So I had a match today against my nemesis. We play regularly and it’s always close. Every time I think I’ve figured him out he comes up with something new. Today was no different.
I put my new shots and tactics into play and profited really well in the first set. I was on fire but wasn’t really trying. My play was perfectly balanced. The problem I knew I had is that I had to maintain this balance. I couldn’t push harder or ease off. I had to just keep it the same yet adjust as needed.
Easier said than done against this guy. He’s always ready to punish anything loose. Trouble is my tearaway success masked looming problems. As is common in tennis, a good first set is followed by a drop in form. At the same time the opponent often gets their rhythm. This happened. This guy feeds off an attacker. He has Djokovic like defence. Nothing gets past him. You end up playing that extra shot and sooner or later you make a mistake.
I win against him using the same tactic, patience mixed with attack, but implementing this strategy is much easier said than done. You have to be prepared to outlast him every point. Many last, it feels, several minutes. 20-30 shots and we cover the whole court.
It’s really fun to play but very frustrating at the same time if you’re losing badly. Mainly because it doesn’t matter how good your shot is he always finds an answer. Often, the better the shot the better his reply. So he punishes great points. His weaknesses is the more so so shots. He doesn’t put them away enough. Thing is you have to have the right mix of great shots and average ones to get errors from him.
You might now start to understand the challenge. Play too well and he’ll use your excellence to beat you. Too badly and he’ll toy with you. Just right and you’ll win.
The first set I achieved this balance because I wasn’t worrying about the score. Just about getting my shots right. I’ve got a new top spin serve that’s really doing the business and my top spin ground strokes have had an overhaul too.
It was working really well but I made the fatal flaw, I reverted to type. I’m an attacker by nature. Defence is an after thought. Dragging out points and waiting patiently isn’t my forte. My success blinded me. slowly, subtly I started attacking. Going for that little bit more. Slowly, subtly I started missing more. I lost confidence.
What I’ve noticed happens is that I notice the score much more and rush the point. I try to do too much to win and start making silly choices. I forget my winning strategy. I should have realised much sooner what was happening. Stopped trying to win the point and improve my defence instead. Go back to big topspin, particularly with my forehand and hit through the court not across it. Don’t push for big angles. Go for a big target and hard. That’s what was working today. Above all play the shots I’m given. Don’t force the win. Let it happen. But I figured it out too late. He won comfortably in three sets.
After the match I realised he’d countered my aggressive topspin shots with his own mix of spin. Several times I set up to rip a shot only for the ball to change direction and bounce away from me. I completely missed it. I couldn’t adjust. Particularly on my backhand. Boy was I slow to pick up on this. To be fair there was so much wind and rain today it was harder than usual to notice that tactic. But still it shows how my opponent thinks. He never gives up and always finds an answer.
So you either win or you learn. Today I won the first set and then learnt lessons the next two. The good news is that my new tactics are working. I can defend well from any where in the court with my new shots. However I have to stay vigilant and humble. Don’t get cocky. Pay attention to new tactics opponents try to counter this improvement and above all keep my patience and belief in my play.
I’m really enjoying this though. The constant pressure of these matches. You can practice your shots all you like but there’s nothing quite like testing yourself in competition.