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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 Player:
I'm about to start a season of league tennis and want to know the best way I can raise my game for these big matches.
-Phillip The 4.5


A) Dear Phillip:

Gearing up one's game is much more of an art form than a science -that is, it's quite inexact, involving its share of trial and error. Every player must learn what works best. Jimmy Connors didn't like watching Westerns or movies with chase scenes on match days, lest his energy get squandered in following the plot. He also once told me that if you play every match like it's the big match, when the big match comes you'll be ready. On the other hand, my friend Brent is much more methodical at focusing himself towards a distant target. Besides carefully devoting time to offcourt work, in practice matches he cares less about outcome than the process of running his offense; that is, hitting the shots he knows work for him in competition. My own approach is that I like to feel that I'm winning plenty of points and matches in practice, building confidence in my ability to solve problems. But on the day of a league match, for example, I might hit for 30 minutes and play four games of singles -but that's it. I want to save my best tennis. Then again, my teammate Gil can play four sets of doubles in the morning and then go out and play a league match that same day without any perceptible drop (or rise) in the quality of his play. One thing I've learned from being around folks like the great Australians is that a good competitor is not necessarily one who wins a lot, but instead one who puts himself in the right frame of body and mind to wage a good fight. So, look for the ways that aid rather than sabotage. Everything from how you sleep to what you eat and even who you talk to can make a big difference. 


Q) Dear Roving Player:

I have a client who's always asking when we're going to play tennis, and of course she wants to do this on a weekend. I know from what she's told me that she's significantly worse than me. What should I do?
-Baffled Betty


A) Dear Betty:

Suck it up -on your terms. Tell her you'd be delighted to play doubles at her venue with her tennis buddies. Leave it completely up to her to make the arrangements. It's actually staggering to see how people who are effective as doctors, lawyers and executives can be woefully inept when it comes to arranging tennis matches. So you can bet you'll get a reprieve. But indeed, the day may come, so put on a happy face and look at it as one-off, no-lose situation. If you dominate the match -and again, doubles is a great way to improve many parts of the game -you can walk away. If not, then you have new people to play with. One thing to watch out for: the foursome disintegrates and the next thing you know it's you and the client, one-on-one. The client will likely want to compete, but you have the right to suggest a brisk hitting session. But I'll admit, this can get awkward, particularly if the client insists on competing. If that should come to pass, then, as I've written before, don't hold back. You're not good enough to engage in customer tennis. Go about your business like a humble Swede -no fist pumps ala Hewitt, but solid tennis. If you win as handily as anticipated, pay attention to your opponent's post-match talk. If she's kind, thoughtful and unwilling to make any excuses, then perhaps you've made a new tennis friend. If she starts whining about anything that damaged her play other than your stellar tennis, head for the hills -and be leery in all future business dealings. 

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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."