If you've read through my blog, you probably know that I've got chronic leg pain. (Anyone else?) It all started about 5 years ago. I won't go into all the details, of which there are many, but I've got some good quick advice that I've been given over the years but have stubbornly put off until now:
Hmmm...there might be a future blog post in all of that. Stay tuned.
Through my chronic leg pain I have continued to play tennis on a regular basis. Even when it was suggested that I play a lower level because of my limited movement (which isn't really all that restricted if you ask me), I pushed through and developed a few weapons to compensate for my decreased court coverage and to keep me competitive.
I'm by no means trying to gloat. All I'm saying is that, somebody's gonna win the point, so why not me? With that in mind, I asked myself, "What do I need to do/can I do in my current state?" I decided that my basic, stripped-down, bare-boned strategy would be: Do Not Let That Ball Come Back!
First thing I did was to hone my serve. It's gotten a little weaker over the years and I still average about 4 double faults a match but I've learned how to direct it much better. If you are receiving from the deuce side, I can, more often than not, push you far out wide which many times results in an ace (freebie!) or a fluffy return which my partner has all the time in the world to decide how to play. I'm paired with some pretty aggressive women so the shot of choice tends to be a hammered ball between the 2 opponents splitting the court down the middle. They like that shot. My percentage of success isn't as good from the ad side but I'm working on it!
The other thing I've got going for me is a soft, deadpan, seemingly harmless, backhand, slicing short shot. I figured out how to use it on a first serve, second serve or pretty much any shot that lands in front of the service line - minus anything hammered at me. And when performed correctly, it lingers with just enough time to create anticipation and anxiety then, like a classic Steven Wright one-liner, it successfully falls just short of the receiver's expectations. I've seen even the best footwork in this ladies 3.5 USTA division stumble and not-so-gracefully avoid face-planting on the court trying to reach this backspinning ball. It's in the realm of "trick-shots" but nonetheless, it's a Winner!
(Disclaimer: When performed incorrectly, the ball typically slaps the top of the net and comes rolling back to my feet. When that happens, I don't feel like Dumb or Dumber. I feel like Dumbest.)
On this particular day, my forehand cross-court return was on fire! (I play on the deuce side.) Ok, please remember, this is not a pat-myself-on-the-back kind of post. All of these techniques were intentionally sharpened because I can't get around the court like I used to. God forbid, I'm at the net and the ball gets lobbed over my head. That's when I yell over to my partner, regardless of her position on the court, "Yours!" These days, when it's in my court, I'm looking to end the point with every touch of the ball.
The best unspoken compliment I believe that you can receive on the court is when your opponents make adjustments for your game. After several winning forehand returns, they got wise and lined up in a loosely translated but definite I-Formation.
The opponents both positioned themselves on the deuce side - one at the server's position (because she was serving) and the other directly in front of her at the net and directly in my cross-court line-of-fire. Typically this is not much of a problem. I can usually adjust and hit the same flat return down the line, or my backhand slice can go either down the line or at the net person who, if she grabs a hold of it, usually sees it dribble off the face of her racquet. But this time, I gotta tell you...their strategy worked. I freaked out a little in my head. The lady standing at the net was a little older than me and I was pretty sure she was not going to be quick enough to move out of the way of my return. My non-competitive side took over and I tried all the aforementioned shots and then some. The ball kept coming back and we were losing points. So, I had a conversation with my partner and we both agreed that the lady standing at the net must know what she is doing and is probably prepared to contend with my cross-court return. So it was decided. No mercy. The serve came right to my forehand sweet spot with just enough pace to take advantage of it so I let it rip. If I had a crystal ball, I wouldn't have done it - she was not ready like I thought she'd be. I beaned her right in the center of her chest and knocked her off balance a little. Just a little. I felt terrible! But what the heck?! She knew I was going there. Why didn't she get out of the way? She didn't even try to block the ball. Her partner rushed the net to triage her bludgeoned teammate but as it turned out, she was only a little stunned but a whole lot insulted that I would try to hit her on purpose, which I didn't.
So, I sheepishly let her take that winning shot away from me. A shot which I worked so hard on to improve. Little things like how people perceive my character get in the way of my competitiveness. I know, it's stupid and so did my partner who encouraged me to hit the shot I knew how to hit and let the opponents figure out that their interpretation of the I-Formation was not going to work. All I could think of was when Johnny's sensei gave him the order to "sweep the leg" - Daniel-san's already injured leg. He didn't want to do it but he knew it would win the match. He showed no mercy and took Daniel-san out with one menacing strike. Or so he thought. If you recall, Daniel-san claimed the final and winning point with Mr. Miyagi's crane move sending Johnny to the mat. I was not going to let that happen to me. I'm no Johnny and I just couldn't bring myself to rocket another return in her general direction.
We won the match in 2 sets but gave up more games than we should have. I didn't hit my opponent again but I did take a few jabs at her ego with my slicing short shot whenever I got the chance. Fortunately, she only floundered a few times trying to get to the ball but never actually fell on her face.
I don't know if my determination to keep playing tennis is a good health-strategy for my legs or not, but at least for now, if my squeaky wheels keep on turnin', then this proud player's gonna keep on burnin'. Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the tennis court.
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