Boy, some nice things have happened since I posted my last Blog. All real positive I may add. Here is a selection:
I started playing tennis when I emigrated to the United States 23 years ago and did what many beginners do: learned from a friend. My neighbor Konrad, a fellow German, took it upon himself to teach me and let me into his group of 5-6 senior men who played twice a week in the small Pennsylvania community of Downingtown, about 15-20 mile northeast of Philadelphia. Konrad was in his mid-fifties and a pure bread amateur. Never took a lesson, never played leagues, never got rated. Now that I'm involved in USTA leagues and ratings I can determine he was about a low 3.0 player with an underspin serve and a lot of slicing and dicing the ball. I call his level "Courtsmart Doubles" - he was able to hold his own with his buddies and went for a few beers with them after the match.
We played at Kerr Park, right in the vicinity of a factory producing corrugated cartons. When the wind changed, the sour smell of that corrugation process swept over the 4 courts and made us gag. But we didn't care and I was really lucky that those seniors didn't mind playing with a bloody beginner. What did I learn from Konrad? The rules of tennis and all his bad habits. Over the next 22 years I perfected those bad habits and added some of my own. Took some lessons and clinics every once in a while, which helped me improve to be able to play leagues at 3.5 and 4.0 levels. Lately I've had some success playing doubles with top-of level 4.0 men and low 4.5 men. Got my butt kicked mercilessly by a 5.0 and a 5.5 woman, though, which was to be expected.
Why do I see an improvement at the 4.0 level in the past few weeks? Because I have a new coach who is working on some things with me and plays with me in mixed doubles matches. As former teaching pro and almost Professional Tour player (Virginia Slims qualifyer) she has the most beautiful strokes you can imagine. Everything looks so smooth! It's disgusting!
The first thing she did was help me undo my (Konrad's) serve. It was so bad that I could not generate any power, double-faulted a lot and did not create a threat for my opponent(s). I love serve and volley, but rushing the net after a weak serve is just not a good idea. Agreed? Well, the 4+1 most important things she made me memorize about my new serve are:
1. Swing the racquet way over your back (like scratching your back) 2. Don't toss the ball too high (winds used to always devestate my serve) 3. Move your body forward (ready to move aggressively towards the net) 4. Rotate shoulder and follow through with the racquet, across your body (creates more power)
(and 5. Picture yourself as having a great serve, memorize what it feels when the ball goes booming into the opposing service box.)
During rallies and match play she gives me more ideas how to improve my game, such as knowing when to swing at a volley and when not to. Or to bend the knees lower. Or to communicate a lot with your partner. Or how to employ drop volleys. Or that the partner who is hanging back has to command the other one when to "switch" sides. Or when to add power and pace to your shots and when to slow it down. Or how proper stretching can save injury. My right knee is very grateful for that advice, haha.
I can tell you one thing, folks: It feels sooo good when you see a real improvement in your game. I can't wait for the next lesson. For the first time in my life I'm anxious to go on a court just to hit and practice serves, instead of playing matches all the time.
Pacific Life Open
What a great tournament this is. As the 5th largest tennis tournament in the world (after the 4 slams), located in the beautiful Indian Wells Tennis Garden, this is truly a Gem on the ATP and WTA Tours. What made it even more interesting for me was the fact that I worked at the Tennis Garden this year. How did this come about? Here it goes...
The USTA's Tri-Level leagues don't have a path (yet) to National Championships. So Tom Fey, Tennis Director at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, has taken it upon himself to organize a 3.5 / 4.0 / 4.5 Tri-Level Tournament for the Sections. After 9 USTA Sections in 2007, this year he had 12 Sections participating. It was a grand event. You may ask now: What made this a Grand Event? Here's what I came up with:
The format: Having 3 different rating levels on one team is interesting and exciting to watch. The teams were all top-of-level, mostly Section Winners. We saw some good tennis!
The camaraderie: Where else have you seen a team of two male 4.5 players ask where their ladies 3.5 play, so they can watch? Think about this and let it sink in, folks.
The venue: Being at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden is excitement enough. In my opinion they have the best courts in all of Southern California. This excitement is being magnified by the Pacific Life Open circus like atmosphere, thousands of spectators, free tickets to see many games in the big stadium, the vendors.
The celebrities: Two 4.0 teams were sent to court 14 to play their Tri-Level match. During warm-up Rafael Nadal and his trainer bumped them because he erroneously thought he had that court booked. They had to play the match on court 13, right next to him and told us all excited about it when they reported the scores. Ah, tennis, it's the little things that make us tennis players happy, isn't it?
For me running around with a grounds pass, free tickets, and access to the Player Lounge and Restaurant was a great perk for 3 days of fun work, yep! I look forward to next year, for sure.
Oh, yes, I almost forgot: Guess who won the Tri-Level Championship for the second year in a row? Yep, you guessed it: Southern California! Way to go, SoCal teams!
Flex Leagues have arrived
An exciting new USTA program is currently being introduced: Flex Leagues. http://ustaflex.com/
The web site says: "USTA Flex Leagues are designed with your busy schedule in mind. You make the schedule. You set the time. You play when it's convenient for you. Flex Leagues provide all the thrills of league tennis, built around your busy lifestyle. With Flex
Leagues, you can control everything-with the possible exception of your opponent's down-the-line forehand."
I think that concept has a future that's bright and exciting. And here in San Diego it's our very own Melissa Magat at Active who's organizing a Leage in the Sorrento Mesa area. I've signed up already. Have you? Maybe we can play...
That's it for today. Don't forget: Every day is a good day to play tennis!