I had the pleasure to work with a USTA staff member at the 2.5 Nationals on Thursday. Boy, if you've never been to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, you've missed out. These are easily the most beautiful tennis courts I have ever seen. I know, La Costa Resort & Spa is nice, Rancho Valencia Resort is even nicer with all the citrus trees and the beautifully landscaped facility. But the courts at the Tennis Garden are just perfect. They are newly surfaced, it seems, and large, many with stadium seating attached. Too bad they only have 21 courts, so they can only accommodate the 2.5's and the 4.5 seniors. For the bigger National events (3.0's, 3.5's, 4.0's) a facility needs at least 25 courts because of the sheer number of players.
Tennis is the only sport I know where people come together like this, for several days of competition in a team. All friendly and social, ready for playing during the day and partying in the evening. The women are all dressed in the latest tennis fashion, most teams with team colors or identical outfits. Even the men, who nomally couldn't care less what they look like on court, are beginning to come dressed in some uniform fashion. Bravo!
The level of tennis is a expected, only teams with players at the top of their level can come to the Nationals, and many are a little above 2.5. All in all a great event, very well organized by the USTA. It left me with a feeling that being part of this tennis community is worth it. I am looking forward to Oct. 18-21, when I'll be working the tournament desk at the 4.5 Senior Nationals. The quality of tennis should be outstanding!
Come out to the desert that weekend, if you have time. You won't regret it. Maybe we can set up some tennis together?
Although I'm not a tennis pro by any stretch of the imagination, I want to share some of the strategies that work for me playing singles tennis. I thought tips like these might come handy for our compadres playing the new Active Tennis Ladder...
Over the years I found that my best strategy for winning singles matches is to HAVE A PLAN. Unless I am totally outclassed by my opponent from the get go, having a plan puts me one step ahead of him or her already. The same is true for doubles tennis, of course. Talking about a plan with your partner, developing it together, sharing observations about the opponents' game and habits, sticking to the plan and adjusting it as necessary - very powerful tools to win a match regardless of individual abilities! All my plans are designed to exploit my opponents' WEAKNESSES.
Here are my steps to developing such a plan
1. The warm-up lays the foundation for The Plan. Observe your partner thoroughly. It's amazing how much you can learn about your opponent during warm-up. And if you know your opponent and have played against him already? Learn what his present form is. Are his shots right on the mark or is he spraying bullets all over?
2. Still during warm-up, feed him (her) balls to both sides. If you have the feeling you see a weakness on the back hand side, feed some more balls there. See what he does with wide shots. Is he using two-handed back hand returns? Does he like forehand shots? The last thing I want is to trade forehand ground strokes with a guy who is a human back board. He'll wear you down and you'll be on the court for hours. Not my preference. I want to win a ladder set as quickly as possible.
Don't forget to throw up some lobs to see the overheads. If he doesn't want them, he probably doesn't like to do overheads. Make a mental note to give him some during the match! Next are the volleys. Observe how he reacts to both forehand and backhand volleys and make mental notes. The last thing you can expect to observe is the serve. Is it fast, does he know how to spin a serve? Much information to be exploited later.
3. So I observed my opponent enough to develop a plan. And I'll work this plan from the first shot in the match, adjusting it only if I see further weaknesses or if he improves certain aspects of his game. In this example, my opponent loves forehand ground strokes, has errant shots on his back hand because he tries to power everything in, does so-so with overheads. His first serve is hard, and, as I learned soon, the second serve comes in much slower with no spin. He's just trying to get it in. And he loves to run!
4. I work the plan. Most of my shots will go to his back hand. I'll throw in a couple of lobs when he's looking into the sun. I move in on his second serve and attack it with an attempt for an outright winning shot. When I have him running a lot, I'll send some fluffy spin shots and drop shots his way, see what he does with them. When I see him trying to rush the net I'll hit a hard shot flat over the net to his feet - he's not comfortable with running volleys and puts them in the net.
I love net play and volleys. Since his returns from serves to his forehand are very good and hard, and I can't always control serving to his backhand too well, I'll stay back after most of my serves and decide to come in as often as possible in two situations:
a) when his returns land short on my side of the court
b) when my shots drive him way back behind the baseline or way out to the side
Two habits of mine pay off most of the time, and I learned them from Rod Laver during a clinic at La Costa Resort a few years ago:
Watch your opponent's racquet on all his shots. If a shot comes in with heavy slice you can always see that by judging the angle of the racquet head. Make sure you change your own reply to shots like this. Taking off some speed maybe, and/or lifting the ball up a little seems like a good approach here.
When you have to stretch sideways to reach a shot, regardless if it's on the forehand or backhand side, the ball often needs extra lift to clear the net. Taking off some power is a very good idea, too, but the lifting up of the ball is always burned in my brain.
As I said above, this works for me. No guarantee it'll work for you, but it'll definitely improve your chances... Good luck playing the ladder - maybe we'll meet one day?
I was reading the September issue of the AZTEC Tennis Reporter newsletter (San Diego State Tennis coverage), which has an interesting debate on the pros and cons of recruiting foreign players into collegiate tennis teams. Born and raised in Germany, and emigrated to the U.S. in 1985, I can relay to this issue and tend to be more a pro guy. One of the many reasons for me: Foreign tennis players leave some funny quotes behind and I thought starting off the week on a humorous note with some quotes from foreign players may be an excellent idea. Sorry for the language in Thomas Muster's quote, but I personally think it's hilarious!
Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row!*
*(Vitas Gerulaitis on finally beating Jimmy Connors)
But one of my all time favorite quotes comes from an American player, Bobby Riggs. Years ago, while I was working in the aerial photography/digital imaging field, I was commissioned to create all the displays for the Bobby Riggs Tennis Museum at the Bobby Riggs Tennis Club in Cardiff. The biggest job was to make larger-than-life size images of the most important players in Bobby's life, mount them on display board and hang them on the walls of the museum. I recall those players to be Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzales, Margaret Court, Pancho Segura and Billie Jean King. That's when I started to become a BR fan and collector of his memoribilia.
BJK was the subject of his famous quote, which goes like this:
"I'll put Billie Jean King and all the other Women's Libbers back where they belong - in the kitchen and the bedroom."
Our Tennis Network round robin mixer at the Marriott on Coronado Island got rained out Saturday, which was a major bummer, of course. Especially when you're up in North County and the sun is out and hardly a cloud in the sky. What are these people thinking? Cancelling our weekend tennis we were looking forward to all week?
For situations like this it pays to know a lot of tennis players and establish a network one can draw on. We quickly determined who may be interested in playing that afternoon in North County, and by 5 pm we had a tiny Mixed Doubles round robin going with 4 men and 4 women on two courts in La Costa. Everyone brought something, like fruit, crackers, cheese, chilled wine and water, and we had an awesome time for three hours.
Obviously we had a skill level difference between the men and women. How does one overcome that difference and how do stronger men (or women) not get discouraged by such arrangements? Here's how you do this: Since every man will be playing with every woman at least once, depending how many rounds you want to go, the men need to create their own goals and competition. "How many sets can I win?" or "My goal is to win with every woman, regardless of her level". It is ultimately up to the better player to come out winners in those situations. Although your opponents will begin to play more to your female partner, there are ways to become a factor in such a match and dictate the outcome. Here are some that most of the time work for me in Mixed Doubles, from the standpoint that the man is the stronger player:
1. Communicate a lot with your partner, before and during the match. Start out by talking about who plays what side. Although my favorite position is the backhand, I always try to give my female partner the choice. I have no problems playing strong on the forehand side, but don't want to be caught with a partner who is not comfortable at her position. I also tell my female partner that I love volleys, overheads, and put-away shots from the area between the service line and the net. Many women are not comfortable coming in to the net but are very comfortable playing the base line. I tell them how we can use this to our advantage and win this set. I love a partner who can lob over the opposite net player(s) and set me up for put-away shots.
2. Who serves first? The cardinal rule is that the stronger server always serves first. You want to start a set winning your first game on your own serve. Don't get caught being down a game from the get go and having to do catch up for a while. Too dangerous!
3. Encourage your partner all the time, even when mistakes are made. Give little hints and make it known that you have a plan for both of you. Talk about this plan and explain what's going to have to happen. For instants talk about when to lob and to angle shots as often as possible. A little encouragement goes a long way in tennis and knowing you have a plan gives a big boost to the team's confidence. And Mixed Doubles is teamwork!
4. Lobs are good in Mixed Doubles! When your partner can't get by the net player on return of serve, make her try to lob over this person. This is especially important when you know the server is weak on overheads. Or if the server is e.g. a right handed player and the lob will have to be taken in the air with the back hand. When I see something like this developing I move in even closer to cut off any weak return and be ready for ending the point right there. (Don't feel bad for your opponents when they have to look right into the sun returning your lobs. Serve them more lobs!) I am not good throwing up defensive lobs. However, a smart offensive lob and moving in waiting for the return afterwards, I LOVE that!
5. I always try to move in to the net in stages. I trust my volleys and approach shots more when I'm stationary and not running through them. Many players are caught running by a good return, unable to handle that shot properly. So after my return of serve I move in a few paces and become stationary with a "split step" when I see the ball coming back from my opponent's racquet. After my next shot I move in more, because the net is my friend and the service box is my main area of operation. When my opponents succeed in pinning me to the baseline, their chances of winning are doubling, for sure.
6. On my serve I try to always inform my partner how I generally target the opponents. If one opponent's forehand is too strong and keeps burning my partner, the serve needs to go to the back hand and vice versa. If one opponent is strong on both sides but sometimes has errant shots on the forehand side, you better believe that's where I'm going.
7. If my partner is not comfortable directing the serve to any side, I move back a little, sometimes even behind the service line, so to not get burned by a powerful return.
These strategies are my own and work for me. Try some out if you have a chance. Oh, yes, I won with all four women that night. Don't believe me? Ask them! They felt really good seeing things developing according to plan for a change.
TENNIS QUOTE OF THE DAY
"Goran Ivanisevic, playing in Brighton 2000, broke or destroyed the only three racquets he brought with him and had to default."
In tennis terms, I'm a so-called Club Player. What does that mean? I belong to an organization (San Diego Tennis Network), play evening tennis during the week, daytime tennis during the weekends. I usually play one USTA league a year, some World Team Tennis, and - if I feel confident enough - one or two tournaments. My level of play is intermediate to advanced, so on good days I can hold my own in a 4.5 doubles match, on bad days I am too slow for a 3.5 senior ladies match. My health status is relatively good, overcame the familiar tennis elbow (ask me if you want to know how), and avoided knee surgery by using a $29 velcro brace, which works wonders for me. Never had shoulder surgery, always think I could lose a few pounds. You know, the usual stuff for a middle aged tennis junkie.
Why am I telling you this? Because I got humbled a few days ago playing an invitational Up-Down warm-up for the US open Wheelchair Championships on Monday. Up-down (or One-up / One-down, as they often call it) means an able bodied player and a wheelchair player play doubles against a similar team. The rules are the same as regular doubles, except that the Wheelchair player always gets two bounces. And boy, are they able to use that rule and give you powerful returns and very smart lobs. I was floored by the level of tennis these athletes displayed, and those weren't even the top seeded players.
Why did I feel humbled? Here I was with my $150 racquet, $75 shoes, and $40 shirt and shorts, looking at players who, in addition to the same equipment and outfit, have to shell out $4-5000 just to get on the court. That's what the low-end wheelchairs cost. Plus maybe an extra chair for carrying the tennis bag. Many of those chairs have to be rigged in order to accommodate special handicaps and enable these guys (and gals) to play. One man had somewhat deformed hands and needed to tape the racquet onto his wrist. This guy had some of the most wicked and effective lobs I have ever seen. All players need to be strapped in to stabilize their bodies and feet, and all need to develop a suitable serving technicque, mostly with one arm, since the other arm often had to keep the wheelchair from moving during the serving motion.
I felt really bad putting on my knee brace. All my little pains were gone, because I heard no complaints whatsoever from any of the wheelchair players about their situation. They were coming out to play and show us how well they can hit that yellow ball. That was an eye-opening afternoon for me. I made many friends playing with 4 different wheelchair players, and promised them to come back towards the end of the week to watch some more.
Wanna try playing Up-Down tennis one day? Let me know and I'll organize some matches one day. Being on the Board of the local USTA District, the San Diego District Tennis Association, I have great connections to secure courts and players for such an event.
Oh yes, you probably want to know how I did in the Up-Down events on Monday? Pretty good, except for the fact that twice I was confronted with the same 5.5 woman as the opposite able bodied player. And you know what a 5.5 female player does with a 4.0 man? Everything she wants to! She took charge and effectively prevented me from hitting too much to the wheelchair player. I had my hands full just getting to her shots, she didn't even have to play to my partner too much. I didn't really care, to be honest. Learned my lesson and had a great time. That's what tennis is all about.
Btw, just so you league players out there know: A wheelchair player can join any USTA league if he/she wants to. As long as you give them the ramp to roll onto the court, or help them carry them down the steps, and let them have their two bounces, they're happy.
Saw some great matches at the US Open yesterday and today. Like Nadal and Ferrer. Tommy Haas and James Blake rank very high on my "all time favorite matches" list. Am I biased? No! I never routed for Tommy Haas, actually had a little tiff with his manager once (at IMG in Hamburg), after I asked him when in God's name will Tommy ever win a big tournament. He was not happy with this question at all...
I am and have always been a fan of Justine Henin. Although I would normally rout for Serena Williams because she is an American, but definitely not when she plays Justin. I absolutely loved to see my girl Justine dismantle Serena today. She reminds me a lot of Roger Federer, especially when it comes to concentration, their hardened bodies, one-handed back hands, and the way they take this sport serious.
What is your favorite tennis match? Any thoughts? Is it "The Battle of the Sexes"? Or a Borg/McEnroe match?
Tennis fans are a very special kind of people. Very knowledgeable, not too rowdy, often quite polite. But I think the single most important factor distinguishing tennis fans from fans of all other major spectator sports: They are all players themselves! I venture to say that 95% of fans watching the Open at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center are active players. They know what it means to be out there in the hot sun for 3 hours or more. They feel the agony of double faults on match point. They can tell you stories about the importance of the "mental game". And of course, when they see a player hitting a volley into the net, "been there, done that"is the first thing that comes to mind for a tennis fan. Gotta love them!
My good friend Vic Braden (http://www.vicbraden.com/) just turned 78 when he visited the last Acura Classic Women's Tennis Tournament at La Costa in Carlsbad. As one of the greatest tennis teachers in this country, Vic is known for good advice that improves any player's game quickly. A few years ago I organized a full day clinic with Vic for 50 tennis players at the beautiful Rancho Valencia Resort in Rancho Santa Fe. Vic and 7 Pros organized drills and clinics for all players, and Vic video-taped each player's forehand, backhand, volley and serve. As the organizer I didn't participate in the clinics but had the pleasure of watching Vic as he went through the video footage with each player and gave them the appropriate advice for areas where their strokes needed improvement. And you know what? I got a BIG kick out of sitting there and listening to Vic, who had the same advice for every player! Regardless of age, size, or ability of players, his advice for EVERYONE was "Always remember: play low to high". Amazing, don't you think? He broke each player's stroke down to the lowest common denominator: Your arm/racquet movement has to go from low to high in order for the ball to clear the net. It made so much sense and was so funny to listen to at the same time.
One year earlier I had organized a major tennis fundraiser at La Costa Resort & Spa with the profits going to a battered women's shelter in San Diego North County. Vic was our Keynote Speaker at the Dinner that night, and he delighted the audience with funny tidbits about tennis players, especially his contemporaries like Bobby Riggs (Bobby won a mixed doubles game against Vic and a very good female player while he was tied with a chain to an Elephant!). Needless to say, Bobby, who was 55 at the time, won quite a bit of cash from that bet. Vic's funniest story that night was his experience coming from the National Super Senior Championships somewhere in Georgia if I remember right. He reported watching a match between a 90 year old man and his 94 year old opponent. The 90 year old was in better shape and kept running the older player from corner to corner. Finally the 94 year old player stopped and had to take a break, shouting across the court "Oh, to be 90 again..."
What does age mean in tennis? Last night we saw James Blake almost lose to a 35 year old Fabrice Santoro. Way to go, Fabrice, too bad you cramped up so badly. Don't get me wrong, I'm a James Blake fan. But I looove to support the underdog, especially when he's closer to my age, haha.
We have seen some great players who won big titles late in life. How about Big Bill Tilden, who won Wimbledon at age 37 in 1930? Or Andre Agassi and Jimmy Connors who won titles at age 33? None of those former world class players can top Martina Ntratilova, of course. In 2003, she won her last Mixed Doubles title at the Australian Open AND at Wimbledon at age 46!
I know my game has improved with age. I play smarter, try to exploit my oppenent's weaknesses while saving energy. The better I play, the more fun I have. And the more fun I have, the better I play! I love tennis!
TENNIS QUOTE OF THE DAY
*"Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical" The same is true of tennis, only more so. Criswell Freeman, quoting Yogi Berra. The Tennis Lovers Book of Wisdom
Wow, almost 20 Million Dollars in prize money this year, incl. $1,400,000 for the Singles winners (men and women) and such niceties as $1,022.00 per diem for every player. I guess staying in New York City demands it, right? Last night, after watching Serena, Roger and Rafael win, I grabbed Arthur Ashe's book "Days of Grace" and started reading. As you may or may not know, he was the first US Open winner, but at the time he was still considered "amateur". On page 65 he writes about 1968, when the Open era began....
"Later that year, when I won the first United States Open and received only $280 in expense money, I was still an amateur and a gentleman player, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army happy to make payments on my beloved Ford Mustang. Tom Okker lost to me in the final, and took home $14,000. Tom was a gentleman, too; but he was also a professional who could accept prize money."
What does watching the world's best players on TV mean to me? I wanna go out and play like Roger, look like Nadal, and beat up on some real good 5.0 players, haha. Currently I'm playing at various clubs in San Diego 3-5 times a week, mostly weeknights and weekend afternoons. I signed up for WTT (World Team Tennis) last week, as a member of the Crown City team in Coronado. I know it's a long drive from North County (Encinitas), but us tennis players, we go the extra mile to hit that yellow fuzzy ball. Nothing and no one can stop us!
Wanna know how bad we want to play sometimes? A few years ago, when those Scripps Ranch fires hit the county, my buddy Jim and I were driving down the Freeway to the Hilton San Diego Resort (Mission Bay) for a Sunday morning mixed doubles round robin event. We saw the sky going dark, the smoke coming in, and the fires raging on the horizon. Every normal human being would have turned around, go home and watch TV. Not us, we are tennis players! When we reached the courts, they were covered in black ash 2 inches high. What can I say? We played for an hour and a half, until the balls, our clothes, and our faces were black. Kept coughing all the way home and for another week or so. It was really bad. Gotta love your sport, folks...
TENNIS QUOTE OF THE DAY
"The score was 20-20 in a match against Lew Hoad and I did the splits going for a shot. Snap! I felt something go. A tendon? No - my jockstrap."
Rod Laver, on the longest set he ever played.
"Tennis for the Bloody Fun of IT" by Rod Laver and Roy Emmerson (with Barry Tardis)
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