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.


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.

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