Monthly Archives: August 2004

pro serve

It’s presumptuous of me to talk about a pro serve, my opponent in league play last week was coming in on my first serve, every time. Anyway, have you seen images of pro players just after they’ve made contact with the ball on their serve? Their racket is pointing to the ground, their elbow is higher than the racket and the face of the racket that made contact with the ball is now facing away from their body. This puzzled me for the longest time.

Look at the QuickTime video of the tennis player serving on this website. Go frame by frame by using the arrow keys on your keyboard instead of pushing the play button. Look at the frames just after he makes contact. What is he doing?

Look at the serves of most league players. They come over the ball, around the ball, under the ball or they try to hit it flat and send it flying out of the court. The only way to hit the ball completely flat and get it into the service box is to be seven feet tall. Professional players come across the ball. Look at the video again. As the player’s racket approaches the ball, the edge of the racket is pointing at the ball. He then snaps the racket out and across the ball and the motion carries his racket over and down and twists it so it ends up pointing down at the court with the elbow higher than the racket.

I finally solved this mystery by going to Tennis One website. They have video clips of all the pro’s strokes. The pro serve is described in the article called The Y2K Serve. You have to subscribe to this website but it’s definitely worth it.

Practice Report: practiced by myself
Solutions Analsysis:
1. The slice backhand requires a trunk twist just like all the other strokes.
2. I have begun tossing the ball further over my head rather than in line with my right shoulder. I get maximum extension of the racket if it is over my head.
3. It really does help if I snap the racket when I make contact with the ball on the serve.

belly to thigh, sports timeline

I went to see the Watts Towers in South Central Los Angeles at 10pm last night with two friends. Arriving in an area where gang shootings are common, at night, in a convertible, what was I thinking? There is a 24-hour guard next to the site so we felt as comfortable as possible under the circumstance. Next to the Towers is a park and inscribed in the cement is a timeline discussing events from the building of the Towers to the present.

It got me thinking about the sports timeline of my life. Personal events I associate with sports and historical events of these times. Here is a start to the timeline:

  • 1961 watch the Green Bay Packers play the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day while eating my dinner on TV trays with the men of the family
  • 1963 try to catch the softball knuckleballs by brother-in-law throws at me and get pancaked by his 200lb body as we lined up against each other in a game of touch football
  • 1965 Sandy Koufax refuses to pitch in the World Series in observance of Yom Kippur
  • 1962-67 sit on the couch with a huge bowl of chocolate ice cream and watch ACC basketball games on Saturday afternoons
  • 1972 play softball with Bread and Roses in Boston. Go to a pitching demonstration by the great Joan Joyce of the Raybestos Brakettes

More later. Post your sport timeline in the comments.

Practice Report: worked out at the gym for 1 1/4 hours
Solutions Analysis: when twisting and lungeing (something I do every time I execute a tennis shot, particularly if I have to reach), it’s important to twist my trunk to avoid putting strain on my knee. When I do the front lunge and reach exercise, I can tell if I’m twisting properly when my belly touches my thigh.

out of my league

You know how sportswriters pour adulation on athletes who never make excuses for themselves? I am not like that. My singles opponent today played level 3 last year. He was demoted a level because he won less than half of his games. I was a level 5 player last year. I have been promoted to level 4 even though I played only 5 matches before my season ended with injury.

So I am sometimes in a situation where it is clear that my opponent is a better tennis player than I am. I had a fleeting fear that I might get shut out completely after losing only the first game and I got a bit discouraged as his kick serve flew over my racket before I recognized that it was a kick serve. But most of the time I was able to concentrate on the mental prepration for each shot: I free my neck, smile at the thought of winning the next point, think about where I want to place my upcoming shot and mentally rehearse the next stroke, usually a serve or return of serve. I lost singles 1-6 but I didn’t have that feeling you get when you know you played badly and should have won. He was the better player.

One very nice thing about team sports is that your teammates stick around to watch you play even when you are losing badly. O.k., my teammate is the league scorer and he has to stay until the end but I still appreciate it.

Practice and Competition: played league tennis today, one set of doubles and one set of singles: 4-6, 1-6
Solutions Analysis: looking for a solution to the problem of rushing my shot when my opponent is at the net.
Success Analysis:
1. I didn’t feel nervous or melt down this week, the nervousness/ignore the score affirmation must be working. Of course, as you can see above, the score was never close in the singles so I was not dealing with second deuce sudden death points either.
2. I was able to consistently serve to my opponents backhand. My serve stance feels very stable and give me consistent results.

“I am a hopeless human being”

Mental chatter fills most people’s heads all day long. On the tennis court I have heard these lovely comments involuntarily rolling around in my head: “I am a hopeless human being, I can’t even hit a forehand over the net”, “this guy will never play with me again I’m so bad”, “why do I make the same f***ing mistake over and over again?”, “I hope he makes a double fault”….

There are many things that drive mental chatter, here are just two of them:

We think we are better players than we are and so we are incensed when the results don’t show it. Playing a sport is quantifiable: if I really am a better player than my opponent, I would have won.

Self image is a fragile thing. It is bolstered by winning and battered by losing.

The truth is that it doesn’t matter what I think. If I’m so bad that my opponent will never play with me again, there’s not a lot I can do about it except play as well as I can. It’s a little late to think that I can morph into even a 47 year old version of Martina Navratilova at this point. It won’t help my game if I think I am better than I am and it will likely hurt it if think I am the worst player on the planet.

The thing that will help me is to concentrate on each point and use the skills I have at the moment. Run the mental program for each point, write down the things I need to improve after the match and then come up with a plan to make those improvements. It’s not as exciting as an alien spirit swooping down and giving me superpowers, but there you have it.

Practice and Competition Report: played T. today, he is so much better than I am that he gives me 3 games each set, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4.
Solutions Analysis:
1. Looking for a solution to the problem of rushing the shot when my opponent is at the net. What can I say, I get rattled.
2. Looking for a solution to returning deep, looping topspin shots. I need to develop a feel for when to come in and take them on the fly, when to short hop them and when to drop back and get under them.
Success Analysis:
1. My serve was consistent. I concentrated on serving deep in the service box and it resulted in some service winners.
2. I figured out how to return those soft second serves by slowing down the 1-2-3 rhythm of the return of serve.
3. I overcame my feeling of insecurity about playing a much better player, stayed with the mental program for each shot and I beat him in the last set.

nervousness/ignore the score affirmation

Since my meltdown on Saturday, I’ve decided that I need to address two issues: nervousness and ignoring the score. It’s obvious that undue nervousness doesn’t help your game and, except to state the score at the beginning of the point, it’s best to concentrate on your stroke and stategy, not worry about the score. So I’ve combined both in a directive affirmation that I will use for the next 21 days in the hope that next time I play, I will not be so nervous or worry about losing. Here it is:

8/29/04 Apart from noting the score, the only thing I think about is execution. As a result, there is no time to get nervous or worry about losing. If I start to worry, I need only to run a mental program for each point, think about where I want the ball to go when I hit it and reinforce each winning point by saying “That’s like me!” Apart from noting the score, the only thing I think about is execution.

I’ll tell you how this one goes also.

Practice Report: went to the gym for an hour and a quarter
Solutions Analysis: when doing lunges, go down, not forward. This puts less pressure on my knees and works the back leg much harder.
Success Analysis: turning my hips is allowing me to twist and lunge without knee tendonitis.
Injury Report: sore left thumbpad from trying to return the serve of an Andy Roddick lookalike. Is there such a thing or do only animals have thumbpads?