Two years ago, I played Ali in the first round of the Wes Davis Weekend Memorial Tournament. He beat me 6-0, 6-0, keeping me off-balance with a sharply angled, biting backhand slice. On Friday, I faced him again. He beat me 6-1, 6-1.
Oddly enough, I played some of the best tennis I’ve played all year. I was being aggressive, putting pressure on Ali’s backhand, and taking the net behind deep, sliced approach shots or two-handed backhand drives.
It was the right game plan, but I haven’t yet mastered its intricacies. Too often, when I got to net, I’d drill the ball right back at Ali, giving him the opportunity to lob me for a winner.
I was also pressing. Most of our games went to 30-all or deuce. Ali would tighten up his strokes, banishing unforced errors from his repertoire. But I felt a sense of urgency to make something happen. I played beyond my capabilities, and lost games I might have won with a little more patience.
Off-season game plan
The match reinforced what I decided at the end of the 4.0 season. I can do some damage at this level, but it won’t be with a steady baseline game. I’ve got to continue moving forward and developing a more versatile net game–creating sharper angles, for example.
I’m hitting the forehand with more pace, depth, and spin, which should yield more short balls and more opportunities to attack. I also continue to work on the kick serve, which keeps my opponent on his heels, giving me a chance to dictate.
So, my game plan for the off-season: work on my net game, develop the big forehand and reliable kick serve, come back in 2009 ready to build on the lessons learned during my first season on the 4.0 circuit.
I caught some of the Philly District playoffs this weekend. Great Valley, which finished first in my league, went 3-0 to take the title. They’ll represent Philly in the Middle States playoffs in a few weeks. The winner will go to Nationals.
One thing that struck me was how well some players can hit the ball with mechanics that would give a tennis pro nightmares. I watched one 4.0 warrior punch every groundstroke like he was playing ping pong. No topspin, no follow through, just hard flat balls near the lines, shot after shot.
Another guy looked like he was scooping his backhand out of his shorts. The ball would crowd his body, and he’d heave his racket almost straight up, like a shovel. The stroke looked painful. And yet he rarely missed.