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'Til The Fat Lady Sings
by "Dr. Dave" Stone

What is it with these pros that tank during a match? I can't understand tanking even in a weekend "for-fun" match. The pros actually have money on the line, in addition to spectators, pride, and the competition itself. And do they really want their opponent to know that they cave so easily?

Especially with the pros, you would think that they would understand that it's not over `til it's over! At their talent level they should be optimistic that they can always turn it around.

I'm aghast at the "insightful" comments typically made by the TV analysts during any of the Grand Slam events. It's a hot day. The player in question just went down 2 sets to love. The commentator says, "Well, it's really going to be tough now. He's got a lot of work ahead of him if he's going to come back now. I don't know if he's up to it."

What? Has he got somewhere else to go this afternoon? A hot date? An early tee-off time? The player's face should be livid with determination because of the OPPORTUNITY presented by the best-of-five format. If it were best-of-three, it would be over! "Hallelujah! I'm still in the match!!" That's the spirit I'm paying to see.

There are some that do reach deep, of course. Aaron Krickstein was famous for his comebacks in 5-setters. Just guts . . . sheer guts. Isn't it a joy to watch a match where you know the two on-court enemies will leave their entrails on the court rather than quit?

Tenacity is more than overall match-level determination. It's about point by point, shot by shot, maxed out concentration. Winning tennis is very much about statistics. A few screaming winners don't win the match. A lot of unforced errors do tend to lose the match.

You can beat a more talented player by "being the best you can be" shot by shot. Many points are wasted by not being totally focused at the start.

For example: When I get ready to serve, there are a few mental keys I like to focus on. Pick my target point in the service box. Pick the type of serve I'm going to employ after a quick analytical "feel" about what might work and what might be unexpected. Then concentrate on toss, weight transfer, and flow of my whole body into the shot.

When I get lazy and neglect some of these elements, my statistics go way down. To win, I've got to deliberately focus on the same pattern, serve after serve after serve, game after game, all the way into the 3rd set tiebreaker.

Boring? First of all, winning is not boring. I always feel better about an ugly, tenacious win than I do about an aesthetically pretty loss. (Who doesn't? Losers, that's who!) Secondly, there's a profound bliss in bathing myself in the total concentration of the moment -- the sheer physicality of it, the adrenalin rush of battle.

No thoughts of work or bills or responsibilities or troubles or the trivialities of life on planet earth. Great tennis matches up well against good sex. (Not great sex, though.)

Do you want to reach that next level? Immerse yourself in the moment. Forget stroke mechanics. Experience the blood and guts of competition, shot by shot by shot!

"Dr. Dave" Stone is currently an Associate Professor in the Dept. of Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech University. A life-long tennis player, he has previously been ranked #1 in Mississippi in 40+ age group and #9 in Southern Region.

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