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The Puzzle
By Tony Severino
Certified Instructor 4A
Professional Tennis Registry

Puzzles are games to test one's skill and intelligence. Have you ever placed a piece in a jigsaw puzzle where the piece fits, but the immediate surroundings don't match? It just doesn't belong. And that is a puzzle. We wonder why.
 
Before you dwell on that puzzle, think about this. Doesn't it happen in tennis? You're playing a match which is testing your skill and intelligence. Everything seems to fit in place. Your shots go where you want them to go. You have pace. Service game is on. Volleys score points. Everything about your game seems to fit in place perfectly, except it doesn't.
 
Another one of those days? Maybe.
 
Are they better players? Maybe.
 
Or just playing better than you today? Maybe.
 
Maybe not!
 
We can take a clue from Sherlock Holmes who said: "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact."
 
The deception here is you are playing well enough. The obvious fact is that a change is needed. Remember, champions adjust, which is another way of saying always change a losing game. At least modify it.
 
You have control. You have pace. Volleys are working well. Games are fairly close.
 
So what can you do?
 
Hmm!
 
Your serve is right on, so maybe try serving right at the opponent so s/he must move to hit the return. Making the receiver move out of the way to hit the ball makes for a more difficult return. Anything to either side is just putting it into their wheel house. Or take off some pace and let them supply the power. There's a saying that you are only as good as your second serve. You probably spin in your second serve. Try using it sometimes as a first serve. These changes will keep your opponent guessing.
 
Your shots are consistently accurate, so go for sharper angles. Make them work harder. Do you have topspin? Use it. Also a sharp chop shot forehand can be devilish to deal with. Go for it. Try to play longer points which means getting the ball back more than three times. Percentages rise in your favor after the third return.
 
Volleys can be improved with under-spin drop shots. Or aimed aggressively down the middle to take away sharply angled returns. You can't wait for opportunities to volley. You must make them. Set them up.
 
After a few games determine if the new puzzle pieces are starting to fit. As with the jigsaw puzzle, they'll snap into place. It's just a satisfying feeling. No fist pumping or facial contortions that put the ugliest gargoyle to shame. But a good feeling nevertheless.
 
If in the end you find the pieces still don't fit well, take comfort in that you tried your best and enjoyed a match well played. Your skill and intelligence were exercised.
 
That will fit any puzzle space.
 

 


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