"Kick Start Your Summer Tennis Program!"
- Invitation to all PTR, USPTA pros, College/HS coaches and Players
- PTR Mini-Symposium -
- Pacific Athletic Club, Redwood City, CA
- Details and Registration Form
Consider the differences between singles and doubles. In doubles, the alley enlarges the court only so much, but with the addition of a partner it becomes easier to cover the court, as well as to converse about the ebb and flow of a match. And equally, you have the opportunity to either set up your partner (if they are playing well) or to try to win the point “single handedly” (playing singles within the game of doubles) if your partner is playing poorly.
But singles is an entirely different issue. It is more difficult to cover all of the court, there is no partner to coach, counsel, or cajole, and this “single handedly” thing comes to the fore. I have played a ton of singles matches over the years with some striking successes and some dismal failures, and what follows is a distillation of those events as seen through a confirmed and life long “Tennis Bum,” though the label might seem incongruous because I am otherwise and luckily employed.
Whether playing in a junior or adult event, all agree that experience is important, and on that score the more singles you play the better you get (or so it would seem). But there is a different way to look at this. When playing a singles match (or tournament for that matter), there are only two outcomes – winning or losing. The secret of this experience thing is as follows. If you win, your experience and in fact your memory will elicit just the slightest confidence, for if you win you may accordingly expect to win subsequent matches, for you are a “winner” after all. And interestingly, if you were to win your first tournament, whether as a junior or adult, you would be clamoring to play and win another event.
On the losing side of the street, the experience can be equally invaluable but in another direction. After a loss, experience will provide value only if there are lessons learned. After a loss, one must accept responsibility and reflect on the shots, tactics, or even mental mindset that may have contributed to the outcome. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But I think it actually means, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, but try in a different way.” If you lost because of an errant second serve, then return to the practice court and redouble your efforts to improve that stroke. If you lost because you weren’t finishing points at the net, then work on your volley. It is as simple as that.
Starting calmly, finding your “zone” early
When in a good frame of mind, one is truly “present centered” (see library Happy Bhalla). It is not about a dialogue where you tell yourself to relax, where you demand concentration, where you force relaxation. Rather, being present and centered is simply that. But the trick is the feeling, and in mastering this feeling, and bringing it with you as you walk through the gates onto the court. Often, there is an internal dialogue, and these conversations in your head divert attention and somehow assume more importance than the present event. Expectations and resulting dialogues concern how “good” or “bad” your opponent is, whether or not you “should easily win,” whether or not you will fold in the clutch as you did last time. The warm-up is simply the warm-up, the first few games are simply the first few games. The trick is to cast aside all interfering stimuli and just warm-up in the present, and just begin the match in the present. My first coach, Blackie Jones, continually advised, “Just play the ball.”
Clarity of tactics on the changeovers
The art of winning is the presence to know why the points and games are being won and or lost. Winners attempt to continue imposing their winning style, but losers must somehow change their games to turn things around. This is not a simple task. On the changeovers, when there is a moment or two to either sit or stand, it is important to reflect on the course of the match.
Click photo: Often the singles contest boils down to simple footwork, who is more willing to scramble, to move their feet, to chase down one more ball just like Rafael Nadal.
If you are losing, it is imperative to determine why, and attempt to make changes accordingly. If it is as simple as too many errors, then resolve to play the next game error free. If the problem is the opponent’s backcourt game, then play the ball short to bring them into midcourt (Federer does just this with his tantalizingly low and skidding under spin backhand). If the problem is the attacking return of your second serve, then simply get more first serves in. But the other side of the street is equally important. When winning, be sure to reflect on the patterns that have occurred. Sometimes a false sense of confidence exudes when the opponent makes a string of errors, and the winning player goes into “tactical sleep.” If your opponent tightens up the game and stops beating himself, you may actually have to earn some points the hard way. Be prepared with a game plan.
Commitment to move
Often the singles contest boils down to simple footwork, who is more willing to scramble, to move their feet, to chase down one more ball, to make that split step. And I am not talking about fitness, though the fitter player generally has the edge, and certainly as the length of the match increases this edge becomes more sharply defined. But from where I sit as a teacher and (former) player, it boils down to the commitment to move. The commitment to make a split step each and every time the opponent makes contact. The commitment to chase down as many deep and seemingly unretrievable balls as possible, for this (as Rafael Nadal continually shows us) places pressure on the opponent. And finally, the commitment to show the opponent that you want the match more than she and you continually show her just that with your footwork. There is a lot of court to cover in a game of singles – how much do you want it?
Refocus on the basics
At the end of a match, players more often recall the incredible volley, the pin point passing shot, or the desperation overhead, and falsely assume those shots made the match. In reality, the nuts and bolts are the serve and the return. As you reflect on the course of the match, be careful not to let obscure and difficult tactical solutions cloud your mind to the importance of simply getting most of your serves in play (Nadal served over 80% first serves in his Rome masters victory over Federer), and equally getting most of your returns in play.
The most difficult opponent is the one who plays calmly and with focus, the one
who appears tactically focused and flexible, the one who shows a commitment to
move, and the one who does not beat himself. Are you that player?
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