Saturday, September 3, 2011

After today, my last blog without a video behind it.

Any of you ever had an event that just humbled the hell out of you?

This did it today.

I took a double bagel from a guy that had the exact same skills as I did. Flat out sucked up the joint. I didn't belong on the court.

I will continue this blog, no question about it. I am not a quitter. But this time it will be different.

The past is the past. I had a great childhood, and I had a great time talking about how I learned this game by myself, and how I played with nothing but hustle. But, as I just said, the past is the past.

No more stories, no more past accomplishments. They mean nothing now. I just went up a division and got whacked. I now have three straight sets with exactly ZERO games. That's never happened to me before, and it never will again.

My first video comes tonight. I will take the beatdown of a lifetime here, but I promised this to you guys, and it's on video. For the snide remark people? I expect that, and I probably deserve it thinking it'd be easy to go up a division. But for anyone that wants to critique, I would appreciate it.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Update from Conyers: Tough loss, but a lot to learn from it.

I thought I'd be writing this in the morning, before the consolation. Turns out I can't sleep, so I'll write this now.

The match with Anthony Cao was a real good match, and he did deserve the win tonight. 4-6 7-6 6-0 was the score. The third set is very telling, but I'll get into that in a sec.

First, the good things I got out of the match.

#1. 11 aces and 34 winners. I never get those kind of numbers, and I'm adding more of those numbers each and every match. Very happy with that.

#2. When I fell behind 4-1 in the first set, I was starting to get frustrated. Serve wasn't going in at all, and my backhand was failing me. Then I said to myself that I flat out wasn't going to get frustrated anymore. I'd literally try out my Bjorn Borg face and let the mistakes be as they may. After that, I took five straight games from Anthony, and took the first set. That was telling for me because I have a tendency to go Ryan Harrison on myself at times, without the racket throwing of course. This time, I just kept my calm the rest of the match.

#3. I saved two service games at love to force the tiebreak. This NEVER happens. I felt great about my serve at points, and not so much at others, but that really felt clutch.


Now the bad things.

#1. I started reverting back to the old game a little more in the second set. My strategy in this tournament was to kind of have a mix of my old hustle game, and a more all around game so that I could phase my way into this new game I'm working on. Second set, I found myself forcing everything and pushing a little more, which doesn't make me happy at all. Even with all that, he took the second set, and it frustrated me, which will lead into why the bagel in the third(that in a sec)

#2. Went three straight games without a first serve going in at all. That's the other part of the service game I'm not proud of whatsoever. No consistency.


Now the bagel.

After losing that second set, I had an inner frustration. I don't lose those too often, and he got me this time. It was a reminder that this is a higher level now, and I can't play like that anymore. I just decided that I was either going to win big or lose big for the third set, and see what happened. I started going for more second serves(which is normally a tap over), went for every smash(which sometimes I'm skittish on), torqued every forehand and backhand, everything. I was trying to construct points, and basically playing a game that I'm nowhere near accustomed to at all.

WAY too many errors. I had a couple winners out of it, and a couple more aces, but that didn't make up for the errors at all. 6-0 in 18 minutes. I knew one of us was going to bagel. I either play lights out this way, and he doesn't get a point, or I bomb miserably. You know what happened.

I did this because I have to get it in my head to quit playing the old way. Losing that second set reminded me that this wasn't Kansas anymore. I can't just wear people into submission and hustle my way to wins. It's time to make this work, whether I bomb or succeed. Some people won't believe me, but who cares. I knew what I had to do, and what I have to do in the future.

So tomorrow morning, 9 AM, is consolation. Hopefully Sunday too. I hated losing, but I'd still love to go home with some hardware for some more momentum. I know the wins will come as time goes on. I just have to have patience.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ready for Conyers tournament

Yesterday was ALL tennis for me.

It started at 7 AM with a three mile run(beautiful morning too). The only frustration I have is that I feel like I'm stuck at three miles. I realize that in high school, I would suck wind at a couple blocks(running with the tennis team took every bit of mental will because I had to keep up and not quit), but I'm ready to keep moving up and building my stamina. If anyone has ideas, I'm open to them. After a few minutes rest, I worked on a stretching routine and abs. This routine is not easy to get used to because I always trained for pure strength and power, and now I have to train for quickness, stamina, speed, and fast twitch movements.

After breakfast(Robeks fit shake and wheat grass shot. Greatest place to go for all your training foods and drinks), I go on TT for a while, then get some business done with the trailer for "One Chance". After seeing the footage, I asked to redo the voiceover(With all the footage we have, the original VO doesn't fit it at all). Producer agreed, so I'll be meeting him at 3:00 today. Soon, it'll be finished, and a contact is going to set me up with a Comcast TV exec, so that's fun.

With all that finished, it was tennis time.

First, I went to my tennis center and used the ball machine for a while. The other night, on volley drills, I was airmailing a few of them, and it was all coming back to my old bad habits of simply using my wingspan to my advantage(No knee bend, racket head all out of wack). So I had a new method to work on(in other words, the correct one), and it was very unfamiliar for me. All of those years I did the wrong thing, it was still very successful for me. Problem was that there was only one place to direct the volley, which allows the opponent to set up his shot.

Knowing that I needed to get familiar with the correct method, all I worked on with the machine was volleys. Two hours straight. Backhand and forehand, which turned into mainly backhands because that's my weakness right now. It is so easy to revert back to the bad habits when they worked for you, but when I want to do that, I think about the chapter in Pete Sampras' book where his coach wanted him to do a one handed backhand, and he was getting crushed at first before he smoothed it out. I know it's going to take me a while to get used to a few things, but it'll be worth it in the end.

After that, I went back to drills again. This time, I was getting serious torque on my forehand, and was very happy with the results. The backhand? Not so much. My forehand wasn't too hard to correct, but my backhand had all kinds of issues, so it's easy at times to go back to bad habits. All in all, I improved on the backhand, but this is going to take a while. Better that I deal with my weaknesses now in a lower ranking than when I start moving up the ranks.

Overall, I'm very ready for the Conyers tournament. Getting second in the Kennworth tournament still eats me alive because that was a winnable final, and I'm ready to move ahead. I believe I can win this one and move forward to the next tournament.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Starting from scratch.

In my last match, I really noticed some bad habits that I have accumulated for so many years. They were hard to notice when I was winning matches, and I was satisfied with my game. After playing higher level players, I noticed the flaws.

And I decided to start from scratch to improve those flaws.

I learned about a guy who has tennis drills for everyone from beginners to advanced players about four days a week, so at 11 AM today(Sunday), I went there for the first time.

There was six people in total, including the trainer. Three beginners and three advanced players. The three beginners were all female, and all had contrasting personalities. One dressed like she took Chris Evert's 1975 Wimbledon dress collection, one just put a pair of shorts and a T-Shirt on, and one was a good looking brazilian who made sure you noticed what she wore. I've seen many of those type of girls come and go, but at least this one took an interest in the game.

The trainer starts with volleys, and I was happy because I have accumulated so many bad habits on my volleys over the years. I know all of the techniques necessary for a good volley, but I always used my height and wingspan, and little to no knee bending. Well, I found out how NOT used to the correct method I was. First two times the trainer hit the ball to me, I volleyed in my old style out of instinct and placed them perfectly. Then when I realized what I was doing, I go for the proper technique and airmail the sucker to the back fence. I swung the racket too far in front of me.

After a couple more opportunities, it started to gel and I was even placing the ball where I wanted, which is something my old technique never allowed me to do. I was still coming up short on a couple, and even airmailed a couple more, but at least I had an idea what to work on.

Next was forehands and backhands. On the forehands, I didn't think I had too many problems. The majority of my winners are always crosscourt forehands. I knew that I sometimes have too many UEs on the forehand side, but that's part of the game, right?

Nope. I had some real good forehands, and a couple good rallies with the trainer, but I still hit a couple out. My mistake? I never follow through on the shot 100%, and I start the shot at way too high of an arc, which makes the shot low percentage. Once again, it was never perfect because it takes time to get out of bad habits, but I noticed more torque on my forehands, which was awesome.

Backhand? Other than a few winners I've had lately, that's been my weakest shot. It always feels like I'm playing desperation tennis when I hit the backhand, like I just want to keep it in play. My problem there(and I never realized this at all)? The grip. It almost looked like I had a western grip on my backhands, and the shot would go all over the place.

Finally, we start playing points, and I finally understood, for the first time, how even the best pros in the world can make mistakes against lesser opponents. I had a lot of errors, but also a lot more winners. I was what I hate the most...safe. I played way too damned safe, and waited for others' mistakes. Easy when you play lesser opponents, but not good when you play great technical players.

As I get used to doing things correctly, I'll cut down on my errors. Right now though, I'm enjoying attacking instead of being on the defensive all the time. That's more of my real life personality anyway.

Now if only I can get a consistent second serve...


Addendum: The pilot is almost finished, and I should be able to link it in 7-10 days. Things are looking really good with this project.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Proof is in the pudding.

Yeah, I'm a masochist. I'm a glutton for punishment. I've heard it all.

So I'm going to prove this one more time. I decided that, besides the coaching and training, I am going to start recording myself on the court for all of you to see, one groundstroke, one serve, one smash, one volley at a time.

That means I do want your help also. I see people putting their videos up from time to time, and getting advice, and I want the same thing. Tell me what I'm doing wrong, tell me what I'm doing right, tell me what flaws you see, and how you'd fix them. If I'm going to continue to improve like I have, and not stall, I'm going to want all the help I can get.

The first one will be in a couple of days. I'll start out with the forehand and go from there.

Early thank you to all that will help.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What I once was, and it wasn't pretty.

What I'm about to admit probably deserves a mock up of a twelve step program.

"Hi, my name is Jake, and I was once a backboard".

"HI JAKE"

I don't think I would have admitted that a year ago. I didn't think of myself as one of those people. I played many of those people and they annoyed the hell out of me with all of those ridiculously high lobs. I guess I didn't think of myself as a backboard because I always had a solid enough shot, and my placement was pretty damned good(I have always been able to tell, 98% of the time, if the shot is going out or not. Always hits that back corner and causes errors).

But after playing the final in the Kennworth tournament, I saw what I once was, and never want to be again.

Tied at 2-2 in the final, my opponent(Igor Orlanov) and I had a REAL long rally. It lasted a couple of minutes, and it ended at 78 shots when I chased down a forehand in the corner and hit my own for a winner. In one case, it was fun to win that sucker. In another, I was kind of discouraged. With all of the progress I have made with my game over the last 18 months or so, I came to the sobering conclusion that I was that person I hated the most.

So now that I think about it, maybe losing 6-4 6-4 in the final probably isn't so bad after all, even if I would've loved the 150 points. Maybe it's the old me that lost, and that old me lost matches I never should have, even when he won matches he never should have in the first place.

To prove that point, I went to the park on Friday to shoot the final part of the trailer. Christoph and I even had a little match, and I did something that I believe put the old me to rest. Christoph serves this beautiful slice serve right to my forehand side. Instead of just getting the ball in like I did in the past, I zinged a beautiful forehand right down the line.

And with that, I believe I put the old me to rest.

RIP: Pusher Backboard. You wore out your welcome.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Draws are out

Going into my second tournament, the Kennworth NTRP SummerSlam, I feel MUCH better than the last time. A diet change and a change to my routine helps also.

Found out that I got a bye in my first match, which is cool. Unlike last time, I have no idea who my opponent is this in the next match, other than his name is Angelo Zen. In a way, knowing my last opponent was a help, and a detriment at the same time. I knew Christoph Vogt well, and knew his strengths and weaknesses, but it might be better to not know my opponent this time. I won't over-think things.

I added a new thing to my diet this week...spinach. Met a customer at work(75 year old man who looks 55), who told me spinach is like a natural medicine. I put it in a couple of juices for the last couple of days, and it really works wonders. I don't feel the least bit congested anymore, and my body has more spring in its step. I'll get my workout in later, and I can't wait. Got new running shoes, and I want to see if I can push myself up to 3 miles today.

Later, I'm going to a couple tennis academies in Atlanta to gauge their interest in this project. So far, I have a new trainer(Christoph Vogt), and a producer(Anthony Nixon). What I need next is to find a tennis academy, and then find sponsors and a network. It's a process, but at least I have a couple pieces of the puzzle.

As I mentioned, we start shooting the trailer for "One Chance" this Saturday at 8 AM, an hour before the match, and I'll also start the video blog then too.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Shooting a trailer soon, and other tidbits

Well, it's official. I shoot the trailer for "One Chance" in a couple of days. The idea is to go online, worst case scenario, but we want to try to get this on TV first. That part might be a longshot at first, but you never know.

Anyway, there are other things to talk about.

I had a great trip to Destin, but was very very very disappointed that I didn't get any tennis time in whatsoever. I walked to the courts at Bayside and Tivoli a couple of times, and little to anyone was there(and I can't blame them, the heat was horrendous), and the one time I was invited to participate in drills, it unfortunately didn't work out. One thing did come out of it though.

I completely changed my diet on the trip.

Usually, I'm a very healthy eater, but will splurge on vacation. Not this time. Instead of burgers and fries on vacation, I consumed fish and veggies all trip, along with a boatload of bananas, and a lot of water. Because of that, I didn't wake up with a twinge in my back that I have to stretch every single morning. Diet does make a difference. Anyway, I get back into town and go to my local Whole Foods. I'm laying off the red meat, bought a lot of fish and chicken, and upped my protein intake. Plus working at a health food and smoothie place helps, as I have been able to take my wheat grass daily, along with a new juicing routine.

One great thing about a new place I moved into is that it has a built in pull up bar from the previous owner, so I've been doing pull-ups like crazy right now. I also weighed the other day, and I'm at 201 again after dropping to 182 from my food poisoning. 210 is my optimal weight for my height, so I'll continue what I'm doing. I've also gotten myself up to 2.5 miles a day running, so it's all starting to work.

The Kennworth tournament I'm in starts this Friday, but my draw will probably be Saturday morning. We're shooting the trailer from there, so I'll probably do some video blogs from the location. I'll know who my opponent is tonight, so that works.

Again, thank you to everyone for reading, whether you believe in this crazy thing or not. We're all entitled to our opinions, but there haven't been any overly mean folks on here, and most of you have just given your opinion. I appreciate it, and all your tips, very much.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The A-Level lesson of a lifetime

For any of you reading this that don't know, I'll repeat a statement I said about 10 days ago.

I said that Donald Young made a ton of his own mistakes, and that most anyone could get a couple of games off of him based off his own errors. I've been torn apart over that one, but I refused to back off till I was proven wrong.

I got that lesson tonight. A 6-0 7-5 lesson.

My match with the athlete, Eric, was canceled, so I went in the directory of our tennis center to see if I could get anyone. I called about four people, and one guy, Bill, answered the phone.

He said he'd play about 6:00 tonight, since it was ridiculously hot all day. We get there and it's still insanely hot(94 on the court), but we'd go on and play. In warmups, I noticed he hit such a beautiful ball, but I didn't think much about it because my opponent yesterday hit such a beautiful ball too, and I beat him.

His serve really didn't have a lot of power, but it had a crazy kick, so I couldn't really direct it at all. It'd come right to him. No matter, I thought I'd just run everything down like I always do.

*BZZZZZZZZZT* WRONG! I'd catch up to it all right, but he was right there and he didn't make one mistake. Game after game. Soon enough, he had me 6-0 in 28 minutes.

I was absolutely flabbergasted. I could not believe a guy that's like 18 years old than I was controlled me like a marionette doll. He made probably 4 errors all match. Did not have a clue what was going on. I asked the guy what level he played.

"Oh I'm Low A level, but dropped to B5 because of my knees"(Basically, the equivalent of a 5.0/5.5

Well, that explained the complete domination.

There was one good thing that came out of it. We had another set.

He forced me to change my game up completely. I've been so used to directing the flow and the pace of the match, and he was doing it to me. Now I had to go for winners.

Remember in my last blog where I said I was going to switch to a two hander because my one hand technique was all over the place?

BZZZZZZT! That didn't happen either.

Very first point of the second set, I nail a backhand winner right down the line. Been a month of Sundays since I've done that. Soon enough, I had four backhand winners, both down the line and crosscourt. This had been my weakness forever in a day, and that first set forced me to say "screw it, nothing to lose". My forehand was really coming alive too. I had eleven winners in the second set, and four from my backhand.

We're trading service games in the second set till he goes up 6-5. Alas, when you go for the winners, you take more risks, and I had three errors that service game. It was over after that. 7-5 in the second.

Everything is new for me in this crazy venture. My fitness regimen has had to change, my way of playing has had to change, and now my opponents have had to change. The 6-0 6-1 match with Christoph in the tournament  didn't even change my way of playing because I know that guy and I will have some classics in the future.

This guy forced me out of my comfort zone, then he made me take chances tonight. For that, I'm thankful.

The Kennworth tournament in Acworth, GA is in ten days, and I believe my chances are fifty times better right now than before this match tonight. I have real confidence in my strokes right now(although I cannot wait till I get a coach to smooth out the wrinkles).

Oh, and about Donald Young? I got my taste of crow for tonight. If a fifty year old A level is doing that to me, what would he do? I've always told people that it takes a "proof in the pudding" lesson for me to eat crow, and I got that. Now time to work on my game.

Onto Destin, FL. Lots of good tennis there.

Some updates

Hey folks, been a few days since I have written, other than the board. Keeping myself busy.

Here's a few updates.

In the middle of all the tennis, I have also been moving to another house. It's been a grind, but it keeps me busy. One good thing is that I have a couple new roommates, and one of them is a friend of mine that is training hard for his own venture, so now I have a training partner. Even better, he's not training for a lot of bulk, so our programs will be about the same. I'm motivated on my own, but he's REALLY motivated, so this will only help me.

As I reported on the board, I am going to start doing video blogs on my progress. It'll be training and technique, but I'll also do updates from my tournaments when it's feasible.

Today, I meet with a producer about shooting the pilot for this show. I'm hoping I can generate a little bite from someone, but if not, it's going online. That's not an insult like it used to be because internet is becoming the new television anyway. Wish me well.

Yesterday, I really got a reality check in how much work I'll have to do, even when I do win. I played this one high school player named Sam, who isn't really a college potential player(other than if he decided to walk on), but he has a nice game. Beautiful beautiful groundstrokes, and he really covers the court well(the kid really hustles, and is a really hard worker). He took an immediate 2-0 lead with a combination of impressive play, and my slow start. I calmed down and ended up taking 6 of the next 7 games to win 6-3, which was because of my calming down and playing my game, and his frustrations overwhelming him.

One thing I did notice though was that I have some really bad habits that I never noticed before, and they came out in those two games. I have already admitted that I've always had bad habits on my volleys, but comparing all my strokes to this kid's showed that it was more than just the volleys. On my first backhand attempt, I completely framed it, and noticed that my elbow was pointing in a severe 45 degree angle. When I framed a forehand attempt earlier, I noticed that I was doing a half swing at times. On both instances, I probably never noticed that too often because I'm that guy who always gets the ball over the net, and I set up my opponents well. This time, I really noticed after being down 2-0 immediately, and watching this kid hit such a beautiful ball.

The forehand I can easily remedy, but I decided that I'm making a switch to a two handed backhand instead of the one hander I've had for so long. In the past 18 months, I've noticed that I RARELY get a backhand winner unless it's a volley, and all my winners are on the forehand side. I want to start getting winners on all sides, so I'm going to see if I can generate more power and control with a two hander. It won't be an easy transition because I've been a one hander since I started(and that I've only used two hands in "desperate" situations when someone hits it into my body, and I have to force a shot), but I think it's going to help my game big time.

I'm back on the court today. Playing a guy named Eric, who was a good high school basketball player and decided to get into tennis a couple years ago. I've already beaten him 1 and 2 before, but he's a sick sick athlete, and you cannot get anything past him. This'll probably be a better match today. Eventually, I'm calling Christoph Vogt back for a rematch(the guy that wiped me out in the tournament). I know(and he knows) that it wasn't an 0 and 1 match, and we're set to have a classic this time.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

One big advantage(Hopefully).

I've always had this concern, primarily because I've played three players in my time that have had to retire early because of this.

I'm talking about shoulder injuries.

In tennis, they are devastating for obvious reasons. You lose the power of your serve in some cases, you are relegated to the Michael Chang underhand serve at the French), and you lose all your snap on your groundstrokes. It's one thing if you are a pusher that waits for the others' mistakes(guilty as charge for 16 years of my playing life), but if you are a serious player, this'll screw up your game.

I thought about this too, so I started one more unconventional warm-up(Besides hitting with a wood racket).

I decided to start hitting with both hands.

Yes, it does mean that I don't hit as many backhands in warm-ups, but it also keeps my hand-eye coordination on the up and up. Being able to hit pretty well with my left hand, as well as my right, gives me the confidence that, should I blow my shoulder, that I can stay in a league or tournament match.

Admittedly, I've never played a match left handed. If I can find someone at around my level or a little lower, I might try the experiment for a couple of games and see if I like doing that. One good thing is that I'll actually have a kick serve on the left hand side because it's impossible to hit a flat serve on my left side right now(Arm's not used to the motion, I guess).

Things are going to start changing, but right now I enjoy all this experimenting. Makes me feel like I can continue to have a distinct advantage over my opponents. That's all I can ask for right now.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Feeling my oats.

Man, I feel pumped this week.

Regardless of the outcome, I just participated with a great player this weekend, and felt like that I'm going to succeed.

I've got my first tournament match out of the way, saw what I need to work on, and am ready to move forward now. One thing I have to start doing, though, is winning.

It starts in two weeks for my next USTA tournament, but this time I'll be trained. I go to Destin, FL in early August for vacation, and there's a lot of tennis players there. Nothing like playing on the beach.

Maybe it is the impossible climb, like the title of this blog suggests. But man, it's fun.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

My first USTA tournament - Georgia State adult championships.

Usually, losing 6-0 6-1 in your first tournament wouldn't be a cause for seeing the highlights.

But there's a lot to look forward to here.

I played Christoph Vogt, a guy who is one level ahead of me, and is a physical freak(45 year old guy playing in the 30s level). Considering I wouldn't wear him out, I knew I'd have my hands full.

Take this for what it's worth. I lost, so that's in the record books. He did beat me too. This is a damned good tennis player.

Short and sweet, I've been sick all week(food poisoning), and didn't get to train at all. Saturday comes and I feel better, so I go out there. I noticed in our warmups that I was hitting well against a superior opponent. I thought I'd have a chance.

Yeah, I felt it for sure, but I was going to run him around too.

He wins the first game, but we have a marathon second game(lasted 21 minutes) before he took that one. So after 25 minutes of the match, it's 2-0. Throughout the match, I was at 40-15 or better 8 times, and at advantage 4 others, and I couldn't finish him off till the 11th game. No strength left. After Game 1, my heart was racing at 600 mph. Never been that worn out before.

But I finished the match, and I'm very proud. The guy on the court next to us had the same bug I did and had to retire, so I was happy to finish. My one game was a proud moment. Beautiful passing shot off an impossible drop shot.

I got two things accomplished today.

#1. I matched shot for shot against a superior player, and found out I really can play with most anyone.

#2. I'd heard that to get to a higher level, I need to get in even better shape than I am now. I just asked Christoph to be my trainer. He's going to be a part of my team now with this show. We earned each other's respect today.

Yup, got my ass kicked today. Oh well. I'll be back, and will get better and better.

Lots to look forward to, that's for sure.

Next up...the Kennworth NTRP Summer Slam in August.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

How a wood racket changed my game.

Last year, I joined a league for the very first time in quite a while. I had made a decision that I wanted to take my game much more seriously, and that I'd start that in a local Atlanta K-Swiss league.

I played in leagues in my hometown(actually won first place in my very last one too), but while Quincy tennis has good competition, Atlanta, GA is a whole new world. The players REALLY take it seriously around here, and I knew this wasn't going to be the same experience.

Since T2 was past its due date, and I didn't know enough people to get into ALTA(no partners), I joined the K-Swiss league. I started with two used rackets, one towel, and no bag. Absolutely started from the bottom.

I lost the first match 6-4 6-2, and won the second match 6-4 6-1. The third match has its own story, and it changed my tennis forever.

I was facing what would end up being the #1 player in our division and #3 in our whole league. He had an all right serve, but his groundstrokes were absolutely impressive, and he had unreal crosscourt shots. His only weakness was his net game, and it nearly cost him.

After losing the first set to him 6-4, I started to wake up. I had so many winners, and I was controlling the pace of the match. Problem was that, while I was breaking all his serves, he was breaking mine too. My serve completely fell apart, and we probably had the only set in tennis history where neither guy won their serve. We went to tiebreak, where I finally lost 12-10. Match lasted 2 hours and 45 minutes, and he even told me he would've quit from exhaustion if we went to a third set.

Now that's a fun story to tell the grandkids, but I'm not even close to that level, and I'm not even married to start that kind of life up. Combine that with that I'm way too competitive and never satisfied, and I knew things needed to change. While I wore him out, he still won the match and I knew why.

#1. My serve flat fell apart.

#2. I just didn't have enough snap on my shots.

I was watching a Cubs game(big fan, by the way...and yes, horrible year, and or decade, and or century), and watched a hitter in the on deck circle. I remembered that, yes, they used batting donuts to weigh the bat down, and then take it off to make it lighter at the plate. I was trying to think about the tennis equivalent of that.

Ahhh HAHHHHHHH!!!!!

Behold, the purchase of my first wooden racket!

Now I told you in one of my other blogs that I trained on a garage door with a Connors T-2000, so that metal monstrosity was the closest I had to real old school. I'd never held a wood in my life, but I knew two things.

#1. It had the head size of a walnut.

#2. The sweet spot was even smaller. The hubble telescope couldn't find it.

When I got it in the mail, I went straight to a park and found a hitting wall. It took me 15 minutes to stop hitting the frame of the racket. I'd forgotten that, with all my years of hitting with oversized heads, I didn't have to pay attention to my shots. With this, I had to do that. I decided that I was going to spend every warmup, in every league match, hitting with the wood racket and switch to the regular racket during the matches.

I didn't lose again for 2 1/2 months.

Warming up with the wood racket made my other racket feel like goosedown, so my shots got crisper, and I started to get some power. I wasn't just that guy who had impeccable placement, and forced mistakes. I was actually hitting winners. Plus my serving improved exponentially. I really believed I had a chance to win the league title, as hot as I was playing.

Then bad luck hit. Both of my rackets were showing their age, and they both went bust in the same match with four matches left till the year was over. The main racket's frame bent completely to one side, causing me to hit the frame on every shot. The second racket's string's popped.

Yup, I was left with the woodie for the last three matches. I won the last two matches, but the first round tournament match I lost 7-5 6-1(after I came from 5-0 down in the first set). The woodie did its job all year, but it's not supposed to play in a regulation match with regularity, not with the equipment that is out there now.

Yeah, it was a disappointing and bad luck way to end the tournament, especially when I was on such a crazy hot streak, but I took something from that year. I ended up getting Top 50(out of 800 or so players) in the league, and #2 in my division for my first year there. All because of a switch up in strategy.

I can say this though. What happened there will never happen again. I bought a Babolat Pure Drive, dropping $170 along the way. That was the most I've ever dropped on a stick before, but it was worth it. I said I was taking my tennis seriously now, so no more buying 20 dollar sticks from Target. That's the end of that idea.

Remember when I said that I started out the season with two tennis rackets, and a towel? Now the Tennis Channel could do a bag check on me. It's a different world now.

Can't wait to see where it takes me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Being gutsy AND stupid do not mix.

This Saturday, I play in the USTA Georgia State Adult/Senior Championships(300 points) in the 30s group. It's been a good while since I've gotten into tournament play, and I'm looking forward to the challenge. My opponent, Christoph Vogt, is going to be a handful. I know how in shape he's in, so I'm not going to wear him out like I wear everyone else out. Time to get crackin.

But before I do that, let me regale you with a story about some of my stupid forays into tournament play.

I'm a midwestern boy from Illinois...Quincy, IL in fact. It's a small town of about 41,000 people, and has that down home feel mixed with a wee bit of city life. Basically, it's one of those places where the tiny farm towns around it think it's a metropolis. Anyway, every year, we had this tournament called the Dame and Hurdle tennis tournament(now called the Illinois State Tennis Championships). Dame and Hurdle was our local jeweler in town, and they ponied up the cash for the tournament every single year, which brought some of the best tennis players from about fifteen states to this little town in Illinois. Crazy thing too, because USTA wasn't affiliated with this tournament. I guess it had a solid reputation.

I played in this sucker for three years, and I won exactly ONE GAME in those three years. Yes, you read that right...ONE GAME.

Now why was that? Was it because I was this incredibly horrendous player who didn't belong on that court whatsoever? Not even close. I was still the ungraceful, unathletic goat who rumbled on the court and somehow got to every ball, but I wasn't horrible.

No, my problem was simple.

I signed up for the open division every year.

Everyone and their uncles knew I wasn't anywhere near open level talent...except me. My gusto was the equivalent of the eighth graders who wanted to be cool and smoke across the street after school, knowing that it was JUST out of the principal's jurisdiction. Simply, I thought it was cool to go full blast into the top divisions, even if those players moved like gazelles and I moved like a penguin with its feet tied together.

And my three years went about as well as you could expect.

Year 1 - Sayeed Ali - #1 player in Quincy High School. Skinny as a post-it note(guy couldn't have weighed more than 130. I even weighed more than him), but was probably one of the top ten players in our state. Got doubled bageled, as could be expected, but it would end up being the best tournament match I'd ever have. Ended up getting 21 points off the guy, which meant I took him to advantage 2-3 times. I wondered how I did so well off of him, even if I got the double donut(Did find out he had knee problems over the years, so maybe his knees were bugging him, who knows).

Year 2 - Bill LaTour - #1 player in Quincy, #3 in Illinois. 6'5" and 260 pounds, give or take five. Big huge powerful serve. I was like that stick of beef jerky to a grizzly bear. 6-1 6-0 was the final. Wanna know why I won one game? Double faults and a couple errors. Actually took the first 1-0 lead and lost the next twelve games.

Year 3 - Todd Willing - #2 in Illinois(I believe) - Forget about it. He was always in the finals, or in contention every single year. 6-0 6-0.

You knew the tournament officials were laughing when they saw my name, and they threw the lions at me to get me out of there. I realize the craziness of my decisions, but I guess that's what makes me tick. I don't fear going out there with the lions, even if I'm about to get mauled.

I believe that's what motivates me now, as it has motivated me these past eighteen months. I remember the foolishness of my decisions, but I also remember the swiftness in how they wrote me off and threw me to the side, and how they had every right to think that way. I wanted to get to that top level so badly, but I hadn't worked for it like everyone else had. I continued to play the same gutsy, balls to the wall, man on fire, clumsy as an ox way, and everyone else had worked on everything all year long. I didn't deserve it that time.

I will start deserving it right now.

This Saturday, I once again have a formidable opponent. But this time, no tournament official knows me from Adam, and I'm going to be more ready. I could easily win, or easily get wiped off the court, that's the way the game goes.

This time, if I do get wiped off the court, I'll know what I did wrong. I will train even harder.

And the next time, I would be ready.

But enough about that. I'm ready to win.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Studying everything about the game.

Lately, I've been studying a lot of tennis. I mean a LOT of tennis.

Praise the invention of YouTube.

I have studied men's and women's tennis, ATP and challengers tour, recent Wimbledon and French, and old school 70s and 80s matches. It's amazing to watch the differences in the game now.

But all of this has also shown the lack of attention a lot of people have these days when it comes to Tennis. Everything is made in pill form for an instant help, and everything is faster paced. Not to say that faster paced is bad(the pill form thing is, for sure), but there just aren't as many intelligent players anymore. The new rackets have a bigger head with a bigger sweet spot, so the pros of today can get in the habit of trying to outwhack the other(with certain exceptions of course).

Watching the days of the wood racket, it's a much different animal. The heads of a wood racket are the size of a walnut, and the sweet spot is even smaller. You really have to pay attention to your shots, and your placement, so the game is akin to a chess match(Which is why I switch to a wood racket in my matches when things are going bad. I'll elaborate in another blog). Maybe it is more "boring" compared to now(although that term is relative, especially with me), but the game had a certain intelligence it doesn't have too often now(again, with exceptions to the rule). I'd like to see future tennis players studying these old styles, but when a Nadal match gets 50,000 views and a McEnroe-Borg match from the Suntory Cup gets 150 views, it doesn't look like that'll happen anytime soon.

You can learn something from every generation. The newer generation is bigger, faster, and stronger than ever. When you watch a guy like Gael Monfils, you'd think he was cut from granite. He covers the court better than just about anyone, and he has an athleticism that you normally see on the basketball court. You look at the old days of John McEnroe, and his arms looked like a skinny teenager's. Even now, at 53, he's in better shape than he ever was before, and has built his body, knowing that this is a much different athletic world.

And this is the key to the game. Adaptation. If Mac, who said himself that he hated working out, and was pretty lazy when it came to the gym, can get himself in tip top shape and adapt to the new world, why can't today's newer players adapt to an older style?

Mind you, that's not me saying that we need to go back to the days of the wood racket, that'd be silly with all the advancements in exercise physiology. I'm just saying that tennis academies, who are making a killing off of teaching baseline to baseline tennis to prodigies that can learn so much more, could be better served by understanding how the old school played, and how it could benefit today's players with advanced equipment.

We can learn from everyone and everything. It's time our tennis proved that theory.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dad's teachings

I had an interesting childhood. My father was 50 when I was born, so when I was a teenager, he was in the middle of his 60s.

To any teenager, that usually meant that their father was "ancient", "old", a "relic", or any of those nice terms. But I was a different teenager, and this was a different father.

In my opinion, there was no cooler father. Whether it was that he was a businessmen, or could turn a room on a dime, or that he drove construction equipment(he was a contractor), or that I got to ride in it, or that he was a bull of a man with huge arms, and legitimately tough. Any of a number of those reasons described him. Most of all, he never dressed, walked, or acted like an old man, and that made a huge difference.

In an earlier blog, I talked about Dad looking out the door and watching me hit against the garage door while I was sweating out there. He'd give a smile and watch a couple of minutes, then go back to whatever he was doing. It's the little things. He'd do that when I was shooting hoops or hitting the baseball over the ivy fence of "Wrigley Field".

I think what made him most impressive was his physical depth perception(Guy, at over 80 years old, could park a Cadillac, without stopping, even if someone had taken up part of a parking spot. He wouldn't even touch their car either), but his mental depth perception too. He liked sports enough, but it wasn't an obsession of his like it was mine. He was too busy in business, and making deals, but he liked sports enough to watch them on weekends with me(and we never had cable, so those were special times too. You don't get those special times if ESPN is on 24/7 in your place).

What I meant by mental depth perception was his insane ability to notice the littlest things in sports, and those things that could help your game. He despised when anyone put a ball on the floor under the basket in basketball, especially when they could easily pivot and put it up, and that little act would end up in a missed shot or a stripped ball 75% of the time. He loved the screen pass in football, and used to regale me with the stories of how George Blanda had zero arm, but would call the screen and they'd pick up 15 yards at a time, and it'd open up the field for something bigger. Lo and Behold, we'd see the Chicago Bears(our team) throw a couple of screens and pick up 30-35 yards, and he'd cuss the TV out, wondering why it took till the third quarter to do that. No matter the sport, he had this crazy ability to see little things, and he'd be right. He could've really been a coach if he learned the games well enough.

The most amazing thing, though, was Tennis. He watched Tennis three times a year with me, and it was all the slams. He knew piddly squat about tennis, but he'd watch. And again, lo and behold, he learned a lot of rules of the game, and knew how doubles lines worked after watching a couple matches.

I remember when I was 14, and I was having all kinds of trouble with my serve. I was basically serving like Harold Solomon(if you know who that is, you'll understand what I mean. If you don't, look him up), and getting crushed by better competition. We were watching the US Open once, and Dad noticed the littlest thing that I never ever noticed when I watched Tennis.

He noticed the ball placement.

Not just how high to throw(I was throwing too low also), but where to place it. He didn't even notice it on replays. Dad just watched and showed me what they were doing. He had all the minute little details down, and he never played a day in his life(Well, one day he did, and he said it wasn't more playing than "chasing the ball around).

Dad's gone now. Passed at 82 years old. Great thing was that he aged gracefully, and looked 65. Walked a couple miles a day with my Mom, and exercised at 7 AM every morning. Seeing him all my life skewed the hell out of my perception of what old people really were. I keep forgetting that you are supposed to actually grow old like most old people grow old. To this day, it doesn't occur to me that it's wrong to actually grow old, and you should keep yourself going till the worms get you. Hey, Dad did, and I plan to do that.

As I move on and move up in the tennis world, I am still amazed that it wasn't any coach in tennis lessons that taught me how to serve(I took my first formal lesson at 13 years old, and I always sucked at serving in those lessons anyway), or even my tennis coach for one season.

It was simply an older father with inhuman depth perception.

Sometimes, life just works like that.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

My first swings.

It's been 18 years since I started playing competitive tennis(my Freshman year in high school, and the one and only year I played. More on that in another blog), but if you count all the swings I've had, and the roots to where it all started, it's heading on 23 years now.

Seriously, it all started on oak garage doors with a brick divider, an inherited T-2000 that my brother played with, and my imagination.

Growing up, I was a Boris Becker fan. Absolutely loved the guy. McEnroe and Connors were fine, and awesome players, but I grew up around men's men, and Connors and Mac were scrawny pissants in my eyes(not like I said it like that, but you get the picture). Boris played with a fire in his eyes, served hard as hell, and fought for every point. Plus kicking Lendl's ass always provided great entertainment. Man, I hated Ivan Lendl.

So what would I do? Starting at about 10 or 11 years old, I'd bring that old T-2000 out to the driveway and be Boris Becker, and would ALWAYS be facing Lendl. We had two garage doors with a brick divider in the middle. The driveway was built where it went probably the equivalent of half a block, so there was plenty of room to play(What can I say, my Dad built a kick ass house. You should see the underground fort he made for the kids out of an old diesel tank). The rules were simple. I "served" the ball(serving at 10 years old, when you are not a phenom, is a misnomer. It's more bouncing the ball and hitting it. I learned to serve at like 13) to the "opponent"(garage door). I'd keep hitting till the ball bounced twice or either of us "won a point". "It" won a point if the ball got past me, the ball bounced twice, or if I hit the divider and it went to the side(the equivalent of an out). I had only two ways to "win"...If it "hit" it out(meaning if it ricocheted too far into our yard without bouncing on the driveway), or if I hit it accurate enough to make it roll back to me. That helped my accuracy over the years.

I played every spring and summer starting with the French and ending with the US Open(No way I was starting with the Australian. It was January and I am from Illinois). Always did 3 out of 5 sets(so that started way before my buddy Brian), and since I lived like five feet from the Mississippi River(Not really, but we lived off the bluff from the Mississippi, so we had the river weather. If it was 80, it'd be 100 where we were. If it was 20, it was 0 where we were), I was playing outside in some horrendous heat, and in jeans, as I mentioned from yesterday. I would play for hours at a time, Becker would "win", and I'd come in soaked to the gills and a glass of lemonade waiting from Mom.

Later on, it was Sampras and Agassi when Becker and Lendl went by the wayside. I would be Sampras and go hours against Agassi, and had Mom give me a glass of lemonade. Once in a while, Dad would watch outside and just smile(Even tough guys have have a soft spot), and I'd wave and get back to the "match".

I continued this practice even after I was long gone from the team. There are just traditions you don't want to totally end. I'd say it ended around 18 years old(even though the imagination thing ended around 16 years old, for obvious reasons), and it was a nice little run. I learned how to hit a ball this way, but it allowed me to have an imagination, and we should all be allowed to do that.

I went home a couple months ago for personal reasons, and I completely forgot my racket. I would've liked to have one more go at the garage door. With Dad gone, Mom's going to sell the house one day, and I'll never have that time back again(Or the time Dad planted real ivy on our fence in our yard, and I could pretend it was Wrigley Field for 9 innings). Still, even if I can't get it back, I can definitely remember where it all started.

Most players had top notch lessons or academies, and the best equipment. I had Connors' old steel monstrosity, a garage door, and an imagination.

I'll pick my situation any day of the week.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Playing in jeans

Yeah, the title says it all. I was crazy like that.

Actually, it's an easy explanation. Being the son of a contractor, I helped my father out in the summertime. Even in the blazing heat, you couldn't wear shorts, so the only thing I knew was jeans. I'd work with him, then I'd go in the park with any of a number of buddies and play tennis right afterwards, no matter the heat and humidity(and trust me, it'd get over 100 in the park).

One guy in particular was named Brian Mathews. We were pals from junior high on, and we both played a lot of tennis together, and I mean a lot. Probably 3-4 matches a week at times, depending on how busy we were. We didn't play best 2 out of 3 like most did either. We really challenged each other and went best 3 out of 5, like the pros did it.

And again, I did this in blue jeans.

You couldn't tell me anything back then. Yes, I knew that my legs were so white, I could blind the sun. Yes, I knew that it wasn't the right thing to wear. Yes, I knew I was going to get laughed at relentlessly. Oh well, who cared? Besides, it saved me time going home and getting changed.

This guy and I were DEAD even. He'd win a match and I'd win a match. If anyone won multiple matches in a row, the other would come right back and do the same. I wouldn't be kidding if I'd say we played .500 tennis. He didn't really play anything but park tennis, but he could've really gone farther if he wanted to take it seriously. Brian had good talent.

There's only one match, out of all the matches, that I still remember to this day, and it went 5 also. It was the day after the Pete Sampras-Alex Corretja match at the US Open...the one where Pete got sick and threw up on the court. It was like 97 out that day, and heat index was about a million degrees. Brian and I split 4 sets, all at 7-6. I was getting a bit sick at set 2, but kept going. End of fourth set, I'm sick and am getting dizzy. Brian's talking trash to me that I'm trying to be Sampras, and I'm not really sick. Couldn't blame him for thinking that, but it was true. I was feeling like crap.

One great thing was that, for some reason, I turned in an awesome fifth set and won 6-2 in the fifth. So yes, the final score was 6-7 7-6 6-7 7-6 6-2. 3 1/2 hour match in that heat, and in those days, I didn't bring water with me. I was dangerous as hell in a lot of ways.

Usually I'd go to his house and play video games afterwards, but I still felt like crap, so I went to my Grandma's to stay the night(she had cable, we didn't). I went to bed early, thinking I'd sleep it off. Two hours after I went to bed, I woke up and threw up then. Threw everything up.

Turns out that, between working for Dad, and that whole match, I dehydrated myself to the max. Got completely sick. Drained me for about four days. You'd think that would've taught me a lesson, but not really. When I was better, I was back on the court in that heat. Didn't get sick anymore in the summer, so I guess I didn't learn a lesson.

Don't worry, I wear shorts now. In fact, I have everything the pros have and more. You could do a bag check like The Tennis Channel does. But I have to say that wearing jeans and playing all summer, in searing conditions like that, did give me one thing...stamina. Crazy stamina, in fact. I've worn better players than I am out. I've had three better players tell me that if we went to third sets, they would've quit.

So I look back at that in that way. If people wonder why I used to wear jeans, or why I have a wood racket for warming up before matches, or why I always take the hottest court during the hottest summer months against my opponents?

Just remember...there's always a method to my madness.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why am I doing this?

Seriously? Why am I doing this?

I get this all the time, and in everything I do. This question is nothing new. I pull some of the craziest stunts alive(not necessarily like Shawn White, but more psychological stunts). I've heard that question over and over.

I mean I'm already an actor(struggling, but who isn't, right?), directed a couple of films, produced or helped produce five films, and done five theatre productions. I've also had a failed attempt at radio about ten years ago, and that lasted two weeks. Besides that, I've also fought in two MMA fights(Lost both), got to have drinks with Ben Stein once, done a Tennessee to New York and back cross country trip for the hell of it, and obtained a black belt in Taekwondo. From all those stories, it's obvious that I've achieved at some stunts, and failed miserably at others.

So why am I trying yet another one like this? At 33 years old(In August).

Because I don't know any other way. My DNA is hardwired to take chances like this. I don't know where this came from. When I was a kid, I was an absolute wimp. If my Dad didn't drive long distance trips, I'd either refuse to go, or I'd throw up if Mom drove. I'd barely ride my bike to the mailbox. We lived in a ton of wooded areas, and I didn't go in the woods very often at all. I'm just wondering where my balls to the wall approach came from.

Ok, time to let the cat out of the bag.

For eighteen years now, I've played tennis. Learned how to bang away against our garage door at 12 years old, pretending to be Boris Becker(and later, Pete Sampras). At 15, I played seriously for the first time. Even made the tennis team in high school. I sucked at singles, found out I was a good doubles player, and was placed in the doubles draw. Didn't lose again the rest of the year and moved to 12th and the final draw for the team's rival match. After that, I never played on the team again, but I've played every year since.

The last 18 months though, I've really thrown myself into my game. Before, I was the epitome of a pusher, only I was even more annoying because I had unreal stamina on the court and could play all day long. Didn't have much of a serve...or a forehand...or a backhand. I was basically that guy who ran everything down with the grace of a dump truck. Whether I was going to beat you, or you were going to kick my ass, you were going to hate playing me because I was the ugliest player in the history of the game. Still won a good share of matches though, and can't fault me for that.

Then I started playing leagues here in Atlanta, GA, and I found out how much they take their tennis seriously. I then started taking it seriously...like REALLY taking it seriously. I used to watch a lot of tennis on youtube, and now I analyze every shot(Watching John McEnroe's a blast for that). I bought a wooden racket to warm up with because I remembered how baseball hitters have a weighted donut around their bat for extra weight, and it makes the bat lighter when they get rid of it. I just bought a wood racket and started warming up with it. Didn't lose another match for two months(until I had to play with it for my final three matches. It's interesting playing with a woody vs a brand new Babolat).

So now, as usual, I am upping the ante again. I am 33 years old in August, no doubt about it, but I am in FAR better shape, and can do things I couldn't do at 16 or 17, so I'm going headfirst into this one.

I'm going to find a crew of producers, then find trainers and an academy, and create a reality show called "One Chance"(Wherever it is shown, I do not know, but at least the internet's getting strong if nothing else happens). It has to do with me getting real trainers, real instructors, and real players, and upping my game to levels no one could think. How far? I don't know. I have no ceiling, so I could really go far with this concept, or fail like the MMA thing did. I won't know till I try.

In the meantime, while I get everything together, I'll write about everything tennis. Everything from some old stories from the battles over the years, to current tennis on the tour. What can I say? I love to write.

Enjoy the ride, folks. This is going to be a blast.