Feb. 4: The 55 and over Eastern Sectionals began this weekend and, for the last two weeks, since getting pumped up, I have been eager to get on the court for some matches. I have totally missed the experiences that I have when competing. They aren’t always what I want them to be but they never lack in some interesting challenges. Most often tennis is about me vs. myself. My opponents will be doing what they do and I need to focus on what I am doing. Somebody will win in the end.
My first match of an Eastern tournament is one that I often go into without too much concern. This is not because of overconfidence (I will get to that later), but because I haven’t had a tough first round match in many many years. I am conditioned to go into it without concern. This time, though, because I am so committed to working towards total, point to point focus to build my mental endurance, I went on the court and treated my opponent like the best player I will ever have to play. It is a good thing I did because he was up to the task. He played very tough through the first 6 games and I found myself in a battle. He was serving at 3-2 deuce after just having broken my serve. We had a point that went on for nearly 30 shots and I was determined that if there was going to be a miss it wasn’t going to be by me. I won the point and we were both very winded. I have been in enough of these post long point situations to know that winning that point was important, but more important was who was going to bounce back better in the next point. I took my time, rested and renewed while keeping an eye on my opponent who was not doing much to recover. I knew if I won the next point, I would have a chance of breaking his spirit. Gathered together I played a tough my ad point and won the game to get to 3-3. I won the next 15 points in a row and I didn’t lose another game in the match. I was glad I focused hard before the match and, especially, after the long point.
I was a bit tired while playing which makes me think I need to be more conscientious about what I am eating before the match. I must stay more committed to hydrating. I also will do a bit more leg strengthening in the gym. I need to be 100% physically there if I am going to help the USA win the Cup this year.
I must also stay aware of protecting every point I play. When I am on a roll, as I was in this match, I start to think I can make any shot at any time. I start to go for shots that are poor selections. Even if I make them in these matches, I will pay in the tougher ones. Overconfidence is a challenge that I face. Confidence good. Overconfidence…big trouble. Low self esteem was, in the past, my biggest challenge to overcome. Now my biggest challenge is overconfidence. These are two sides of the same coin. This trait is an obstacle to my being able to play at my absolute best. Both sides have a lot to do with comparing myself to my opponent, something that is often counterproductive. My work in this area needs to be one of reminding myself what I am a capable of doing on the court. When I know what I can do I am confident. That is the mental place that allows me to play within myself. That is the place that I need to be by the time I step off the plane in Durban, South Africa in mid-April.
Feb. 19: I won the next couple of matches and the tournament while staying on top of my point by point focus. The value of writing about my game is that it helps keeps my task on my mind and, in this case, was a reminder to monitor my level of confidence. It is important that I think about these things before I walk on the court or I will continue to do what I have done in the past. Habits are so ingrained that without conscious effort, over and over again, the old habits will rule.
Feb. 26: My main effort in preparation continues to be off court. I have turned myself over to an athletic trainer who has been working me as hard as I have ever worked. We are focused on agility, explosiveness, balance, efficiency of movement, doing sprints, rope ladder work, hopping, skipping, plyometrics, one legged squats and more. I am, for the first time, doing power lifts and other weight work that train me to recruit many muscles at one time, just like what is required to hit a tennis ball. This is very different than the resistance training I have done up until now. Making the choice to add this regimen to my training has a lot to do with what I know of Agassi’s concept of fitness. Make yourself a better all around athlete and your tennis will have to be better.
Each day that I finish these training sessions (and the following day) are painful. I am stiff, sore and tired. Regardless, I will look forward to the next session because I know that these are just the markers of fitness growth and without going through this I will, at best, stay the same. That is not acceptable.