Thinking is a real asset on the tennis court–except when it’s not. For me, thinking sometimes gets in the way of playing. My conscious brain gets in gear, and my shots go all to hell. But as they say, recognizing that you have a problem is the first step to solving it. Here, then, are three situations where thinking is my enemy. Continue reading “Three Ways I Overthink”
Here’s some tennis news that may have slipped under your radar today. Lucas Pouille, ranked #32, has hired former pro Amelie Mauresmo as his coach.
Why is this noteworthy? Because female coaches in men’s tennis are exceedingly rare. Of the top 20 male players, not one has a female coach. To find a female coach, you need to go down to #27, Denis Shapavalov, whose mother serves in that role. There may be a few other players in the top 100 with mother-coaches. But the Pouille-Mauresmo coaching arrangement is almost certainly the only non-familial one. Continue reading “A Rare Breed”
A while back, I was at a club as a member of the visiting team. We took the court and proceeded to warm up for our doubles match. The woman I was hitting against seemed to be, well, terrible. Her groundstrokes had nothing on them, little powderpuff balls. When I tried to warm up my volleys, her shots either landed limply in the net or sailed over my head. The few that actually made it to my racquet felt like little marshmallows.
Frustrated, I briefly considered saying that I would warm up against my doubles partner. The league rules allow this, but I’d never seen it done before. I pretty quickly decided against it. For one thing, we’d already used up most of the time allotted for the warm-up. I couldn’t very well start the warm-up over, could I? Anyway, my partner and I were obviously better players. Maybe the warm-up, or lack thereof, didn’t really matter.
But the real reason I didn’t request to change warm-up partners? I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. By saying that I wanted to hit with my partner, I’d be essentially telling my opponent she wasn’t a good player. I couldn’t see how to get what I wanted without making this stranger feel bad. Continue reading “The No-Warm-Up Warm-Up”
Here’s an actual transcript from every tennis lesson I’ve ever had:
Me: [hits the ball in the net]
Coach: Watch the ball.
Me: I did watch the ball.
Coach: No, you didn’t.
Me: Yes, I did.
Coach: Did you see the ball hit the net?
Me: [Thinking to myself, “Yup.”] I’m not sure. Maybe.
Coach: Then you weren’t watching the ball. Continue reading “December Challenge: Shadow Swings”
If you play doubles, you’ve almost certainly faced the situation of one player not showing up.
At first, you and your two tennis buddies assume the fourth player is on her way, so you start your warm-up. Midway through your warm-up, you each check your phone for messages. You spend the next ten to fifteen minutes trying to contact your fourth and then anyone else you can think of who can show up quickly. Finally, you spend five minutes cursing your absent friend and plotting your revenge. (Right about now, slashing her tires doesn’t seem like a wholly unreasonable response.)
By the time you’re done with all that, you’ve already eaten up a half-hour of court time. Now what? One player may decide to drop out, leaving the remaining two to play singles. Barring that, you’re left with Canadian doubles. Continue reading “The Tennis Threesome”
A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I sat on the couch, browsing on our laptops for Christmas present ideas for our daughter. (Well, I think he was browsing. He may have been reading about the Patriots.)
In my searching, I came across a ten-foot-long phone charger. I’d never thought about how inadequate the dinky iPhone chargers are until I saw this one. My daughter doesn’t have many outlets in her apartment. With this mega-charger, she’d be able to sit on the couch with her phone while it’s plugged in across the room. Brilliant!
What’s more, this cable was zebra striped! So cute! (If you’re going to give a functional item as a gift, you need to jazz it up a little.) I mentioned it to my husband as I started to order it. Continue reading “Tennis Math and Settling for Quality”
True story from last week’s matches: On Thursday, my partner and I won a match. Afterwards, she complimented me on my serve which had set her up perfectly at the net.
Two days later, we played another match. When it was my turn to serve, I tossed the ball and it went sailing over my head. I caught it and started again. Same thing. The third toss was almost as terrible, but how many times could I catch the ball? I hit it, and unsurprisingly, the serve landed two feet wide.
And so it went for the rest of the match. Toss, catch, toss, catch, toss, fault. I had a case of the yips.
If you’ve ever had the yips, you know the unique stress it causes. A case of the yips can seemingly strike out of nowhere. The simple motion of tossing a ball in the air suddenly becomes impossible. The previously inanimate ball now flies out of your hand, as lively and uncontrollable as a Quidditch snitch. Time is standing still, and everyone is waiting–your opponents staring at you, your partner ready at the net, your coach and teammates on the sidelines willing you to please, for the love of God, get your shit together and serve the ball!
So you try to be more careful in how you toss the ball, which is absolutely the worst thing you can do. You gingerly push the ball up, and it hangs in the air momentarily, mockingly, many inches lower than it ought to be. You’re going to need to rush your serve because the ball was already too low and now it’s dropping. You swat at the ball with your racquet. It lands meekly in the bottom of the net. You’re just lucky it didn’t bounce first.
The charismatic Serbian player Ana Ivanovic suffered from extreme yips in the latter portion of her career. In her first years on the tour, Ivanovic owned a powerful serve that won her many free points. But sometime after winning the French Open and reaching number one in the world, her serving toss went wildly awry. She eventually resigned herself to chasing her wayward tosses. After one particularly acrobatic service motion, sportscaster Mary Carillo drily observed, “That’s a lot of footwork for a serve.”
The yips don’t affect only tennis players. More than one baseball player has been driven from the game because of a sudden inability to throw the ball, missing their targets by wild margins. Professional golfer Ernie Els has been seized with the yips on three-foot putts.
A tennis player with a prolonged case of the yips may try addressing the mechanics of the toss. They might practice tossing along a wall or holding the ball in the fingertips. As good as these suggestions are for learning a tossing technique, they are less effective for overcoming the yips.
That’s because the yips aren’t really about technique. Take the same player on another day, in another venue, and they may serve just fine. I myself served just fine the day before my yip attack–and also, thankfully, the day after. I hadn’t changed anything. The curse just vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared.
Rather than a technical issue, the yips are about what’s going on in the brain. Focusing on the brain, however, doesn’t fix the problem. As any afflicted player would tell you, the more you think about the toss, the worse it will get. A reduced awareness would seem to be the better approach.
But how do you reduce your awareness about your toss at the very moment it’s humiliating you? Telling yourself “Don’t think about the toss” as you’re serving works about as well as you’d expect.
The only somewhat effective trick I’ve heard is to busy your mind with something else. One friend said that when she’s having trouble with her toss, she directs all her attention to her hand holding the racquet. Drawing her conscious mind away from her tossing arm frees her muscle memory to take over.
I remembered her advice during my yippy match, and I did have some limited success with it. My troubles didn’t go away, but my tosses were marginally less erratic and I didn’t double fault. I expect that if I ever need this technique again, it will work better because I’ll already know how to do it, and I’ll trust that it can help.
But I really, really hope I never need it again.
This will be my last post of this week. Have a fantastic, pie-filled Thanksgiving!!!
Yup, you read that right. It’s time to consider men’s lower halves. (Let’s see if this ends up being our most clicked-on post to date…)
A question that’s been on my mind lately is how tight men’s shorts should be. It feels like we’re in an indecisive place in men’s sportswear. Some brands still favor the baggy look that’s been around since Pete Sampras slouched around the courts. Other brands, like Uniqlo, put a premium on a sleeker profile.
I think athletes are transitioning to slimmer shorts, which makes sense since that’s how we wear our jeans and pants nowadays. Still, we have a few hold-outs adhering to a looser cut. And looser also makes sense, right? Tennis is a sport, after all. You want to be able to move.
John Isner springs to mind as the exemplar of a relaxed court style. Here he is at the Laver Cup, with Nick Kyrgios cheering him on in the background.
What are we to make of these voluminous shorts? You could call it classic American casual–not uptight, easy-going, fun-loving. “Slovenly” might be another way to describe it.
At the other end of the spectrum is the French player Benoit Paire.
I haven’t seen any news articles about Paire splitting his shorts during a match, but that back seam is under some serious stress.
To be fair, the shorts do look nicely tailored when Paire is just standing around. Here’s a shot of that:
But he’s professional athlete. How much time is he spending just standing around?
Now, you might be thinking, “Jeez, Deb, isn’t there anything in between these extremes?” Of course there is. The always impeccable Roger Federer hits the sweet spot every time. I could have included him as the obvious “just right” choice. But what fun would that be?