The Joy of Adapting Your Game Part 1 32

February 2007

One of my blog readers came across some entries that I wrote 7 years ago. After reading my most recent about Federer adapting his game she commented that I wrote about the very same thing that I had bee doing with my game. She was very excited about her takeaways and encouraged me to post it.

So here it is. It will be followed by a couple of more that continue the story of the work that I was doing on my game to take it to another level.

My work in adding a new aggressive component to my game goes on and the challenges build with the work. When practicing against juniors on hard courts I am making significant progress. I am recognizing the shots that present the opportunity to hit to the corners and move in to volley. I had never realized that balls that land as little as 5 feet from the baseline can be attacked. Of course, these are not balls that have much pace. I have been wrong plenty of times over the last month misreading the pace of the ball and pay the price with an error. Regardless I keep working at it and have managed to avoid overhitting the shot or hitting too close to the lines. The hard courts seem to make the play easier to execute. I started to feel more confidence in the move and was pleased with myself that I had mastered this change. I had my suspicions, though, despite the mental victory party that I was throwing.

I guess I am starting to know myself well enough, for my doubts turned into reality as I brought this new game out in some practice sets on the clay against practice partner Jimmy Malhame. Right from beginning of working on this change I have known that I need to do this against players who are just like Malhame: fast to the corners of the court, unafraid to put a ball back when playing attackers who stay behind the baseline and always taking time away by hitting early. Our first set I was overamped, jumping all over the wrong balls to attack, overhitting, and missing the setup volleys if I wasn’t flat out passed. I struggled to win points and only did so by hitting amazing shots. Hitting amazing shots is fun but it sure isn’t the type of shot you want to hit too frequently when trying to be effective. If I don’t hit one in a match I am happy.

I learned from this outing that I needed to work on a sense of how to blend the new style into my existing successful method of playing…patient off the baseline and, yet, opportunistic when the right situation presents itself. Nice calm approach. Second outing with Jimmy a few days later and…overamped, overhitting, missing volleys…but better. I started to see things more clearly. I kept thinking about it even when giving lessons…blend the two styles. Third time out was even better. I felt that I was playing in my former way and I was picking and choosing when to attack. Felt good…and then the stakes went up. I entered the Eastern Sectional Championships. I didn’t think I would have any difficulty using the new game in competition because I have not had any close matches in the sectional events for several years, not so much because of my game, but because none of the National level players play the events. They have all dropped out over the years.

Then I heard that a great Aussie player, Mark Harrison, had decided to start playing competitively after a few years off and that he was entered. There started to be a little buzz in the section that, if we both advanced to the finals, this would be a match to watch. Sure enough we both got through and were scheduled to play.

In the past I might have spent a lot of time obsessing about my opponent, about whether I would win or lose or how good he would play. Happily this type of thinking has not been a factor for a couple of years. I think mostly about my state, my game and what I am going to do. After all, that is all I have control over. I gave him a little of my focus before the match as I considered that he would be out of shape and have trouble if I kept him playing long points. I decided that would be the best way to win. Of course the problem with that kind of focus would be that I would be less likely to play my new blended game that included attacking at every opportunity. This tournament was in my schedule as a test to practice my new game, in competition, when I am accountable for my results. Should I bail on the new game and protect my Eastern winning streak and try to get another trophy? It would only be one match that I wasn’t trying the new game.  NO! Harrison playing this event gives me a better opportunity to strengthen my discipline. Win today and stop improving or let go of winning today and win bigger tomorrow. I felt great with the decision and went on the court eager to bring my new game. He played awesome. I played awesome. He strikes the ball better than anyone I have ever played and he did it for five games. I played courageously with no fear of losing. My only fear was that I would bail out and fall back on my old style. On the changeover at 2-3 he shook my hand and said he was hurt and couldn’t continue. I was disappointed in that I was eager to see if I could stay strong. Regardless it was a success. I had been strong with myself. I had stuck with my commitment.

I am now on the search for more and tougher opportunities. I am eager. I am excited. I am into it.

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