Monthly Archives: August 2004

faith versus stubborness

I lost all three sets but I didn’t play badly. My attitude at this point is to have faith that if I continue my current practice and competition regime, I will improve and win more often. But what is the difference between faith and stubborness? Tiger Woods is stubborn. Since he broke with Butch Harmon, his swing has been inconsistent and he has a ten game losing streak in PGA major championships. At my level of play, level E after all, I can expect that it will take time to develop consistent strokes and strong mental skills. It’s possible that I should run off and find a coach but I am holding firm for the moment. Besides, I doubt that Brad Gilbert is available.

Practice and Competition Report: played three sets with M.: 3-6, 3-6, 3-6, practiced my serve for two bags of practice balls
Solutions Analysis:
1. Looking for a solution to the problem of getting passed and lobbed at the net. Possible solution: hit approach shot deeper and to the corners (or grow five inches).
2. I have lost a bit of my trunk twist, which might explain my sore elbow.
3. I moved farther back on the baseline so that I had space to step into my shots.
Success Analysis: I practiced my serve after the match and because I was serving well, I kept on practicing it for a long time.
Injury report: my thumb still hurts, I am feeling pain in my elbow.

can’t hit the side of a barn so stop

I managed to win my singles match but it was a battle of double faults. The last person to double fault lost.

After the match I ran sprints and then I practiced my serve to see if I could regain form. I completely lost the loop in my backswing and the more I tried, the worse it got. I had a friend who was a very competitive darts player. At a certain point he lost his confidence. His hand would hesitate and shake instead of smoothly release the dart and he could barely hit the board. That’s how I began to feel. Here is the time when Lanny Bassham would tell me to stop, otherwise I would be practicing losing. Conversely, if I had been practicing and hitting good serve after good serve, he would tell me to keep practicing the serve even it that is not what I planned to do that day. If things are not going well, stop and come back another day.

Practice and Competition Report: played league tennis, one set of doubles and one set of singles, 6-4,6-4
Solutions Analysis:
1. Looking for a solution to the problem of losing my service stroke during a match (sound familiar?).
2. Looking for a solution to the problem of cursing after making a mistake. What is up with that?
Success Analysis:
1. I won both sets, that should count for something.
2. I served an ace and some service winners.
3. After 4 weeks of bloodshot eyes from serving while looking into the sun, I figured out that it might help to wear sunglasses.

work harder, feel like a winner?

In league play I play two sets, one set of singles and one set of doubles. Since it’s important to work harder in practice than in a match, I played four sets today and did sprints afterward. Derek Jeter takes batting practice 5 times a day. Jerry Rice does a 5 mile uphill run ending with 40 meter uphill sprints at the top and does a weight workout totaling 610 reps. On the same day. I’m not suggesting I could even survive a 5 mile vertical run and it probably takes me two months to do 610 reps of anything, but my game won’t improve if my conditioning doesn’t.

I do a lot of mental rehearsal of my tennis strokes. Today I realized that I had never rehearsed, or you could say visualized, winning a match. What would I do to celebrate? What would it feel like? Strangely enough, I had great difficulty with this exercise. I just kind of walked off the court. No wave to my adoring crowd or throwing my shirt into the stands (thankfully). This tells me that I don’t feel like a winner, that I don’t act like a winner during a match and therefore I am not likely to win a lot. I would say that it’s an important first step. I’ll work on it.

Practice and Competition Report: played four sets with T, he gives me 3 games a set because he’s that much better than I am: 3-6, 4-6, 4-6, 5-7
Solutions Analysis:
1. Looking for a solution to my backhand popping up in the air. I am probably breaking my wrist when I hit it.
2. Looking for a solution to hitting my cross court winner consistently wide.
Success Analysis: T hits a lot of high topspin shots. Sometimes they land near the baseline then go over my head into the fence at which point it’s a bit late to hit the ball. I did a better job figuring out when to back off and hit a high bouncing shot or when to come in and take these shots on the fly.

softer, mental conditioning

I remember reading about the first Fischer-Spassky chess match and scoffing at the idea that you had to be a well-conditioned athlete to play a chess tournament. Then I played in a chess tournament. I have never been so exhausted in my life as I was after playing five matches in two days. Mental exhaustion far outweighs any physical exhaustion I’ve ever experienced.

I say this because I think a large part of tennis is mental. It could be the match I played on Saturday, the birthday party after the match, the street fair after the party, then rolling around on the floor till all hours of the night with my girlfriend, but I’m tired. I think I’m losing my stroke in the middle of the match because I’m not in good enough condition to keep mentally sharp throughout a match so I reinstituted sprints after practice and matches.

Consider Matt Emmons in the rifle competition at the Olympics yesterday. He only had to shoot an 8 out of a possible 10 on the last target. He shot an 8.1 but he made a huge mental mistake and shot at the wrong target. No medal.

Practice and Competition Report: practiced and played just over two sets: 6-3, 2-6, 2-3
Solutions Analysis:
1. Looking for solution to losing my serve in the middle of a match. I have to return to paying attention technique when I serve instead of thinking about where I want the ball to go. The stroke is not automatic yet.
2. There is always a temptation to try and rocket those passing shots past your opponent. A softer well placed shot is likely much more successful more of the time.
3. Here we go again, an approach shot is a stationary shot. The idea is to come to a stop somewhere near the ball, hit the shot and only then run into the net.
4. On a high bouncing shot, it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the ball as if it was an overhead.


When does an athlete bring everything together and start performing as well as they can? There is a long list of promising athletes who never fulfill their promise and drop out of sight. Others may take a while to get there. Roger Federer had trouble winning his first grand slam because of the pressures of expectation. Andre Agassi had early success but experienced personal turmoil before becoming the only active player to win a grand slam on all surfaces and winning five slams after his 29th birthday. I remember a Sports Illustrated article after Agassi had won a few slams. His father walked by the interviewer and expressed his opinion about his son’s exploits up to that point, “He could have been president by now.” Whoa, how’d you’d like to have him for a father?

The process of developing stong mental skills and automatic shots can be lengthy. Watch any league game, how many points are won due to errors versus winners? This is all by way of constructing my excuse of the week by reminding myself that this is the first full season of league play for me. I was ahead in singles 4-1 and lost 5-7, just like last week. The 4-1 score was a bit misleading, my opponent had 5 margaritas and stayed up til 3am partying last night so he was spraying the ball everywhere but on the court. He finally started to find the court and I lost my service stroke, thus the final score.

I feel bad for my doubles partner, who is the top C level player, he has to suffer through me gaining this valuable experience. Poor guy.

Practice and Competition Report: played in the league today, one set of doubles and one set of singles: 1-6, 5-7
Solutions Analysis: looking for a solution to the problem of losing my service stroke during a match. Possible solution: stay on the court during the next rest period and practice my serve motion without the ball.
Success Analysis:
1. I made some good returns of very strong serves.
2. I played the second deuce sudden death points well.
3. I came to the net on second serves and scored points.