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 firstname.lastname@example.org
and you may find yourself in a future column.
________________________________________________________________________Q) I'm a new member at my club and haven't been able to find people to play with. The tennis director mostly teaches lessons, so hasn't been very helpful. What should I do? - Newby
A) Dear Newby: One tragic reason people leave tennis is because they can't find enough opponents. A few years ago the USTA launched a series of "Tennis Welcome Centers," designed to orient people to the game. But I want there to be "Keep 'Em Centers" too - even as simple as on-line databases of people looking to play.
Certainly there are institutional solutions. Join a league team, take a group lesson, attend a clinic or any other activity your club offers. In theory you should identify people at your skill level – and they in turn can give you names of others. When I joined my club I played a match against a longstanding member. Afterwards, he went through the directory suggesting names of people I could play.
But even then, you must internalize one of tennis' biggest principles: self-reliance. This is a sport where individuals make things happen (kind of like life, eh?). I'm constantly staggered by tales of people who rarely make phone calls to arrange tennis matches. What gives? One reason is that this sport has such a long history of exclusion over inclusion, of people either acting as snobs or worrying that they'll waste another player's time if they're not good enough. But that's rubbish. The great British player John Lloyd once told me, "A secure player can always find things to work on no matter who they're hitting with." Granted, if you're a 3.5 and you end up on the court with a 5.0 you might likely not want to call that person repeatedly. But no one ever died from 30 minutes of rallying. Get your fingers flying and make those phone calls. Q) I'm in a rut. The game seems boring to me, and while I hope this is temporary, I don't how to snap out of it. What should I do? - Burnout Baby
A) Dear Burnout Baby: A friend I'll call Luther once asked me if I ever got bored playing tennis. The answer was a vehement "no," primarily for two major reasons and one half-assed one. The first is that I play with many opponents. The second is that because my game lacks much velocity, I'm forced to try a variety of tactics, playing styles, spins and paces. The half-assed one is that I'm always trying to improve parts of my game, but I'll admit that many times the one thing I'm most trying to work on is winning. Face it: It's easier to spend 90 minutes playing two sets than 30 minutes refining a new technique. One reason we're recreational rather than professional players is that we're too lazy to put in the time it takes for significant improvement. So instead, we trudge incrementally.
When Luther told me he was bored I told him, "Of course you are. All you've been doing is playing the ad court in doubles for three years with the same six people." Luther had fallen prey to what I call the "regular game" syndrome. Rather than seek out new opponents - or even new venues - he'd settled into the routine. It can get quite boring to know that at 10:15 every Saturday morning you will warm up with Mark and then, 22 minutes later, deal with his moonball forehand. By 11:30 you're shaking hands. What is this, a job at an accounting firm?
Take a sharp look at your tennis calendar. Shuffle up opponents. In doubles, work on receiving in a different court, or moving your feet better when volleying. Try something new in singles, such as attacking second serves, playing more patiently from the baseline or, one that's particularly hard for us recreational players, concentrating exquisitely hard on watching the ball leave your opponent's racket and track its way to your strings (my average on this is about twice a match). And yes, a few times a month it's useful to drill - but do so with purpose, focus and plenty of movement.
By the way, I told Luther that the next time he and I played together it would be great if he played the deuce court (I've been working on my ad court skills). He treated this suggestion as if I'd asked him to rob a bank. Too bad. As the philosopher Rousseau said, "Man is born free - and everywhere he is in chains." You'll never face a tennis rut if you let yourself be open to new ideas.Email Joel with your question.
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l View past columnsOakland-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."