Monthly Archives: September 2004

heard on sports radio today

A few weeks after Texas Ranger baseball player Frank Francisco threw a chair into a heckling crowd and a few days after Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley retaliated when a fan threw a bottle near him on the field, a local radio station invited listeners to call in and tell them what they would say to heckle Barry Bonds during this weekend’s Dodgers-Giants series. By the time I turned to the Presidential candidates debate, there were three references to Bonds being gay, two references to his genitalia and one caller who said he would yell, “Hey Barry, can I have your autograph? You’re the best baseball player who ever lived.”

Thank heavens, a sign of intelligence in the universe.

competitive schlumps, winning takes care of itself

I have been concentrating on identifying and attacking my opponents weaknesses, thank you Brad Gilbert. Today I repeatedly hit short to T.’s backhand to draw him to the net then I lobbed him and won the first set. After that, apparently, I was satisfied; I played ok the rest of the way but the fire was gone.

Michael Jordan grabbed onto the tiniest slight to get himself motivated for one of his games in the endless season that is the NBA. Make the slightest disparaging remark about one of Jordan’s teammates or, God forbid, Jordan himself, and you were likely to get your head handed to you the next time you played the Bulls and be subject to 48 minutes of non-stop trash talk on top of that.

Jordan is clearly one of the most competitive individuals walking the earth. But what about us workaday tennis schlumps? How are we supposed to maintain our competitive fire from match to match let alone point to point? Clearly I’m not an expert at this, check the scores below, but, as usual, I have a theory.

I read it all the time, “Take care of the details and winning will take care of itself,” or, “If we execute the game plan, winning will take care of itself.” After I won the first set I was so happy that I lost track of my plan to attack my opponent’s weaknesses. I had traveled off to a happy island in a parallel universe instead of paying attention to the next point. I hadn’t traveled all that far, I still hit my shots and played pretty well but it was far enough to lose my competitive edge and the next two sets. I remember Peyton Manning, my favorite football player in the world by the way, once complaining that with the fans and media it’s always, “What have you done for me lately?” But you know, that is how it is. Moment to moment there is always the next point to take care of, where am I going to hit it, what should I attack, am I hitting the ball deep enough, and so on. The victory 5 minutes ago doesn’t mean anything.

So my theory is that it might not be necessary to scour the world for the slightest hint of attack to your person, it might be enough to pay attention to each point with as much attention as is humanly possible.

Performance Analysis: practiced for an hour and a half, played 3 sets and two rally games with T.: 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 7-15, 10-15
Solutions Analysis: since T. comes in very close to the net when he approaches, I can win points by lobbing him.
Success Analysis: I finally took a set from T.! I attacked his backhand approach and hit a lot of high looping junk to his backhand. He started to run around his backhand which opened up down the line.
Injury Report: the sprained ligament in my thumb is killing me, I have to tape it up each day to hold things at bay.

sports timeline

Here are some sports events I attended that have great meaning to me. Feel free to add your own events.

  • June, 1974: at the old Boston Garden, sixth game NBA finals, nosebleed seats, Kareem Abdul Jabbar hits a sky hook in the second overtime against the Celtics to send the series back to Milwaukee.
  • June 14, 1976: at the old Boston Garden, fifth game NBA finals, nosebleed seats, after the crowd had poured onto the court thinking the game over and Paul Westphal called a timeout he knew his team didn’t have resulting in a technical foul but insuring that the ball would be inbound at midcourt, Garfield Heard hits a 22 foot turnaround jumper with one second on the clock to send the game into triple overtime before Boston finally wins it 128-126.
  • September 12, 1979: at Fenway Park, seats along the first-base line, Carl Yastrzemski get his 3000th hit. I still have the ticket.
  • 1975 World Series: front row seats along the third-base line, every game except the memorable sixth game – I had a meeting that night!

Winning Ugly

O.k., I didn’t win, but I did learn something very valuable. I have been reading Winning Ugly by Brad Gilbert. He suggests scouting your opponent, evaluating their weak points and exploiting them to win the match. Brad Gilbert is the guy, after all, who precipitated John McEnroe’s first retirement at age 27 by beating him 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 leading McEnroe to say, “When I start losing to players like him I’ve got to reconsider what I’m doing even playing this game.”

I have played against T. countless times, usually losing. I know he has a killer topspin forehand, it bounds irretrievably over my head and into the fence at least a few times each match, and I’ve adjusted by taking the ball in the air when possible but I’ve never made up a list of his weaknesses and thought about ways to take advantage of them.

During warmup I noted that his backhand is a slice backhand that stays down and is a bit erratic so I decided to hit to his backhand as much as possible throwing in some junk – high looping shots. I already knew that he has a patsy second serve but during the match I realized that I should approach off his second serve by hitting the ball hard and flat, if I looped the approach shot it sat up and made it easier for him to pass me. Also during the match, I realized that if I hit a short shot to his backhand, he had to lift the ball up on his approach shot and that made it easier to pass him or hit an overhead.

During league play I know the schedule for the season so that will allow me to scout my next opponent during league play this week.

Practice and Competition Report: practiced for an hour, played two sets and two rally games with T: 3-6, 5-7, 5-15, 18-20
Solutions Analysis:
1. Looking for a solution to the problem of hitting overheads into the net. Possible solution: think about where I want to ball to land – my opponent’s baseline – as I hit the ball.
2. Keep my legs straight while doing forward bends during yoga practice.
Success Analysis:
1. I was able to place my serve well.
2. I hit some winning passing shots.

word vs. the image the sequel

Roger Federer made the understatement of the year in this week’s Sports Illustrated: “people underestimate the role of confidence and self-belief in tennis,…When you feel you can trust your game, it makes all the difference in the world.” This is a man who has won three of the last four grand slams without a coach.

What does it mean to trust your game? I was practicing my serve before my match today and I was hitting the ball into the net, straight up into the air, everywhere but into the service box. I didn’t get rattled, I just kept going through my mental program and eventually I was hitting a solid serve. This is one small example of trusting your game.

Another example, one I can’t say I’m all that familiar with mind you, would be to serve hard and go for all your shots regardless of the game situation. I tend to tighten up after a few bad serves or during second deuce sudden death points. What happens to interfere? I start to hear voices: “It’s a sudden death point, if I make a mistake now I’ll lose the game and I’ll be down 2-5 and then I can’t make a mistake else I’ll lose that game and lose the set and then my winning record will be below 50% and I’ll be demoted to level 5 and then…” You get the idea.

Oy those words! Better to conjure up images. In Zen Golf, Robert Parent suggests you tune into your senses: look around you and see what’s in your visual field, listen to the sounds around you – what do you hear?, sense your body – what do you feel? If you are doing this, you are probably not thinking. If you can use your senses to create a vivid image of the next shot you want to execute, your serve or return of serve for example, you are more likely to freely execute the shot instead of think about everything that could possibly go wrong.

Practice and Competition Report: played league tennis today, one set of doubles and one set of singles: 6-2, 6-2
Solutions Analysis: looking for a solution to the problem of judging my oppononent, “I should be able to beat this guy,” or “I don’t think I can beat this guy,” instead of thinking about making shots and devising strategies to make sure I beat them.
Success Analysis: I won the match didn’t I?