Tennisopolis : Tennis Social Network

Yeah, this is a weird title for a tennis blog, but it's appropriate.

I've played the game of tennis for near nineteen years now, but for all but eighteen months ago, I played the exact same way. That way is normally called "pushing". Pushers call it "less mistakes", or some bullshit like that. That started because I taught myself the game hitting against the garage door with a hand-me-down Connors T2000, which had the flexibility of wrought iron. Because I didn't have a lot of core upper body strength at 12-15 years old, I had no follow through. So basically, it was hundreds upon thousands of shots with the absolute wrong technique, and lots of hustling. Even more, I played in jeans, rendering my legs pasty white.

So fast forward a couple of years, and my one year on the high school tennis team. Think of this for a second...fifteen years old, probably 135 soaking wet, and 6'1". No serve, no forehand, no backhand, no stamina(yeah, I wasn't always the iron man tennis player...nowhere close), and no real game. I think I made the team(last person picked) because I hustled after everything, and as you know, every team has to have the plucky kid that might have one chance to play at the end of the year. Anyway, long story short(because I'll blog about my experiences on the team), I go between the ranking of 29th and 30th on the team, which was next to last and last place, played the same guy in ranking matches every week, would win that match, move up, and get my ass kicked by the next guy up. After going to dead last, coach moved me to doubles(again, that story for another day) because of my reflexes at the net, and gave me something to do for the final six weeks of the year. Again, not for technique or beautiful play, but reflexes and height at the net. It worked though, even though it had no business working. That's been the story of my tennis life. Everything that ever worked in my old game had no business working, and it did.

Fast forward many more years. I play a 3.0 league and get second in the division to a guy I damned near made submit from exhaustion. Same game all over again, which was push and chase, push and chase, hit a line, make very few mistakes, chase some more, chase a drop volley you have no business catching, win the point because of their mistake. Happened over and over and over again. End up in the playoffs in the first year and get knocked out in the first round because I had to play with a wood racket(long story). My confidence was way up there, and I thought my pure hustle and conditioning could stay with everyone as I would move up the rankings.

Oh lord, was I ever EVER wrong!

Go forward a few more months and I play a tournament in Conyers, GA(Absolutely a blog for another time. This changed me forever). After a tough first round loss, I get absolutely slaughtered in the consolation, and really thought it was lack of conditioning, bad flexibility, and bad diet. So I took time off of tennis and took time to train a bit and really bring my conditioning up to par.

I also wanted to really know how to play the game.

This meant the simplest things, like an actual follow through on my swing, or being in position for the next shot, or trying to shorten rallies and go for winners. It also included complicated things, like angles, split second decision making, and second serves(which I still don't have). This explains my blog title.

The transition has been like Arithmetic to Calculus. I lose far more than I win, my errors are far more pronounced, and my footwork is exposed if I'm in the wrong spot. Also hustle only means so much now if you set it up. It means nothing when they set you up. Don't get me wrong, there are some real nice moments. I have three bagel sets since I started doing this, and they are the first three I ever had in my tennis life. I also have some gorgeous shots that I wish I could put on camera and show the world, and the rallies look crisp and clean(plus the wins every once in a while help the confidence).

But the nice moments can be overshadowed when it comes to an overly competitive person like myself. The bad things are that while I am getting a little bit of torque on a first serve, but I have no placement whatsoever, so it comes right back to me(aces are once every vernal equinox), I'll hit three great shots on a rally, then airmail a backhand over the fence(which accelerated the slice backhand as a regular shot), I'll have 2-3 great points to go up 40-love, then come back with shots I have no business trying, and soon enough it's deuce. It's very frustrating to see this much losing out of my end, but I also have to have patience and know that it'll get better. It already is if I'm winning a little bit(first four matches in that style of game, I won maybe three games TOTAL), but I'm ready to start moving up the ladder now and start dominating my league rankings a bit.

Hey, I could've stayed in the same level. I could've gone back to beating people I had no business beating(and losing to people I should never lose to whataoever). Could've taken the safe route.

But I'm not safe. Maybe it's only 3.5, but it's a stepping stone. I don't plan to ever stay in one spot. No plans to move up rankings and plant myself there like most USTA league players. Too competitive and crazy for that. I go as far as my talent will allow it to be taken.

Simply...it's up to me.

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Comment by Sandra on March 17, 2012 at 5:02pm

Great story.  You know there are alot of really good pushers out there that frustrate the heck out of the well trained player.  I think it is unfair to the junior players who are taught to "push" at a young age solely for the win.  It is hard to watch your kid lose because he/she is learning the more difficult game but if you can look to the future and encourage them it is the right way to go.  That way they don't have to relearn the game when they are older.  Way too many people get wrapped up in the win v.s. the proper technique. 

I congratulate you for teaching yourself the game and sticking with it.  And kudos to you for trying to improve on your game now.

Some juniors really need to read this. 

Comment by Chin Be on March 11, 2012 at 12:03pm

Throw in the court time and we'll be seeing you at the tail end of tournaments Jake! Maybe Joe vs Jake will be an exo match at IW next year?

Comment by Joe B. (BP, CA) on March 11, 2012 at 8:40am

Well-written, Jake, and I even laughed through some parts. Playing with different people forces you to adapt and come up with strategies you would never have thought of, and see weaknesses in yourself that you wouldn't have otherwise.  I too have never had a formal lesson in my life, so I'm trying to learn by watching others and asking for their advice.  Several people on Tennisopolis have been instrumental in this, including Tim Prapong, CoachV, Kelvinator, and a few others.  But you did hit on a point: you gotta have stamina to play this game.  Technique alone won't get you there, but neither will stamina alone.  These two go hand-in-hand, and I'm working on both to take my game to the next level.

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