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Respected tennis writer Joel Drucker answers your questions about the thrills and spills of the recreational player. Got a hole in your game or a question for Joel? Drop him an email at therovingplayer@thetennischannel.com and you may find yourself in a future column.
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Q) Dear Roving Tennis Player:
I am a 4.5 player and I try to play as many different people as possible. I've noticed that there are many, many different styles of tennis. I sometimes get confused as to whether or not to stick to my strongest type of playing (my big serve, baseline game) no matter what style I face or should I try to play a different game according to how the other player plays. What is the best thing to do?
-Jason R. DeCosta, Los Angeles

A) Dear Jason:

The great Jack Kramer explains tactical deployment very simply: If your strengths are stronger than the other guy's strengths, then you hold the upper hand. It's up to him to match them. But if not, then you need to adjust. So self-knowledge is critical. A wise approach is to always have two or three go-to tactics. Based on your self-description of strong serve and groundstrokes, you might consider these: the wide serve that sets up the return in the middle of the court, the forcing return of a second serve, the grinding rally. 

But again, if your opponent can deal with your strengths quite well, you need to think deeper. For example, if his second serve isn't so easy to attack, focus more on depth. If he's steadier than you, maybe you'll want to come to the net and force him to hit passing shots. So in many ways it's this simple too: There's no need for surprise if you've got bigger guns. If he can't handle your crosscourt forehand, who cares if he knows what you're doing? But if he can, then you must apply a new weapon: doubt, that is, your willingness to probe for soft spots in his game with a wide variety of tactics. This can take time, but no matter what the circumstance, remember that the goal of any strategy or tactic is to force the opponent to try difficult shots. If he's a good groundstroker, let's see if he indeed can hit passing shots. If he can hit 30 of them, so be it. The back end of this is that you must spend time beefing up both your strengths and weaknesses. So perhaps, Jason, in practice you might want to play the occasional match relying less on your groundstrokes and more on your volleys. 


Q) Dear Roving Player:
A woman I know played Division I college tennis and is good enough to play with a bunch of us men at our club. She's a 5.0, and often goes to great lengths to explain to us 4.5 men the difference between a 4.5 and 5.0. But the funny thing is that most of us beat her in singles, so what gives? 
-Confused

A) Dear Confused:

First, I've researched this and learned that the difference between men and women at the NTRP level is approximately .7. In other words, a 5.0 woman is the equivalent of a 4.3 male. Second, your friend is suffering from an adult stage insecurity complex. She is parsing hairs, all in an effort to clearly showcase that she's indeed a worthy player. But she's also painfully provincial, possessed of a narrow vision. I've been lucky enough to spend a good amount of time being coached in team matches by the likes of John Newcombe and Roy Emerson, and can guarantee you that from where world class players stand, the difference between a 4.5 and 5.0 is meaningless. As Emerson once explained it to me, "Your standard is hardly important. You're not a pro, it's really that simple. But your level of effort, well, that's something I really care about no matter if you just picked up a racket or you're some hotshot junior or ex-college player." 

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Oakland-based Joel Drucker is one of the world's leading tennis writers. Author of the book, Jimmy Connors Saved My Life, Drucker's work has appeared in a wide range of print and broadcast media, including Tennis, USTA Magazine, ESPN, CBS and The Tennis Channel. For The Tennis Channel he's worked as an on-air analyst and is co-producer of the program, Center Court with Chris Myers. An avid recreational player, Drucker's lefthanded 4.5 game attempts to combine the tactical array of Brad Gilbert with the variety of John McEnroe, a style he fondly refers to as "Spinning Ugly."