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From the "Life of a Scrappy Player" Series



So, you're stuck with your game and can't seem to win against players you think you should be able to beat? I'm not talking about players who are clearly better than you, like one or two whole ratings levels. I mean, come on, when you're a 3.5 and your opponent is a 4.0 it takes an act of God to make you win that match. Does it not? Let's forget the situation where you, the accomplished doubles player who never plays singles, are forced to play an accomplished singles player who is rated higher than you. Out of luck, my friend. You can only pray that guy has a REAL bad day after a long night of partying with very little sleep. It's not going to happen, ok?


Now, you're on the court with that opponent who you always wanted to beat but never could. You're warming up and look for weaknesses. Can't find any? Forehand and backhand look equally strong? Come on, you are not facing a tour player here. In my opinion that NEVER happens. OK, then look at his strengths. Where is the killer shot coming from. Ah, it's coming from his forehand? Here you go, my friend. THAT'S where he's going to really hurt you in the match. The back hand may look good and all, but it's not a killer shot and he's not likely to hurt you with it. Got that? Just the thought of taking an entire killer shot opportunity away from my opponent makes me shiver with anticipation (Oh, hold, that was Tim Curry in the "Rocky Horror Picture Show, haha)...


Now here is something you can practice, btw. How to concentrate on hitting just to one side for an entire set. Once you know how to do this, you'll get a lot of confidence in your shot making and that could make a BIG difference in your game.


Here's me now, playing this guy who I always lost to. Strong serve and killer forehand. During warm-up I didn't see it, and the first game he took to love because I was just happy to return his booming serves and everything landed just the way he wanted it - on his foreand. I had no chance getting any of his powerful cross court shots.


From now on almost all of my serves, returns, and volleys went to his backhand. He couldn't hurt me from there at all. Then he became a little frustrated and began to make mistakes. On the rare occasion of me hitting to his forehand he hit one long, and then one into the net. After I broke him in his next service game I began to systematically dismantle his game and that was the end of it.


What am I trying to say here? When your opponent doesn't show you a shotmaking weakness look for his strong side and then choose the other side. Be ruthless! Hit to this other side relentlessly. Come in after a good approach shot or after a short return and put those volleys away. Then hit to "the other" side again.


It worked for me many times before. I am not known to be a ruthless guy, but when I see a weakness in my opponent's game, I exploit it! But - still be nice to your opponent. He may do the same to you next time. No?



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My new "Life of a Scrappy Player" Series



15 years ago I was a miserable son of a b.... I joined the Bobby Riggs Tennis Club in San Diego North County and didn't want to invest in tennis lessons. My game was just awful, crushing my (German Virgo) ego and making my performance go into a spiral downslide. As a 2.5/3.0 player who played on a 3.5 league team and thought he was a 4.0, I was watching all those great players on TV and wanted to be like them soooo badly. I refused advice from friends who offered to go out on the court to hit with me for an hour. I didn't need to hit, I needed to play, was my line of thinking. And every lost match made me more miserable. I was thinking "WHERE ON EARTH IS THE FUN IN THIS GAME? I AM PAYING GOOD MONEY FOR THIS?"


One day I was playing a USTA mixed doubles League match with my girlfriend. The name doesn't matter, although all of my San Diego friend know who I'm talking about. Right? Well, we lost the first set because of me and halfway through the second set I lost it. I got burned by the opposing net player and started blaming my partner. Oh, boy, I should have known better. She looked at me with disgust and then she walked out. Left me standing there and went home. We defaulted the match, of course, and never again played league tennis together.


The next day my buddy Dave called me and said he wanted to buy me a drink at our local watering hole and talk with me. We went and he explained a few things. He said "Rich, I am very sad to give you some bad news first. NO ONE in the club wants to play with you anymore. The good news is, I can tell you how to change that if you want me to." We got very drunk that night and I promised to listen to his advice. Dave put me on a 3-step plan which I didn't embrace at first, but became enthusiastic about very soon. Here is Dave's 3-Step Plan for turning my tennis life around:


1. Practice hitting ground strokes with my buddy twice a week


From the next day on we were hitting ground strokes on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings. No games, no points to win or lose. Just hitting. Dave was no high class player, but he had played for 30 years and knew what those ground strokes should look like. It helped me concentrate on the basics without the pressure of wanting to win. I focused on stroke development, footwork, posture, grip, all that good stuff. In addition, I took a private lesson once a month or so, to have a Pro check how I was doing and make sure my strokes were developing the right way.


2. Work on my attitude on the court


Under Dave's regiment I learned how to ... not let me beat up on myself after a bad shot, ... looked for things to improve when I was in a rut, ... clear my mind and focus on my game, ... compliment my partner and create an atmosphere of respect and trust bewteen us, ... have FUN playing tennis.


3. Work on my atitude off the court


Big learning curve for me. I had to start being nice to EVERYONE. Not

just my buddies. That was hard, with my German Virgo background. But,

in the end I mastered that, too. And all of a sudden the sport of

tennis and the interactions with my fellow tennis players started to

look like fun again for me.


You may ask me now how does any of that relate to the headline of this

Blog post? That headline says "How to improve your tennis game 1 whole

level". Well, I went from a 3.0 to a 4.0 player, which is actually a

jump of two levels. And here are my 3 suggestions for you to accomplish

the same:




1. Practicing your strokes regularly improves your tennis game

2. If your tennis game gets better, you'll have more fun

3. If you have more fun, your tennis game gets even better


Can it really be that simple? Yes! Try it yourself, it works... And I can assure you of one thing: EVERYBODY wants to play with me today



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