January arrives and gives us the opportunity to look ahead. It is a good time to think what you have accomplished since moving indoors.
Have you made progress in your game since September? What were some of the parts of competing that you wanted to improve? Have you achieved some of your goals?
Now is also a time to think about where you want to be with your game at the end of the indoor season. You can reset your goals for the next few months. Doing this will help you rededicate yourself to the day to day work necessary, whether it be on or off the court.
I have made it a habit to set goals frequently and find that, if I really care about my goals, I am drawn to the work that I need to do.
Two of my tennis goals for 2004 are result oriented. This September, the Senior Davis Cup and World Championships will be played in Philadelphia on grass courts. If I make the Cup team, my goal is to play in Cup matches freer of the tension that I have played with in the past. I want to bring my true A game to the Cup matches. For the World Championships, my goal is to win it. I can close my eyes and imagine how I will feel when I accomplish these two goals. I will visualize succeeding many times over the next months.
It would be nice if that is all it would take. The reality is that these goals provide me with targets that make clear some of the process goals that I will need to achieve to be able to improve my chances of success.
- be better conditioned than I have ever been by increasing my strength, speed, quickness, endurance and flexibility
- increase my awareness that close games and matches are often a function of my opponent playing well, not my inadequate play
- increase my commitment to loving the battle more than the result
- improve my ability to recognize my opponents strengths and weaknesses and to use this info effectively during matches
- make fewer unforced errors when leading in games and sets
- get closer to the net for first volleys
- improve my forehand topspin lob
- improve my running backhand passing options
- be more forgiving of my opponent’s behavior
I have started working on the first of these by joining a gym and working out there 3-4 times a week since early November. Over the next several months I will adjust my workout to be specific to my conditioning needs for grass court tennis.
The remaining goals are mostly on court work, many of them in tournaments. To that end I have decided to play more local tournaments than I have in the past couple of years. I usually start tournaments in March. This year…I am starting next weekend.
I am sure that my list of process goals will expand and become more specific as I travel on the path that I have set out for myself.
Am I psyched. You can bet I am. Can’t wait to get to work.
May 8 The Day After the Tournament Ends
Today I feel like I am on vacation. I have been working on my game with this tournament in mind since mid March. I have practiced hard and taken care of myself with extra discipline. I have watched my diet, worked out many times in the gym, stretched, played hard, and charted my progress. For today it feels like the work is over.
And then I remember that this tournament was just a step along the way. My goals remain the same as they were at the beginning of the year… to bring my “A” game to Senior Davis Cup and to win the World Championships in September. This week’s experiences in Boise have brought me closer to what I am shooting for this year. I reflect back on my process goals that I wrote in January. Some I have accomplished. Some I neglected. I am a better player today than I was in January. I have made important steps on this year’s journey. I have made progress.
So today is a vacation. Maybe I will take off this whole week from this work on my game. But the work is not over. I hope it will never end. By next week I will set new goals and get back to it. I will keep the momentum going…always putting one foot in front of the other. The ultimate goal for me is to continue to improve…to always be a little better today than I was yesterday. Every tournament ends with a new beginning.
Long day of waiting around to get out to play the doubles semis. Always tough to do after going out of the singles early. Neither Charlie nor I were able to get our A games going. We fell behind early in the first set, down 5-2, we made a little run to get to 5-4 but couldn’t break our opponents so they won the first set 6-4. The second set was a similar experience. I was a little flat, possibly a result of feeling the disappointment of being out of the singles. I had watched my buddies who were playing to get to the finals and felt a bit down. I did manage to fire up a bit in the second set but it was too little too late.
I have gotten used to playing on the last day in these tournaments so it was a little weird. It is a reminder for me that none of this just comes to me. Every time I play a National event I must be prepared for any outcome. Still, all in all, I am blessed to be able to compete year in and year out and to continue to grow the relationships with the other players. I have been playing against these guys for twenty years and we share a terrific bond. We all look forward to seeing each other on the courts later in the year. Win or lose I would not trade these experiences for anything. Every tournament offers me the opportunity to look inside myself, to see how I have grown and to present me with new paths to travel in my personal development. I am proud to be a part of a group of people that keeps putting it on the line.
I may have some more thoughts to write in the next day or two but, if not, thanks to all of you for sharing the time with me, for supporting me and for all of your input.
Next up will be the USA vs. Canada on the grass at Piping Rock CC in early June.
I will begin by writing that I lost in singles today to Steve Cornell, former UCLA player, 1-6, 6-4, 6-3. The details: three hours of extraordinary competition against a true warrior. I had him down and out with a break point to go up 5-3 in the second. I had a forehand pass that just caught the top of the net and dropped back to my side. He played tough as nails from that point on. I was behind on my serve games throughout the third set and kept escaping but could not do it every time.
It was one of the most memorable matches I have ever played. The first set may have been the best set that I have ever played this deep into a National tournament. I played with courage throughout against a player that was at the net, in my face, every single point. He attacked my backhand without mercy time and time again. I took the challenge and succeeded on every level but the final score. I left nothing of myself on the court. Interesting thing was that I had been so concerned about my hamstring all week and felt that it would inhibit my play, especially against a player like this. However, yesterday I made the commitment to give it my all, regardless, and when I woke up today my leg felt fine. It was never a factor. I must admit that, during the third set, as I was struggling , I started to pull on the wrap on my leg and started to pull up at the end of a run, as if my leg was bothering me. It wasn’t, but I was falling into that old trap of using an injury as an excuse for missing shots. When we do that, it is a way to make the loss hurt less. Excuses tend to do that. Happily, I noticed that I was doing that and had a firm talk with myself and refused to go there any more. Steve just beat me. I can take nothing away from him and nothing away from my personal effort.
I learned, in this match, that I still need to work on my backhand passing shot, that I must find a way to practice against all types of players (in this case, a player who is always at the net) even if they are hard to find and that when the opportunity is there in big moments to go for it. No fear of missing. To play it safe in a big moment is equal to giving the point away.
All in all a great day on the courts. By the way, we won in doubles to advance to the semis. Now, into the hot tub to rest these weary muscles and to begin to prepare for tomorrow’s doubles.
I love this game!
The first couple of days of a tournament is the time that all of the players reconnect with each other, see what is happening in each other’s lives. The real posturing starts later with stories of recent past successes, new game strengths, vulnerabilities that have been eliminated and presentation of injuries. This is all done in an attempt to set up potential future opponents. As each of us hits the practice courts we watch those people that we anticipate hitting up against. This lasts for a few moments for me in that I realize early on that all of this thinking about other players just creates more anxiety. I just start to get into seeing how I am hitting. I set my goals very high in practice. I want to hit every single shot with purpose and success of execution. This puts strong positive pressure on me and gets me ready for the matches when every shot is important. No more fooling around. No more cute shots. No more showing off. The closer I get to my first match, the more and more intense I get. I have moments when I get caught up in the fact that many of the other players are watching me. As the #2 player in the country and #2 seed in the tournament, I am respected. I am also a marked man. I am somebody that everybody wants to take down.
Went out to play my match today. Moved cautiously to protect the hamstring. Bad idea. If I am not moving aggressively I am half the player I can be. I was overly focused on not hurting myself. Result was ok. I won 6-3, 6-2 but did not play my game.
I realized after the match that I can hold nothing back tomorrow when I play a fine player. I lost to him in the finals of the National 50 Indoor Championships in 2000. No more injury prevention. Just go 100% and see how it holds up. I am looking forward to the match. I am not concerned about winning or losing. I just want to play like a warrior. Winning or losing will change nothing about how I feel about myself as a player.
My doubles partner, Charlie Hoevelar, is the guy I won the National Grass with last September. Not in the singles, he arrived today and we went out to play a practice match against #1 Brian Cheney and his partner. These guys are legends in the seniors. I look at them and still question whether I belong on the court with them. My game is at least as good as theirs but my belief is not. It is still part of my work to see myself as others see me in tennis. They see me as one of the best in the age group. I still feel like I am trying to become a member of their club. I wonder when my perspective will be based, not on the past but on the present. As long as I am unable to see the truth of who I am as a player, it can undermine my play when I go up against these top players.
Finished up training this week and am on my way to Boise. Got in some final work on my new backhand and worked hard on my patience in developing the points. Feeling so strong, I am prone to hitting too hard. It is important that I leave the ego gratification of power hitting at home. I will remember that I can get to every ball and that, as long as I keep it deep, I will stay out of trouble. The opportunities to attack will present themselves.
Had a bit of a scare in my last practice session with Phil on Thursday. At the end of our session, an hour and a half in, I felt something in my hamstring pull. Within two hours I felt doubtful for the tournament. Woke up on Friday and continued to feel doubtful. I had decided, last year, when I went to play the 50 Indoors with a shaky back, that I would not kid myself into thinking I can compete with the best if I am not completely fit. This got me into action and I treated the hamstring aggressively. Within 24 hours I was feeling much better and am, right now, on the plane. My first match won’t be until Wednesday, so I will have to balance playing and resting. Better for me to be fit with less on court practice than the other way around.
My goal is to continue to focus on my game. It isn’t about the other players. They cannot be in the equation. I feel that I have everything that I need. It now comes down to whether or not I can keep my mind on the simple execution…of my shots and strategies. I know what I want to do. I know how I want to play. I know what I want to look like. I know how I wan t to feel.
Boise, here I come.
Practicing was fun this week. Tuesday I got a great hit in with a top 40s player who usually beats me. He was a little off and I managed to get the best of him. I am noticing that I am making more mid match adjustments, which was one of the goals I set for myself back in January. I have been so focused on my backhand goal that I forgot about some of my others, including this one. I didn’t follow one of the rules of goal setting…to keep reminding myself what is on my goal list. Regardless, I was happy that I started to make the adjustments and will recommit to reading my goals every day. It makes a huge difference.
Getting closer to the tournament I try to start playing more sets so I added a practice session on Wednesday with the Jamaican pro that I played with last week. Learned an important lesson. Don’t assume that a Jamaican pro will remember the details, like where we are playing. He didn’t show up. Instead I hit with one of the top juniors in the Robbie Wagner Tournament program. Great workout hitting against somebody who blasted every ball and ran down just about anything that I hit. My confidence was not affected by having player 44 years younger than me dealing with my shots. She is one of the best in the East and highly ranked in the country. I don’t remember 12 year old girls playing like this when I was a kid.
I hit a little bump in the process road and some result thinking kicked in this week when I saw the draw for the tournament. Not only is it very deep with talent but, also, the top player in the country decided to play. This bumped me out of the top seeded position to #2 and I started to get focused on him and the other strong players. This has been a trap for me in the past. Will need to push myself to keep thinking about getting my own game to be where it needs to be with little or no concern about how it will all play out in the end.
Later in the week I did some specific training to deal with the strong chance that I will meet some opponents who will serve and volley 100% of the time on their serve and chip and come in on my serve. I prefer to get my teeth into the point with two or three shots. This other style challenges me to react quickly with predetermined strategies. I called Bob Malinow, who plays this style well. For more than an hour he kept putting me in the uncomfortable situation of rushing. I am sure that the specific training will pay off.
Also got my butt kicked by Russell Heier 62 60. I seem to require a major butt kicking before each event. It helps my humility and keeps me from becoming overconfident. I learned to be more patient on my down the lines. I also noticed that I am hitting with too much concern about outcome on my mid court attacking shots. I need to keep them in the flow of the point and make sure I am looking to end the point with a volley.
I am starting to wind down my gym work and putting more energy into stretching. Still new to this weight work I am uncertain about whether or not to keep lifting weights. Each trainer I talk to has a different opinion. I will need to do more research in this area for the future.
4/14 Journal Entry
I feel my engine revving higher and higher each day that I work on my game. Had a great workout with Phil, a strong 25 year old pro who helped warm me up for my last few National events. He hits the ball very big and is much faster than any of my regular opponents. This is great for me. I am under constant time pressure when setting up for my shots and if I hit what I think is a winner, he runs it down, so I am challenged to stay alert and to hit more than one good shot in a point. We played three sets on Tuesday and, even though I grabbed one set, he beat me up pretty badly. I was not very good. Thinking way too much about my “new backhand.” There I was playing a player that rushes me on most of my shots and I am trying to hit a new shot all the time. I was making errors galore and missing most service returns. I did stay determined. I was persistent. I didn’t give up on it. That is my typical way. However, when reviewing my play, later in the day, I started to question what I was doing, trying to develop a new shot at a time that I am getting ready for a major tournament. Those self-doubts started to infect my mind…what if I can’t do it? What if I can’t refind my game? Maybe I should just go with what I’ve got. Do I really need to make a change? Maybe I should put it off until after the tournament. I was at a critical point and needed to take a stand with myself. I knew these doubts were just a way for me to resist change. Asked some of my students what I should do…abandon the work or just commit to the change and take whatever results happen? Some encouraged me to commit and accept the results. Then, though, I would not be facing the truth of what I want in playing. I want to win also. I don’t want to take losses to players I think I can beat. I don’t want my ranking to drop. Yet I also want to make the change. I will be a better player for it. When I asked myself how I could have both, the solution came instantly…be flexible. Use the new backhand in those situations that I feel it will help me, on the passing shot and on the cross court opening. Stop doing it on every single ball. I don’t need it as a basic groundstroke. With this awareness, I dragged Phil out the following day and the outcome was different. I had the strength of the old with the new mixing in at appropriate times. I played great. The same thing happened the following day when I practiced with a former Jamaican Davis Cup player. How pumped am I!
When involved in working on my game and having a clear picture of my goal, it is like building a model car or putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Each day that I come back to it I have a slightly different perspective and greater clarity. I start to see more parts that are related to the whole, in this case, playing my game as well as I can, today, with less and less clutter each day. At this rate I feel confident that my game will be in top form two weeks. If anything I must stay conscious that I have a couple of more weeks of preparing. Although I always like to play my best, I need to pace myself so that I don’t leave my best stuff on the practice court.
Can’t wait to see how this week goes.
It has been a somewhat frustrating week or so in my preparation. Eager to get on the court and practice my game, I arranged for a few practice sessions a week. I want to get to work on my returns and my backhand passing shots. I want to get my teeth into some sets to start feeling the intensity and fun of competing for every point. Life, though, has a way of interfering with the best laid plans. One of my practice partners didn’t reserve a court so we only got a half hour in. Well, I worked on being flexible and hit the gym instead. I was even more ready to play yesterday but, no way, my opponent was sick. Again, the gym. I feel that I need about six good practice matches so I have time. First match is four weeks from today.
Today I asked Robbie Wagner, one of the top junior coaches, to take a look at what is going on with my backhand pass. I had been getting a little heady about it and needed some objective feedback. I am pretty coachable except for the part of giving over control. Knowing that I would be able to walk away with something valuable, I kept my mouth shut about what I thought and let Robbie do his thing. He made two suggestions, one about my preparation and one about my movement to the ball, that were right on the money. He worked me very hard for about an hour and I felt good. It will take some serious mental effort to make these changes over the next few days and weeks. I will be using visualization techniques to help speed the process, starting today, in addition to working extra hard on court.
For all of you who I coach, there will be another week of working on your cross court forehand approach shots. 🙂
March 30, 2004
Started the on court phase of practice today. I have five full weeks before the National Indoors. My playing goals are still forming and each time I play they will become clearer. On my definite to do list are: being clear about why I am playing…to love the challenges and to be eager to compete; serving tougher…focusing on each and every serve so that it is always a weapon; attacking second serves with my forehand and approaching behind it; going for the flat cross court backhand to keep pressure on, rather than slicing it and resetting the point; to give my all, every single point, no matter what the score.
Played against Russ Heier, a top Eastern 40s player, on the hardcourts today. He was my first hardcourt practice opponent two years ago, the year that I won this tournament. I hadn’t thought of it until now but maybe it is a sign of what may come. I was pleased with my play for the most part and was able to see some stuff that I need to clean up. I felt that I was moving very well and feel stronger than I have ever felt. The work in the gym for the last four months is noticeable. I served strongly…very good spins serve up the middle on the deuce side and flat up the middle on the ad side. I want to work more on getting the deuce serve out wide. I was aced a bunch and didn’t make quite a few service returns. Have to raise my level of physical and mental alertness on service returns.
I was concerned that I had put off playing for so long and that I might have lost some of the fever. Not an issue. I had a great time playing today. I felt good. I was interested. I was totally engaged. It continues to be a treat to work on my game.