Supposedly we learn more from our failures than our successes. After last week, I ought to be a genius.
My partner and I lost our match on Thursday, mostly due to me. Granted our opponents were undefeated, coming into the match with an 11-0 record. But it was a winnable match.
My partner played great, but I couldn’t keep the ball in the court. I was overthinking and missing uncomplicated shots. It got to the point that I was afraid to touch any ball, leaving my poor partner to cover way more court than she should have to. It was not one of my better days.
Afterwards, my coach told me I should have poached more.
“But I was screwing up even the basic stuff,” I whined. “How am I going to hit the hard stuff?!”
His (paraphrased) reply: “When you’re feeling off, push yourself to go for more. Don’t hold back, or you’ll just reinforce your negativity.”
That’s a very wise Lesson One.
My second loss came on Saturday with a different partner. Actually, “thrashing” is a more accurate description of that match. This time, at least, I didn’t play below my abilities. The opponents were simply far superior.
One of the opponents owned a brutal slice forehand–a squash shot, really. It wasn’t one of those floaty slices, but a ripping shot with nasty underspin. When that ball hit the court, it just died. And when it hit my racquet as a volley, it died, too. Over and over, I volleyed that ball into the net–sometimes into the bottom of the net.
Which brings me to Lesson Two: When hitting a volley off a heavily sliced ball, you need to open the racquet face more. The ball’s spin is going to drag the ball downward. The only way to counter that downward energy is to hit up more.
I sort of figured that out after the 78th netted volley. “Hmm. Maybe if my ball is going into the net, I should adjust and hit up more.” Duh. Yet despite knowing what I should do, it proved difficult to execute. I’d need a lot more practice hitting that volley. But next time I face an opponent hitting that shot, I’ll try making the adjustment a little earlier.
(The converse, in case you’re wondering, is also true. When you’re volleying a ball with heavy topspin, you need to close the racquet face a bit. Otherwise your volley will fly long.)
Two losses and two lessons.
Here’s hoping I learn a lot less this week.
Anyone else learn a valuable lesson last week? Or are Rafa and I the only ones getting schooled?
Ha! As I was reading this, I was thinking this sounds a lot like Rafa’s performance Sunday at the Australian Open. Man, he got schooled!
The lesson Rafa learned: Don’t play Djokovic!
I think you are hard on yourself, but even still, your lessons ring true. I particularly like the attitude of doubling down when your game is faltering and forcing yourself to be aggressive. Have I done it though? Hell no! I view it as a stretch goal. You have to care more about the quality of the game you are playing than the outcome and then just maybe we can do as Tom recommends. Great food for thought.
Doubling down is a great way of putting it! I think it’s especially hard to do in doubles when you have a partner that may be telling you to play safer, or at least wishing that you would. The pressure of a partner’s expectations can be worse than our own. (Totally not blaming my partner for my poor play! Hope it doesn’t come across like that! She was supportive throughout.)
As for being hard on myself, that was the general consensus when I came off the court. My teammates told me I made great shots along with the misses. But I can’t remember any of the good shots, only the bad. That may be one more thing I ought to work on. (The list of things I need to work on should keep LittleYellowBall going for years to come.)
Love the last sentence about keeping this blog going “for years to come.” FYI, a topic that I wonder about (maybe you do too) is the toll a really hard match takes on subsequent matches. Similar to when you dig out of a second set to win it, and then blow the tiebreaker because you’ve exhausted your focus and will. Think that might have been the case with Pliskova in Australia for example? or Rafa?
It does seem that focus and will are exhaustible resources. When you dig out that second set to tie up the match, your mind relaxes a bit. Not necessarily because you’re confident but because you’re in need of a mental break from the stress you just went through. We’ve all heard we’re supposed to lie to ourselves in those moments–tell ourselves we lost that set in order to keep up our intensity level. But I’ve never been able to convince myself of that.
From one match to the next, though–I don’t know. The TV commentators regularly talk about players growing in confidence when they’ve won tough matches and about the danger for a player who hasn’t been tested much in the early rounds. Physically, the untested player is fresher, but maybe it’s harder to summon your focus and desire if you’ve been coasting along.
Total speculation on my part. I don’t have many matches where I’m coasting along!
I can’t comment on Pliskova as I didn’t follow her Australian Open very closely. Of course I followed my man Rafa, though. He just wasn’t himself from the first game. He was clearly nervous, not striking the ball cleanly at all. His topspin shots landed short, as they so often do, and his flatter shots flew long. And then Djjokovic grew even more confident, not allowing Nadal to get back into the match.
I think Djokovic is just in Nadal’s head now. And I have a feeling Djokovic may be the winner at the French this year.