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Another Christmas in Ohio, another chance to hit with the pro who, a year ago, schooled me in the rudiments of the kick-serve. Over the past year, I’ve made some progress. I can arc the ball high over the net and generally place it in the corners of the box. But I haven’t been able to generate a whole lot of kick.

The pro watched my motion. “You’re opening up the racket face. You’re coming around the ball. The kick is like a topspin forehand.” He demonstrated the forehand. The ball arced over the net, hit the court, and exploded into the curtain behind the baseline. “You want to go up the back of the ball.”

He tossed the ball over his head. He raked the stringbed from the bottom of the ball to the top, swinging a hatchet through the the fuzz on the yellow nap. His body’s upward momentum seemed to be the force pushing the ball over the net. The racket simply imparted spin. The ball floated over the net like a Phil Neikro kuckle ball. It landed deep in the box, then kicked skyward.

Something clicked inside my head. The visual was the missing piece of the puzzle. The stroke finally made sense. It seemed within my reach.

I stepped to the service line. I lofted the ball and threw the racket head toward the sideline, trying just to scrape up the back of the ball. I caught a little too much of it and launched a missile at the mixed doubles game on the next court. But soon I was getting the feel. I was hitting better kick serves than I’d ever imagined possible.

I also hit some groundstrokes with the pro. He was moving me from side to side with deep heavy balls. After 15 minutes, I was spent. My strokes fell to pieces. I flailed at the ball, unable to catch my breath, much less execute the footwork necessary to get in position for a good stroke. I was a heaving, sopping mess. I added a new item to my post-season agenda: get fit.

I have four months until the start of my second season at 4.0. The forehand is coming along nicely. I’m moving in the right direction with the kick-serve. Now, I’ll add some wind sprints to my fitness routine to increase my stamina.

The madness continues.

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