One of the benefits of life as a Roving Player is the chance to watch and learn lessons first-hand from the world's very best tennis players and wisest coaches. As the US Open Series heats up, we thought it would be best to share some pointers with you from the players competing at events all over North America. August 10
- East West Bank Classic & Masters Series Montreal: How to take on a better player
US Open Series tournaments like the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour stop this week in Los Angeles and the ATP's Tennis Masters event in Montreal each have extremely deep fields. As seen, for players at all levels, this means they'll rapidly be forced to play top-flight opponents. Then again, they're pros, so at least in theory they're ready to deal with any challenge that comes their way.
But I know as a longstanding weekend warrior that it's usually nice to be able to play one's way into a tournament. An easy early round or two can help one adjust to the challenges of competition.
But what happens when in the first round you're up against someone you know is better than you? And not just a bit better, but significantly better? What can be gained from playing a match that could well be shorter than the time spent driving to and from the tournament?
The first thing to do is savor the experience. Because the notion of getting whupped is not particularly comfortable, it's tempting to want to move quickly and try to get it over with as rapidly as possible. Instead, slow down. Let yourself enjoy what you can bring to this match. Don't try to hit harder than you usually do. But do take time to move your feet (you better, since the ball will likely be coming to you faster than usual) and take a good, long swing at the ball.
Trey Waltke had a pro career that lasted more than a decade, stretching from the '70s into the '80s. At a diminutive 5' 8" he often went up against players as an underdog. He's one of the few players to ever beat Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe in the same year. "What you've got to do is get over the emotional part and start problem-solving," says Waltke. "Yes, the guy may be great, but first of all, he's only human, and more importantly, every player has some shots he likes playing more than others. So it's your job to figure ways how to get him to play the shots he'd rather not play. And if he can beat you with those, at least you've forced him to prove how much better than you he really is."
The emphasis here is on problem-solving - breaking down the favorite's game and trying to match your tools against it. You might see, for example, that he's more comfortable hitting low drives than moonballs. So, throw up a few high ones and see what happens. A few other tactics: vary your receiving position. Serve from different parts of the court. Try chipping and charging on your return of his second serve. There's always a way - if not necessarily to win the match, but at least let that guy know he's not going to ride roughshod over you.
And most of all, take your time. One of the fun parts about tournaments is that you get the chance to play people you don't usually play. Pay attention to what better players do - how they move, how they concentrate, what factors help them generate more pace. The answers might be surprising. Tennis is a game of little things, of diligent concentration that helps propel smart decision-making. Watch the Quarters and Semis of the East West Bank Classic on Tennis Channel. Find the complete schedule here. Email Joel
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| Read archived 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."