From the "Life of a Scrappy Player" Series
Jason Jamison is a professional tennis coach. I saw him for the first time holding a Recreational Coaches Workshop in the San Diego area many years ago. He has since moved up the ladder of success and works for the USTA now, managing their National Schools Program. In that capacity he travels all over the country to lecture on school initiatives and that's how met him again in Indian Wells 2 weeks ago. He spoke at the SCTA Community Development Workshop, and I gave a presentation about Web Based Social Networks to the same crowd.
The night before the organizer (SCTA's Melanie Bischoff, great as always!) put on a small tennis tournament for two levels of play: 4.0- and 4.0+. It so happened that I signed up for 4.0-, got a great female partner (Mookda West from Balboa TC in San Diego), and we won it. That's just to set the mood for what transpired afterwards. Don't worry, I'm getting to my story right now.
It was dark and it was getting late, but I overheard two women who both played in the 4.0+ division, theat they wanted to to go out and hit some more. Being the cocky myself, right after winning the 4.0- division, I asked them if they wanted maybe a friendly mixed doubles match if I found another male player. They agreed and and I asked Jason, who was standing right next to me, if he wanted to join in and be the male on the opposite team. Jason is the nicest guy and I guess he, too, can't say no to a friendly game of tennis. We walked on the court and started to warm up, when I began to realize I made a BIG mistake. Each one of the two women seemed to be two levels above mine. They hit so hard during warm-up I had my hands full just to return those balls back over the net. I just wished I was back in my hotel room, tucked in safely and reading my book (at the time I read "Wimbledon", written 1947 by the person who ran the club and the tournament in the 1920ies and 30ies). Jason, on the other hand, had no problems returning any shots. He seemed to have a jolly good time.
The two jock women realized the situation I was in and that I was way out of my league in that match. They approached us and proposed to play one set women against men. The way they looked at each other I knew right away this would be a slaughter. I knew as soon as they began concentrating their efforts on me, the scrappy 4.0 player, they had that set literally bagged. When I saw my girlfriend, who would have been the ideal 4th player in that match, turn away and run for the club house, I knew she, too, sensed what was about to happen on court 8 of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
When Jason took me aside for a little pre-match powow, I was surprised hearing him telling me how we would beat these two advanced female players. Here's how he provided me with a set of instructions before I had the chance to hit my first ball. He said:
1. I know you like net play and volleys. I'll stay back and you'll play your game at the net and jump on EVERY ball coming over the net close enough for you.
2. When I, Jason, hit the ball and you, Rich, see me hitting it, you're not doing your job. Your job is watching our opponents, and especially the net player. NEVER watch me.
3. These are two hard hitting ex-college players. They love speed. We'll take that away from them, slow it down, and make them run and get our angled shots. This will neutralize some of their power.
4. We'll talk about strategy before every point.
I started to serve and lost my service game right away. Not good. My serve was too slow and just not dangerous enough for them. And Jason was still watching them and working on the strategy. They won their serve and we were quickly down 2-0. Jason sensed my mood and kept me positive, telling me how we would win his service game now. He positioned me more towards the inside of my box, much closer to the center line than I usually stand trying to cover the alley. "You'll offer them the alley, which is one of the hardest shots in tennis, but you gain more chances to poach service returns". And that's what happened. Throughout the set they each tried once to return a serve down the alley, not knowing this is one of my favorite shots to put away. The first one I volleyed deep into their court, unreachable. The other down the line service return went way long. They didn't try this one again.
Jason's serves were both well placed down the middle and bounced high. I hit two nice volleys and Jason gave them two lobs they couldn't reach, game over. It was 2-1. Then we broke their serve by again and again taking some pace off and letting them struggle to get drop shots and angled volleys. I won my next service game by hitting the serves down the middle with ehavy underspin and Jason putting away the returns. Then we broke them again.
Interesting on Jason's next service game: Our opponents were able to get us down 15-40 when Jason explained more strategy to me. He said: As soon as my serve hits the opposite box, you move forward one step and raise your racquet. I tell you this little action frazzled our opponents again and again. We won this game and the next one. Set score: 6-2.
What did I learn from this set? A whole bunch of things many of you may already know. Here it goes:
1. Listen to the experienced player. There is a reason why he wins more matches than you.
2. Watch your opponents during warm-up, then develop a strategy. If that strategy works, stick to it.
3. If your opponents are hard hitters who can do baseline shots all day long, slow the game down, give them drop shots, and make them run.
4. If your opponents love hard cross court returns of serve, serve them down the middle.
5. Recognize your and your partner's strengths and include them in your strategy
There is probably more to learn from this experience. I just know I walked away smiling. It was a good night. Yes, I admit we beat two women. But they were excellent players way above my level. Did I mention it was a good night? Thanks, Jason, for the lesson!
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