Monday, July 16, 2012

This Means War

There was a time, not long ago, when in most of my tennis matches I was the big banger. Win or lose, I usually hit faster and heavier balls than my opponent. But with age, that’s changing.
Yesterday I played with a friend whom I’ll call Art. He’s got a big game himself along with something I rarely possess: stamina. He loves nothing better than to run side to side on the baseline, retrieving balls and wearing down his opponent with big topspin.

When I get into a contest with Art on his terms, I usually lose. He makes me hit that extra shot and I too often miss it in an attempt to overcome his “leg” advantage. But when I play thoughtfully, I win.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Playing Small

One interesting and under-appreciated aspect of sports is the degree to which — all things being equal — success flows from the strategic occupancy of space. Think about the over-rotation of a baseball defense to an extreme pull hitter. Think about what goes on in a football game: linemen and linebackers (in addition to all their other tasks) creating or filling passing lanes. Think about a good singles tennis player recovering to the area where his opponent is most likely to hit the next ball.
So why do many otherwise competent club doubles players begin so many points out of position?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pain and Possibility

I had hoped, when I began this blog, among other things to report on my progress through the USTA season. This plan has gone down in a sea of upcoming novel (Primacy) and the weekly column about it for The Nervous Breakdown, among them. But mostly the problem is that my season never got off the ground.

A few faint elbow issues had been haunting me for some time, nothing that a good warm-up couldn’t overcome, I thought. When I changed rackets it got a little worse, but still after fifteen minutes of hitting I'd feel fine. That was then.

My first USTA match was 4.0 First Doubles with John J. back in April. The weather was cold and raw. Though the captain moved our match indoors, my elbow never warmed up. Every shot hurt.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Forced Errors

I’ve been thinking that professional tennis commentators talk all day about unforced errors and winners, but the majority of points are forced errors, especially at the amateur level.

We hackers know. We know how hard it can be to hit the open court, for example, against a jackrabbit opponent who fetches every ball, even when you get him on a string. Maybe you don’t miss your shot because you suck — even though that’s what you probably tell yourself — but because your opponent forced you to attempt a too-difficult (or perfect) shot in overcompensation for his speed.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chunking It

Well, o.k., my commitment to shot commitment hasn’t worked out so well yet.

In the parking lot after another drubbing from George W., he said, not unkindly, “You overanalyze too much.”

At first I presumed the redundancy was unintentional (overanalyze, too much?), but on reflection…

Oh, hell.  The guy is right, but why does it matter?  Why can’t I brood about why I hit that last shot too short while I’m waiting for the next serve?  Or tell myself how badly I suck after missing that easy volley?

Here’s why: chunking.  Or, more to the point: unchunking.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tennis Vows

How is a tennis match like a marriage?

No, this isn’t the entry point to an off-color riddle.  It’s an attempt on my part to understand why, lately, I’ve forgotten how to win.

For the past two months, I’ve been losing a lot of tennis matches.  More than a lot, in fact.  Most.

Partly I can attribute this drought to the fact that I’m hitting against the same three guys, and all of them are tough competition for me.  One (Eric H.) is a solid 4.0 player who could compete at 4.5 and has competed a great deal at 4.0 singles, winning most of his matches last season.  Another (George W.) is a former teaching and hitting pro who in his salad days occasionally hit drills with Ivan Lendl.  The third (Joe D.) is a young teaching pro with a fairly big game.

All of these guys are winners, and I’m the big loser.  I give them a run on any given point and in any given game, but I’m having a great deal of trouble taking sets off of them.  Sometimes I lose very badly, and the occasional set that I do win is almost never lopsided in my favor.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Pickle-Ball Pickle

Paddleball.  Paddle tennis.  Racquetball.  Squash.  Table tennis.  Tennis.  Pickle-ball?

Just when I thought I’d at least tried every sport involving hand-eye coordination, a ball and a plate-like object (i.e. a paddle or a racquet), along comes pickle-ball.  This strange new permutation of tennis resembles paddle tennis but without the platform or the tightly fenced enclosure.  And here’s another distinction: it involves a perforated plastic sphere more like a whiffle ball than a tennis ball.

Maybe I’m late to the pickle party, but I only found out about this game last week via a short video on the front page of my iPad Wall Street Journal subscription.  The title of that piece was “Move Over, Tennis, Pickleball Is Here!”