the freeman tao of tennis, pt. 1

Everyone who plays a particular sport does so because something about it appeals to them on a deeper level.  Lovers of team sport love teamwork, camaraderie and intricate plays, placing their bets that their teammate is going to be where he/she is supposed to be when they make their throw.  Other sports, like tennis, offer one-on-one competition in addition to the team aspect.  But on a deeper level still, playing tennis is like playing chess, as much mental as physical, as much cerebral as it is physical.

Perhaps this why I can honestly say I will play until they pull the scraped-up racquet out of my cold, dead hands.  I can never get enough of the excitement I feel when trying some ridiculously difficult shot and feeling a sense of accomplishment when I get lucky!  When you play tennis long enough, it moves from a game in which your primary concern is hitting your strokes consistently to manuevering the ball to set up your best shot for a winner. 

Sometimes your mind will imagine some woefully low-percentage shot, and even though you know this before you attempt, you try it anyway (and off goes the ball over the fence!).  You console yourself for being foolish by telling yourself “I wouldn’t try that in a match”, but you also know that you just might try it!  That’s beauty of it.  You don’t have to worry about your teammates being angry because you tried a between-the-legs shot when you could’ve easily caught up with the ball and flicked it back.  In tennis, you’re painting the canvas, making split-second decisions without a playbook, and there’s no one to blame but your opponent should you lose.

It’s easy to remember the younger days when I was trying desparately to hit my forehand like Ivan Lendl and my backhand like Wilander (during the times I’ve tried two-handed backhands) and my one-hander like Edberg.  Then my only strategy when to hit every ball as hard as I could and hope it went in.  My tennis mentality hadn’t evolved sufficiently enough to comprehend other ways of winning.  Later, you realize that instead of just blasting your first shot for a winner, you can simply try to control your opponent’s movement and placement on the court to keep them at a disadvantage. 

As I got older a little less mobile, I realized that it’s possible to beat most people without ever hitting a hard shot.  During the three years I coached high school, I had the opportunity to hit with a lot of different people and styles, male and female.  It was a great gauge as to how far my tennis game had come, how it stacked up against other players’ technique.  While playing league tennis with the Queen City Tennis league, I played mostly cats older and craftier than myself, but I wasn’t always victorious.  In tennis, a loss is more helpful than a victory (well, just so you don’t lose everytime you play!).

If you lose because you are mentally stale, hurting, or otherwise having a bad tennis day, you learn much less than if you were beaten at the top of your game.  If self-problems are taken out of the equation, it means your opponent’s technique or style was better and exposed a weakness in your own game–your personal Achilles’ heel. 

I’ll follow up in part two with why I look at tennis as a martial art…


~ by free71 on May 30, 2007.

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