One month before the National 50 Indoors
First time out in a long time where I was playing with a goal…to get ready for the National Indoors, four weeks away. I hit with Ricky Becker a former Stamford player who is in his 20s. I hit great, especially in the warmup. Even during the points I was really on the ball, making good contact and taking an aggressive swing a the ball. Sounds pretty good but I was planless. I had no idea what I was doing with any ball. There was no purpose to my shot selections and the score reflected it. I won one game.
To me it was a perfect first day of preparation. I now know exactly where I am in the journey towards focus. I have four weeks to narrow my attention to that of a laser beam. Four weeks to get mentally clear about how I want to develop my points, to find an emotional state that is just right for competition, and to shape how I am going to think about winning and losing. While marinating all of this stuff over the next few weeks I also need to get my body to be strong so I have been in the gym most days for the last week. My body is hurting from pushing it but I know I am getting stronger. The week before the tournament I will cut back and let my body rest to get ready for the work in front of me.
A couple of days later, I play with Malinow who is getting ready for the 45 Indoors in Salt Lake. My first time on a hard court in a year. He is a little dinged up so isn’t running hard. Regardless I was feeling fine on the fast surface. I am hitting very big off both sides, using my hips more than ever for a quick set up and additional pace. If I can stay alert with my footwork I will be able to execute like this throughout. I will be tough to win a point
against. I served very strongly. I have discovered a feeling of loading up before going up to the ball as well as finding a power zone through which I can do a lot with the racket head. I enjoyed serve and volley. I need to get closer in for the first and farther in for the second. Also, need to start hitting overheads and passing shots.
Played Malinow again. He played better. I need to take pace off the ball. I am wanting to hit too hard all the time. I have been executing a new shot of late, the topspin lob. I do it on the forehand when I have time to pass.
Sometimes it goes very short, but I think it is ready for matches. I think I hit my first one ever last year in this tournament.
Phil was my practice partner last year and he has a good game to play against. His is 22, very fast, big serve and big forehand. He has a couple of areas I can attack so I can play points against him. He is a good push for me and I will lose to him a bunch while preparing. Today my focus was on finding a return zone… a way to play against a big server. I tried staying farther back for a while, then worked on coming right out to the serve and taking in on the rise. Both were effective in putting the ball into a good place on the court. I need to have a plan for the next shot. Am I coming in behind returns? Am I staying back?
Today I remembered that I can run down any shot that anybody hits and that I don’t need to rush my point because of that. This is major for me.
Three and one half weeks to tournament
Worked out with 3 strong juniors on the hard courts. Did a variety of point drills for two hours non stop. Great workout. Their balls come with so much pace that I was often late and scrambling. My pace didn’t get them in any trouble at all unless I could hit three or four pressure building shots. They were also very quick. The ball in the 50s is going to moving pretty slowly for me if I keep playing with the kids. Everybody I am practicing with hits the ball big. It isn’t great for my confidence but I have it in perspective. One of the coaches who was watching pointed out a couple of valuable things: I don’t try to take my first volley from as high as I can, if I were to move to it more aggressively. And when I return with my forehand from the deuce side I take the ball too late, off a big serve, to get it back up the line. Stay conscious of hitting the ball early on the forehand return.
I am working my body really hard at the gym and am counting on being able to recover from the work beginning one week before the tournament. I am feeling very psyched and am counting down. I want to be playing really good tennis when I arrive there. I want to feel confidence in my being able to hit any shot on demand, whether it be in practice or at match point up or down.
Two weeks to go
This was a tough week for me in my preparation. First of all I am still too focused on the tournament rather than my game. I need to make a stronger effort at changing this mindset. The first step is to make the decision that winning is going to be much more based on how I am feeling about my game than on my results. Results, as usual, will just have to follow. They will regardless so I may as well disconnect from them.
The second part of my tough week is that I never got to feel that I was playing the style of tennis on the hard courts that I want to play. This happened because I have been practicing with much younger, very hard hitting players. This may turn out to be helpful in terms of dealing with the shots of my age group players but I still needed to get more of my kinds of points going. So it felt like a week that wasn’t all that productive. I did do some good mental spin work after losing a golden set to Ricky Becker, the former #6 player for Stamford. I actually played pretty well but, obviously was never able to hurt him or hurry him. I still saw it as a positive in recognizing how it is always a good idea to try something different when things aren’t working. I also saw
how far from focus I really was and this was a good wakeup call.
The week before the tournament:
Well, I have found my game. Played several times this week and have gotten clear that I am going to Chicago to run for everything, to hit the right shots at the right time, to avoid the silly selections that feel so right as I hit them, but so wrong as they land long, wide or in the net, to go for my shot when I get the invitation, to stay relaxed and have fun while playing and, mostly, to feel satisfied with who and what I put out there on the court.
The day before matches begin:
Got to Midtown Tennis Club in Chicago today to do my final preparation for the upcoming week. It is both exciting and pressure building to be the defending champ and #1 seed. Exciting in that I feel very special in this small universe. Pressure building in that I am a marked man in the draw. That is about all the time I have for thinking about stuff like that.
I hit with a couple of the favorites in the tournament and felt good. I found that the courts are playing pretty slowly compared to the ones I had practiced on back home. I feel secure and confident.
It is a special experience to be at a National. I spend most of my time thinking about my game, my opponent, how I am feeling, what I want to be feeling and doing whatever it takes to get in the optimal state to play at my best. For me, this is when I am physically relaxed and mentally clear on what I am trying to accomplish. Emotionally I am at my best when I am eager, happy and little concerned. To be able to put all of my energy into this is unique.
I am struggling with balancing the importance of this tournament relative to the war. I keep telling myself that it is ok for me to be playing while other American brothers and sisters are competing with real bullets.
Tomorrow morning I start off playing doubles. I look forward to hitting the first ball and getting started.
The energy around a club on the first day of a National is usually very high. Players who haven’t seen each other for a while are busy sharing stories of matches, ranking hassles and, of course, injuries. Everybody has a story. This National is a little different because, in addition to the Men’s 50s, the Women’s 40s and 50s are here. Also at stake are National Mixed Doubles Championships in both age groups. Each person is permitted to play in two events. I am passing on the Mixed. Several people that I have coached over the internet but never met are here. It is interesting to meet them in person. They are eager to be coached this week but I need to keep my focus on my own game so I am not so receptive to their questions. In the end, though, I end up doing what I do,
which is coach.
Started the doubles today. My partner is David Nash of Minnesota. He is currently #1 in the country in the 55s, the age group that I just entered. We one 6-0 6-0. Nash is 6’7” tall and covers all the overheads letting me roam around the net. We are a fine team. Last year Nash and I played here together and played into the semis. Knowing before the match that Nash could not play the next day if we won, we decided, before going on the court, that if we got to match point we would default and let our opponents advance to the finals. Sure
enough we were leading one set to love and 5-4, 40 love and we shook hands. Tomorrow at 1PM we play the team that we defaulted to. Those guys will not be eager to prove that last year was a fluke. They are very good and are seeded #2 based on their advancement to last year’s final. I mentioned to both of them that we expected to start the match where we finished off last year…that Nash and I were just on a bathroom break. They didn’t think that was very funny. They have no interest in revisiting the past.
Singles begins tomorrow at 8AM. My focus is decent but not where I want it to be . Tonight I will visualize myself playing with good energy, intense focus and positive emotion. I will also clarify what my game plan will be. My strategy will be what it usually is. To run for everything so that my opponents feel that they have nowhere to go. To hit the ball to the parts of the court that keep me in control. To go for my shots when the opportunity is presented to me. I will continue to play within myself and to be patient during the points. Technically I will plan on using my new knowledge of loading up with my hips and legs on my groundstrokes. On my serve, which can be a big factor in my matches, I will be focusing on my timing, making sure that I am exploding up to the
Last Day and beginning of the next competition
Lost my singles 4-6, 7-5, 6-4.
Got a pretty decent warmup and was feeling ok when I got on the court. Unfortunately I was faced with a battle that I was not up to winning. The battle was one of playing through an injury. Due to a pretty deep muscle pull in my lower back I was unable to explode to the ball. My first step in any direction was weak. There were many balls that I didn’t even attempt to run to. It was very frustrating. Movement is one of my strongest assets as a player. I kept trying to push myself into the match but my frustration interfered too much. While playing I felt disappointed. I thought too much about what I couldn’t do rather than focusing on what I could do. It isn’t necessarily the case that I would have won the match because my opponent was a fine player who might have
still hung on for victory. I take nothing away from him. No, it was a matter of me taking control of my thoughts when my thinking was counterproductive. In some ways it was a continuation of what happened in the doubles…the need to be accountable to myself when I am aware of what I ought to be doing. I knew that, being limited, I needed to attack on service return. I thought about it. I knew it was the right move. But it is not my style. It is out of my comfort zone. But it was also my best chance to succeed in the match. The lesson for
me…be willing to adapt when the situation demands, even if it means doing some things that are uncomfortable. I hope to never have to play a match where my movement is limited, but I will plan for it and make a commitment to myself to act on the plan I come up with. This will not happen again!
Thanks to all for your comments, feedback and support.
The Morning After
The morning after a loss in a big tournament is always a little strange. My hope was to be playing to the end of the event. All of a sudden it is over. The work. The preparation. The anticipation. The hopes. It feels so final. A loss such as this one, where I didn’t feel that I accessed the warrior within me, leaves me with a lingering sense of disappointment. I wake up and think that maybe the magic and excitement of competing is over. Maybe I will take the year off.
The great tennis champion, Bill Tilden, wrote that there were many nights he went to sleep and burned his (wooden) rackets in disgust, determined to never play again, only to be on the courts the next morning, trying to improve. I, too, will be looking to grow my game again starting on Monday.
In further reflection I have a sense that my motivation for playing this event was not fully formed in my mind. What I mean is that, from the beginning I was coming here to “defend my title.” My goal was to defend my title. Although I thought about playing good tennis, I never made it my north star. With my goal being to “defend,” all I needed to do was show up. It was even okay for me to show up when I was less that 100% physically. Today, as I feel my disappointment, I realize that if I had wanted to have a chance to succeed in this tournament, to play great tennis, to have a chance to win and to feel self satisfied no matter what the outcome, then I needed to be 100%.
The funny thing is that I achieved my goal. I defended. What will I do differently next time I have this opportunity? I will make my goal stronger and clearer…to defend successfully.