

God gave us a brain not just so we can enjoy old Everybody Loves Raymond reruns, but also so we can learn from our mistakes and our successes. That's a good blue-print for tennis as well as life.

Monday, May 9, 2011

In Praise of Smallness: The Humble Dampener

OMG! I cannot believe I am writing about this topic. But before I go further, there have been one (or more) of my previous posts about not sweating the racquets so much, and here I am sweating the REALLY small stuff! Having said that, I owe my tennis amigo Ian a thank you for the inspiration for this. He is all about finding the smallest-lightest dampener and for me, it's more about the size or length that matters (uh, we are still talking about DAMPENERS aren't we?!?). I find that if using a poly hybrid (poly in mains, nylon in crosses), I can get by with as little as a rubber band and it feels/sounds fine. With full nylon as most of my racquet set-ups are, I need something the size of a dime to a quarter to do the trick, which impacts maybe two to three main strings and the bottom cross.

And then there's my latest racquet condundrum- a Yonex RDIs 200. I strung it around midpoint in tension and it was hard for me to hit... too tight. Then I went 3 lbs lighter and with warmer weather upon us, I was launching balls from Griffith Park to just shy of my Burbank home! And then I found the right dampener. It had been maybe 5 years since I had used a "worm" style dampener that weaves in and out of the mains strings, contacting generally between 4 and 6 strings. And you know what? It helped control the power considerably and changed the sound from a very annoying metallic ping, back to the dull "thud" that I am use to.

A scientist friend of mine remarked recently at Indian Wells how quiet the balls sounded when coming off the racquets of the players. He then went on to say that sound is energy, implying that there wasn't a lot of wasted energy. If sound is indeed a form of energy or represents energy, then changing the sound (and feel) with a dampener does indeed change the power of a racquet - even though there are posts galore on message boards swearing that the use of a dampener is "all in ones head". And even if that were to be true, the mental edge or added confidence of playing with a dampener is still significant. So racquet techies, while I am not a fan of tricking out a racquet with lead tape to change it's playing characteristics, I am in favor of experimenting and finding the right dampener. While not as significant for ones tennis as losing 5 to 10 pounds or learning better technique, it does have its place in the tennis kingdom - albeit a very small niche.