From the "Life of a Scrappy Player" Series
I have written about this before, remember? You are playing against a player who holds all the advantages and should be able to beat you comfortably. Finding ways to level the playing field and beat that player is a very interesting undertaking for me. As I play tennis over the years and every once in a while play such a person, it always amazes me how those theories of mine hold up and prove to be right. And I'm continuing to set my sights higher and higher. Very soon I'm going after some players I lost to badly last year.... you know who you are, haha, watch out!
But back to the subject of this Blog post. Jack is about my age, a player who plays 5-7 times a week, and who beat me soundly in two sets last time we played. We met this week and played only one set. It's a long story, but I think Jack acted like a sore loser who gave up claiming the courts were so dirty he couldn't see the ball anymore. I admit the public park court we played on looked like it hadn't been washed in 6 months, and the balls turned a reddish brownish dirt color within 15 minutes. However, I had fewer problems seeing the ball and maybe my new Maxx Cinco HD Sports Sunglasses gave me the edge here, who knows... (I hope the manufacturer sees this Blog post and my plug of their product: http://www.doittennis.com/apparel/sunglasses-maxx-cinco-hdsportsunglasses.php)
Jack started out strong during warm-up. I served the first game and Jack broke me right away because of my tentative beginning and a service double-fault. He showed me his mastery with one stroke I always have problems to read: ripping a backhand down the line. While I am waiting for a cross court return, the ball goes deep down the line to my right and is unreachable for me, while he moves in behind it, ready to deal with my return.
Then he held serve and I was down 0-2. At that time I was FINALLY remembering some of my writings and Blog posts and thought about how I could possibly level that playing field. I realized I was a little more mobile than Jack, and he had the ability to anticipate my shots very well. Also, he was not wearing sunglasses. I planned a 3-phase strategy. And I decided not to give up and hand him the set. He had to beat me if he wanted to take that set.
1. SHORT BALLS
Jack had better shots than me, no doubt. But I was playing to his strengths by hitting my shots right at him or close to him near the baseline. That had to stop. In game three, on my serve, I waited for a short ball, came in and hit an angled soft shot, which he didn't even attempt to run down. Two more slow returns from me caught him by surprise and, running them down, he made some unforced errors and hit them out. 1-2.
In the next game he was on the side of the court where looking up made you look directly into the sun. When he came in to return a short ball of mine, I was able to lob him twice deep into his court. He had to look up and was very irritated about my actions. Jack doesn't like lobs, he thinks this is Senior Tennis, haha. He lets the fact that he's being lobbed cloud his vision and distract his game. But I don't care about that, I do what I have to do to win that game. And I embrace lobs in singles and in doubles. When my lobs are on, they can be devastating. I broke his serve. 2-2.
Remember that ripped back hand down the line? I decided to MAKE him do that shot on my terms and be ready for it. It began with me purposely hitting to his backhand. His cross-court slice returns were not too dangerous for me, I could run those down. All I had to do is wait for him to show me through his body motions that he was setting up the down the line approach shot and come in after it. And, there it was. I saw it, was ready to be there, and returned it for a hard, angled cross court winner. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw that ball sailing by. Next time I made him do that shot I lobbed him easily when he approached the net. It was just a matter of seeing the shot and getting it back. And me forcing him to set it up made all the difference in the world.
I think when Jack saw that his best weapon against me lost all its teeth, he gave up mentally. He managed to win one more game because of some sloppy shots from yours truly. I need to learn to stay focused longer and hit EVERY SHOT* alert and with purpose. However, I won the set 6-3.
Now, I do realize that my win would have been much more decisive if I could claim I had taken two sets from Jack. The fact that he gave up after losing the first set stole my thunder and robbed me of that claim. However, on a 1-set basis, with 9 games played, it proved my theory: there are ways to level that playing field.
- Find one or two weaknesses** in your opponent and capitalize on it.
- Make your opponent hit certain shots on your terms, so YOU can deal with them.
- Never give up. Believe in your own abilities. Make your opponent work for every point.
Makes sense? Try it out, you may have found your own ways of dealing with better players. Wanna share some?
* When I used that phrase EVERY SHOT it reminded me of Helen Wills (Moody). She dominated the tennis world long ago. They called her “Little Miss Pokerface” from California. For many years and hundreds of matches, thousands of games, and tens of thousands of shots, she always chanted “EVERY SHOT” silently to herself before hitting the ball. It kept her focused and the rest is history.
** Finding weaknesses is sometimes not easy. As I wrote in my Blog post from July 25 “Need to win that match? Become ruthless! (In a nice way)” sometimes an opponent’s weakness isn’t easily identified. You warm up and can’t find any. But at one point in time you should be able to find his or her killer shot. If that killer shot comes e.g. from the forehand you have to make a conscious decision NOT to hit to the forehand anymore, and then stick to it. By taking killer weapons away from your opponents, you are giving yourself more chances to exploit some of their weaknesses AND capitalize on your own strengths.
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