After a match a few years back, my partner and I asked our coach for his feedback. I don’t remember the match or much of what our coach said. All I remember is his final question: Why’d you keep hitting to the lefty’s forehand?
My partner and I exchanged looks. There was a lefty?
I’d love to say that was the last time that ever happened to me, but I’d be lying. Usually I’m not clueless for the entire match, but it can take a few games before I notice a key piece of information.
We’re supposed to use the pre-match warm-up to size up our opponents, sussing out their strengths and weaknesses. But I’m often too busy hiding my own weaknesses to remember to check out theirs. My post-warm-up discussions with my partner sometimes end up sounding like this:
“So, what’d you notice? Anything?”
“Ummm…she was good. What about you?”
“Yeah…I didn’t notice anything in particular…”
Obviously I need a more systematic approach.
So I did some brainstorming about what I ought to be looking for during the warm-up. And in order to remember it–this is the fun part–I came up with an acronym: FLUBS! Here’s how it breaks down:
F is for Friends. This one applies only to doubles matches. I try to get a sense of how well the opponents know each other. Are they chatty? Are they wearing matching outfits? Or are they discussing which side they like to play on? If I sense they haven’t played together much, I want to exploit this by hitting down the middle or lobbing down the line, creating confusion about whose ball it is.
L is for Lefty. It’s hard to stay away from an opponent’s ferocious forehand if you don’t know where it is.
U is for Unforced Errors. Is my opponent making mistakes? Maybe she’s nervous or having trouble adjusting to the court surface. In doubles, my partner and I should hit more to her. In singles, I’d focus on just being a backboard, letting her donate the errors. Eventually this player will steady herself, but I should capitalize on her erratic play while it lasts.
B is for Backhand. At my level, most players have a weaker backhand, but not all do. If I can’t tell, I want to remember to hit some balls directly at the opponent. Which side does she take the ball with? That’s her favorite side. Even if she doesn’t have a true “weak” side, I’d rather not feed her her favorite shot.
S is for Speed. How well does she move up to a shorter ball? Does she let a ball bounce twice? Does she let some balls go? How does she react to a deeper shot with topspin? By mixing up my shots, I might discover a vulnerability.
So that’s it–my FLUBS system. But, to be honest, FLUBS stinks as an acronym. To be truly great, an acronym has to pass a three-prong test:
1. It needs to be pronounceable as a word, like NATO.
2. It needs to already be a word, unlike NATO.
3. The word needs to have some relevance to the subject at hand.
FLUBS is a word, but it has nothing to do with scoping out your opponent. (Come to think of it, SCOPE could make a stellar acronym.)
Plus, do I really want to be thinking about flubbing when I’m starting my match?
I know someone out there can do better than this, so let’s hold a contest. Come up with your own checklist for sizing up your opponent and make it into a memorable acronym.
The person who coins the best acronym gets bragging rights and a new can of tennis balls. That’s right. Professional tennis balls.
Deadline is Sunday, May 6 at 9 p.m. Start brainstorming!