For those who read last month's column and are anxiously awaiting the footwork training program I promised, let me offer my apology. In November, I talked about the importance of footwork to a tennis player's success and promised to outline a program for improving your movement in my December column.
Well, I sat down at my computer a few weeks ago with every intention of writing that column. I began as always, typing the title of the column and the date that it was written, but as I pressed the keys that formed "December 1999" my fingers abruptly stopped. That in and of itself was not unusual as I am not great with the keyboard and often stop to retype a misspelled word after the "spell-check" alerts me of my error. This time, however, was different because there were no misspelled words. My fingers stopped and my eyes focused on "December 1999" and it suddenly hit me: this column would be my last of the 1900's!!!.
I am truly a sucker for nostalgia so it was impossible for me not to sit back in my chair and reflect on not only the past forty years (my lifetime), but particularly the last thirty, my life in tennis.
When I was ten I was given a gift by my parents, the game of tennis. I reluctantly accepted the gift and I say reluctantly because I really had no interest in the sport. Like any other young boy, I wanted to play baseball, basketball and be "cool." To be a junior tennis player in 1970 was definitely not considered "cool," so I resisted.
After a few gentle pushes, I relented and took my first tennis lesson and in those thirty minutes my life was changed forever. I knew soon after I wanted TENNIS to be a major part of my life, for the rest of my life.
Thirty years later I am still living my dream. I have been very fortunate to have been able to turn my passion into a career and after thousands of hours on the court, and millions of balls struck, I
can truly say that I still love the game of tennis. I love to play it, teach it, read about it and will forever be grateful to those who gave me that gift.
So, as I began to think about the last words that I would write in the 1900's, the idea of a footwork program sank in a sea of memories (it will resurface next month). I felt that I should come up with something profound for my last column of the 1900's, so what I would like to do is offer a few random thoughts and observations of things that I have learned (so far) and that I think players of all ages and levels might find useful.
Here we go:
Always play with two cans of ball. You'll spend a lot less time picking up and a lot more time
playing the game.
Play on grass at least once in your lifetime -- it's a great experience.
Read "The Education Of A Tennis Player" by Rod Laver, "Levels Of The Game" by John
McPhee, "Tennis For Humans" by Richard Meyers, anything written by Peter Bodo, Bud
Collins, Peter Burwash and EVERYTHING written by Vic Braden.
Get to Wimbledon, also the Tennis Hall of Fame in Rhode Island.
Go see Evert, Navratilova, Connors and Laver hit the ball anytime, anyplace and at whatever
The three best tips you'll ever hear are: get your racket back early, watch the ball, and move
Don't just "play," "practice" and there is a very distinct difference between the two.
Work on your consistency. 85% of all points are decided by errors. Thus, the player who
makes the fewest errors wins.
Take lessons and when the pro gives you a tip, fight the urge to say "I know." If you knew
you wouldn't be there.
Buy a ball hopper, fill it with balls and develop a good serve and remember, "good" doesn't
necessarily mean hard.
Play with someone weaker. You can work on new things and they will truly appreciate you
taking the time to hit with them. Remember how you felt when a stronger player hit with
you? I do.
When playing doubles, be sure to get to the net as soon as possible and remember that most
points are won three places, down the middle, at the feet, or over the head.
In singles, the best percentages shots are cross-court during a rally and down the line on an
Beautiful strokes are useless if you can't get to the ball. Work on your footwork. Master the
split-step and jump rope.
When in trouble LOB, LOB, LOB. Far too many errors are caused by players trying low
percentage, once in a lifetime shots when they are out of position. If you're in trouble, don't
give your opponent a free point. Put the ball up in the air and make them hit a shot to win the
point. Remember, always give your opponent an opportunity to miss---you'll be amazed at
how often they'll accommodate you.
Tennis matches are not won by a few great shots but by a lot of pretty good ones.
Get your racket re-strung at least twice a year and, at least once, treat yourself to gut.
Never, I repeat NEVER take your tennis shoes off when someone else is in the room.
Trust me on this one.
Develop the ability to say "Nice shot," and mean it.
Don't make excuses. Nobody cares and you sound foolish.
If you are not handed a paycheck when you come off the court you are a recreational player.
Recreation means fun so lighten up on yourself and enjoy the game.
Don't be a tennis parent. Introduce your kids to the game. If they like it, support and encourage them, but don't cross the line. They already have enough stress in their lives just
being kids. Let tennis be for fun.
Give this some thought: would you rather play poorly and win or play well and lose? Answer this question honestly and it will give you some insights into yourself that have nothing to do with tennis.
Just because you lose on the court doesn't mean you are a "loser" and vice-versa.
So there you have it, a few pearls of wisdom from an almost middle-aged tennis junkie. It has been written that tennis is a metaphor for life and I whole-heartedly agree!! Aside form the obvious physical benefits tennis provides, those of us lucky enough to embrace the sport, regardless of what level we play at, enjoy experiences and receive an education about ourselves and others that will last a lifetime and that has absolutely nothing to do with hitting a little yellow ball over a net.
So, as we prepare to hit the first ball of the year 2000, let me say happy holidays and thank you to all of my readers, students, friends and most of all my family, particularly Kelley, Mike and Katie who mean more to me than anything -------even tennis!!!!