Archive for category tennis

Humans Are Amazing

I am awed…by the talent above and the unusual tennis serve techniques below:

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Awkward Lingo And Acupuncture

Funny to read in the December 21 post that Jason is also suffering from “tennis elbow.” My injury is from too much tennis. His is from strenuous arm wrestling. But I never heard of “arm wrestling elbow.” He is lucky that he can continue training during his inflammation.

For months now I have been advised to either have surgery or take Cortisone injections. I did neither. But I also didn’t stop playing–just cut back and learned a two-handed backhand. I did have five iontophoresis treatments, in which a medicine solution is poured on a patch that has an electric current sent through it that forces the liquid by osmosis to penetrate the skin and the muscle. Each session was about 20 minutes.

The therapist also used acupuncture at the same time for three sessions. During the second time, the muscle sort of jolted or popped or released when the needles were inserted. I don’t recall having acupuncture before. My father was a big believer in acupuncture long before it was legal in this country. He had an acupuncture doll showing where the meridians are and may have been one of the only chiropractors in the US in the 1950s who used his thumbs on the pressure points.

I wasn’t totally cured, but the discomfort is much much less. Unfortunately I have held off for months now using weights and doing push ups, so my upper body muscles have really dwindled.

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Adapt Or Die

One of my greatest strengths–no brag, just fact–is my ability to alter my actions as my circumstances change. I have done it in business by creating new products to serve new markets or killing products that were in dying markets. I am now in my fifth or sixth career, learning new skills in the evenings to move out of fading or limited industries. I have relocated to the country from Manhattan, when I decided the Big Apple was too congested. I stopped eating high-cholesterol foods, when I discovered my blood fat was approaching likely heart attack levels. Somehow I can adapt. Not everyone can. Not sure it’s a gift…but it’s definitely a blessing.

Since I acquired a tennis elbow from too much activity, I have felt discomfort or pain in my arm every time I hit a backhand. A one-hand backhand. I love the beauty of the one-hander. I like being part of this minority: Just one in five professional male players uses the one-hander. 80% of pro and Challenger male players use a two-hander. Only two women of the top 50 WTA pros use a one-hander. From being pretty much the only way to hit a backhand prior to 1970, the shot has gradually been eclipsed by the sturdier, more dependable double-hander.

Whatever the reasons, I discovered that when I used two hands for a backhand, there was hardly any pain in my backhand shots. Voila! This was a terrific discovery. So for the last four matches, after not playing but once in two weeks over Thanksgiving holidays, I tried two hands. I hit some real slow loopers that often went out, but sometimes stayed in. At least I could do it. Fun without pain.

Yesterday I took a lesson and was able to practice a two-hander for the first time. Fifteen minutes. And some of the shots were pretty good. In and low and a bit of pop. I was adapting again. Giving up on the beauty of a one-hander and adding a another obstacle to my game. I had to forget about my 8-9 years of tennis playing and start acquiring a new skill in addition to all the other techniques I am struggling to master…actually not master, just execute better.

What the hell.

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Did I Overdue It?

From August 12th to September 4th is 24 days. I am proud to say that I played tennis 18 times. Hardly tired. Thrilled I could do it. At the end, on the day of my “big” tournament match (that I lost), my arm was hurting. Poor backhand technique, maybe a strain, tennis elbow or just too much of a push.

Since then I have held off playing some times, hate the idea that I might be out for weeks or months, doing exercises, resting…until I am invited to sub. Can’t just stop for two weeks and really give it a rest. Love the game too much. Afraid of not being able to play.

Great to have passions. Stupid to risk serious injury. But I write these words after playing last night and not being smart enough to cancel tomorrow’s scheduled game.

Why are we all so silly???

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Wrong Attitude For Winning

I have to laugh at myself yet again. Played in the B-level doubles quarter finals, attempting to defend our championship from the year before. Won the first set in a tie break, 7-5. At the beginning of the second set, I told my opponents that I felt sorry for them, losing such a close contest. WRONG! I remembered that I should have NO SYMPATHY, but a killer instinct instead. Too late…

We lost the next set 1-6…and the momentum. Up 2-0 in the third, then up 4-3 and serving. Then lost 4-6. I wish I could blame it all on my partner. But that wouldn’t be honest. I played poorly. Missed too many shots or hit “winners” that were returned. I felt awful.

My friends tried to cheer me up, but I was really disappointed. Then one kicked me in my emotional butt and reminded me about the refugees trying to reach Europe. I stopped feeling sorry for myself right away.

The first year I published my book of commercial photography, one talent was really pissed that the colors on his page were not satisfactory to him. He ranted and raved. At one point of frustration with his attitude, I pointed out that life could be worse, “Think of the boat people,” (who were drowning as they left Vietnam and Cambodia in flimsy, overloaded crafts). I never forgot his response: “Fuck the boat people! I don’t give a damn about them. I just want my page printed better!!!

How we all distort our priorities. Even me. I immediately felt better after being reminded about the refugees pouring into Europe these days. You’d think I could simply enjoy being able to play in a tennis match just days after hearing and writing here about an acquaintance who died six months or so after retirement and just two weeks after discovering he was sick. It’s not always that easy. We all have our thoughts and misplaced values…

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Life And Tennis Update

Well that was a big gap in writing anything. Longest since I started this site in April 2009. I was definitely in a funk about all the sad personal events as well as the global crises. But there is mostly good news.

I went to a second cardiologist who gave me a special new test for coronary disease and learned in 15 minutes that my blockages are right in the mid-point for people my age. In fact some arteries are only 15-20% blocked, while others are 30-40% blocked. Invasive surgery to look with a camera and possibly put in a stent is only done if the blockage is 80-90%. So no surgery necessary. That was a relief.

Being given the go-ahead to play as much tennis as I wanted–or could–I accepted invitations to substitute in other games in addition to my twice-a-week regular dates. But I overdid it a bit, playing six times in six days (twice–morning and afternoon–one day for 4+ hours total). That week stretched out to 10 times in 12 days, and I admit that I am sore and tired. The biggest problem is the 80-degree plus heat…because playing in the cooler, late afternoons (6 pm) is much easier.

Next challenge of course is to improve my game…a constant in my life.

Ten minutes ago I learned that a man I knew and respected–but haven’t spoken to in 11 years–retired at age 65 last June, only to discover in January this year that he had cancer. Didn’t even know it…and then he died two weeks later! So sad, so terrifying.

This is how life is…it’s not extraordinary. Today and last week the global stock markets are falling in huge ways, people are losing their life savings, there is panic and regret and fear of the future. Completely understandable.

All the more reason to enjoy and accomplish, while we have the chance. You can’t put off all the good times for the future, because you may not have a future. It’s just the way it is…

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Confronting Death And Illness

Bella resting

Bella resting

It’s been a confronting month with regards to health and exercise. I am still doing 5-15 minutes of something, whether push ups, flys, etc: yesterday was 1318 consecutive days. I have also been playing tennis 3-5 times a week…even 6 times one week this month.

But I also didn’t pass my annual physical EKG automatically…a PVC (premature ventricular contraction) that necessitated two stress tests, the second with radioactive isotopes to look at my heart muscle with a cat scan. The cardiologist meeting is coming up July 1st, but it sounds like it’s NOT life threatening. She said I could continue playing tennis and to just watch out for symptoms greater than being out of breath for 5-10 seconds after a tough point. One player told me it takes him a minute or two to recover.

I only needed to raise my heart rate during the tests to 124 before quitting after one more minute of fast walking. I went to 170 and 155, which was terrific for my age group. I also started taking a baby aspirin a day, and after two weeks of this, I will have had more of those pills than in my entire life. I do like the citrus flavor.

However I really mind being normal and having health issues like everyone else I know. I am not used to it. I am spoiled. I have been blessed with good genes and also consciously avoiding bad foods and habits. In fact my cholesterol went down again to 187 from 196 last year, 218 in 2008, and 237 in 2005, when I first learned I had a problem. Changing my diet and exercising more often has really paid off. But I still have a slight abnormal blockage in one artery it appears.

I know, I know…it’s better than most guys my age. And nothing worth mentioning compared to others with far more serious illnesses, like cancer. Even my dog has cancer, has received chemo treatments for months and has not eaten for almost two weeks now. I thought we might put her down this morning, but we decided to wait another day. These sick friends and relatives have upset me terribly. I have been down and in a funk, though not depressed. It’s so sad, and I hate feeling helpless.

My dog breed’s life expectancy is 12-13 years. Bella is 12 1/2, so she is right on schedule and has had a great life. I can live with her demise more easily. When my father died at 88, I felt like he had also enjoyed a good run. And I have already had 74 years, so I won’t complain. Though when I had my birthday in April, I realized I may have “just” another 10-15 years…until I was shook up in May by my physical.

But it is very upsetting when friends in their early 50s become seriously ill, like one who died a few years ago at 54. I know Life is not fair, but it still pisses me off to see randomness in action. Living is such an uncertain and fragile adventure. Another friend fell two weeks ago and landed on her chest and knees. No broken bones, but she might have hit her head and been seriously injured. Two days ago I fell over a curb inside a restaurant, where it was dark and there was a gap between the potted plants. Luckily I landed on my knees and hand and didn’t shatter my right, tennis wrist.

I never forget that I could be living in a war zone, or starving, or lacking water. My friends from California who stayed with me this weekend were thrilled to take a shower that lasted more than three minutes. We must all savor the good moments.

Bella on Father's Day

Bella on Father’s Day

I will miss many of those I had with Bella, as she chased tennis balls I hit and flushed pheasants I often missed. She has been a loving friend and companion. As the android said in Blade Runner: “Time to die…”

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How To Upgrade Your Life By Improving Your Tennis

Once again I find myself attempting to modify my tennis performance and seeing analogous challenges and obstacles off the court in my daily life. It shouldn’t be so hard to make changes in both worlds…but it is. I think I understand why. But I can’t accept it.

For example I watch tennis coach videos and take lessons in which I have been told for years to “keep eye on ball” and follow through. I struggle with both instructions. I look to see where the ball is going more than 65% of the time before I hit it, EVEN WHEN SERVING! And right from the beginning I was taught to complete my forehand with the racket touching my left shoulder…but it often ends up pointing over the net three feet in front of my body.

Ridiculous. But the facts.

Now I can blame improper muscle memory, ADD, eagerness to see the results, lack of concentration. I can say I started playing too late in life, haven’t practiced each stroke 10,000 times, or had a messed up childhood. A neuroscientist on the radio the other day said that if you lacked certain “normal” parts of your upbringing, the circuits in your brain don’t wire up so stably that you will function successfully as a late teen. If, for example, you were raised by a single parent, there is a greater likelihood of depression and suicide.

Other less traumatic early experiences certainly influence how we turn out as adults. However I believe we can overcome those childhood neural wirings. How to do that more easily and faster is the challenge I am facing.

Hitting a better forehand is not in the same league as suicide. Nor is my difficulty in resisting sugar. Others smoke, take harmful drugs, drink excessively, blurt out words they regret, abuse people though they know it is wrong. We learn what we “should” do. So why can’t we stop ourselves from taking actions that are bad for us or harmful to others.

There is a whole school of thought suggesting that the mind and body are connected. If you are having trouble with the former, affect it by focusing on the latter. For example if you are anxious, you can go to a shrink. But alternatively you can plunk your body on the floor, breathe slowly and meditate. That might also calm you down.

My forehand problem is already a body problem, and I see that the mental input is having almost no lasting effect. Changing old ingrained habits is way too difficult. Creating a new muscle memory pattern is a better approach, but it also needs to be accompanied by thousands of repetitions. I don’t see that the brain can change the body’s motions with only a new idea. I wish it could.

One coach says you have to take tiny steps that are more like progressive drills. Practice a bit of the stroke…then another fragment…still a third piece and then put them all together in a smooth motion.

Stopping smoking or drinking or eating too much food by going cold turkey (just ceasing all of the habit suddenly) is generally thought too difficult. Winding down the undesired action by cutting back gradually is a common approach. However I continue to read that people who lose weight generally put it back on. It’s too hard to give up those overlarge portions over time.

Why is that? Do we really as a culture eat excessively, because we want to be heavy, sick, unable to move comfortably and eager to shorten our lives with bad diets? We dull our senses to remove ourselves from the pain of the world…But those drinks relax us as well, make life more pleasant and less anxious. Some drugs actually enhance our senses.

So just hearing the words…even knowing and believing that you should change your actions… doesn’t seem like enough to easily do the trick. On the other hand, with education and media attention, some people have stopped smoking…or smoking as much…and others have changed their diets to become healthier. Millions haven’t.

The conclusion is that verbal advice usually doesn’t alter the recipient’s behavior permanently, even if change is a serious goal. It doesn’t happen in life and it is proving abysmally hard in tennis. If I can find the magic connection in which words and thoughts can modify my tennis actions, I will have a real edge in improving my behavior off the court.

For now I know to keep trying, believe that it is possible, practice small drills to create new muscle memory, cheer the few successes, never give up and accept that it takes years to do anything right. Then I will have a great tennis stroke and can start working on the rest of my life.

Now if I live to 100, everything will be perfect. Or I will die before I am perfect, but proud that I kept making the effort.

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Fears And Injuries Off The Couch

In the last few months, I have been unusually active, mostly on the tennis courts…sometimes four consecutive days a week, as I am asked to sub. These efforts are in addition to my daily indoor exercises for 10-20 minutes. The result has been fear and injuries.

I was bitten by a tick before I went overseas and worried that the aches in my shoulders and knees were signs of Lyme disease. It may have been weight lifting.

Then I went tobogganing and crashed…discovered a bruised, purple toe that I thought was broken. But it wasn’t, and the pain quickly became mere discomfort and then went away.

I did some crossfit squats with weights and strained something near my groin…so I worried that I had a hernia (the doctor told me what to look for and concluded via my telephone call that it wasn’t that), but I also worried that I might have the beginnings of cancer!

I did some rowing and lat pulldowns on machines in a Florida hotel gym and hurt my back…couldn’t walk straight…hunched over and constantly hurting, whether lying down or sitting up. But after two hot showers a day and some gentle stretching, I was able to play tennis anyway.

I also took four tennis lessons in Florida, where it was incredibly humid and 80 degrees. One time I was way past exhaustion and was determined not to stop before my hour was over. I did worry that I would pass out–but not die on the court, like some other players I have heard about back home.

I hate all these injuries. I hate my fear of being struck down at any time by over exertion or disease that might be deadly. Yet I realize that I am bringing all these risks on myself by choosing to rise up off the couch in the first place. It is an expected result.

Yes the sports are fun. Yes a walk in the woods exposes me to ticks. Yes gym exercises can lead to muscle strain. What other option is there? I sit enough at the desk and watching TV as it is.

Life is always a compromise. You always pay a price. But I often wonder if I am smart about it. The fact that I can do it all, when others my age are using walkers and canes, forces me to take advantage of my abilities, while I have them. It would be such a waste to just sit, when I don’t have to.

And the injuries are so minor compared to others with real illnesses and handicaps, that I simply can’t whine about a little discomfort. So I keep exerting and risking and enjoying and loving a great tennis shot, higher weight on the machine, or a new muscle definition. I guess that’s what makes me who I am, even if some people find my achievements and abilities annoying.

Use it or lose it…and don’t whine or complain out loud.

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Victory In A Tennis Tournament

The B Champs with their salad bowl trophies

The B Champs with their salad bowl trophies

I admit it: Winning really feels good. On Labor Day, I was part of a doubles team that won the B Division at the tennis club I joined three years ago. How sweet it is. I really wanted it…and not for the 15-inch diameter glass engraved bowl that I can use for salad and fruit.

Two years ago my team made it to the finals, but lost. This year we played that same team in the semi-finals–although I had a different partner, Jim Wu–and we won 6-2, 6-2. I began the match believing we could win. And best of all, I was doing my best without worrying if the other team would feel badly if they lost. As my tennis therapist told me, if they can’t handle losing, it’s their problem, not yours. I still don’t have a killer instinct and can still learn to play more aggressively. But I no longer feel so much sympathy for the other side that I subconsciously create my own errors and poor shots.

The most demandinging match was in the quarter finals, where we won 7-5 and in a tiebreaker 7-5. I served at the end of both sets, and I was ecstatic that I never choked. There were around 20 people watching and cheering me on. What a difference it made to hear people applauding and encouraging me after an especially good point. One experienced friend said I was playing the best game of my life…certainly that he’d ever seen me play. He may have been right. I was in the zone, anticipating better than ever and returning many balls that seemed ungettable. Now I understand a tiny bit of what the pros like Monfils and Djokovic feel, when they motion to the thousands in the stands to clap and shout louder after a winner or a victory. It feels terrific.

But I was a bit sad to learn after that close match that one of my opponents lost on his birthday. Both guys looked very disappointed, and I was glad that my sympathy didn’t kick in until AFTER the win.

For the finals I was really concerned about one of the opposing guys…a lefty with a powerful serve and a very strong net game. He volleys incredibly frustrating drop shots too. But he was a bit off in the exhausting, low-80s heat…and we won that one 6-2, 6-3 in front of an appreciative crowd that was often focused on the A Division finals two courts over. But some watched my game and applauded our victory. Many people were happy for me when I saw them afterwards. Very satisfying…even thrilling. I definitely wanted to win this final after losing it the last time.

Who knows? Maybe some year I will enter the A Division and see if I can win a match or two. Some of those guys are like semi-pros, were on college teams and are super fast. Many are under 50 and have astonishing capabilities after years of practice.

For now I am totally pleased. I have a year to relish my success and prepare to defend my title next time against all newcomers, wannabees and guys seeking revenge. The joy of sport…the challenge of athletics. My quest to keep improving. Pretty lucky to have this passion so late in life and be able to do it…I am savoring every minute…

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How I Was Kidnapped For Ransom Money Because Of My One-Handed Tennis Backhand

Stan and his backhand

Stan and his backhand

I experienced a very discombobulating adventure the other day during my second visit ever to the US Open tennis tournament. I went with some tennis buddies who have gone annually for decades and knew their way around.

Prior to going, I had viewed an interactive graphic about the one-handed backhand (OHB) tennis swing that is a dying stroke. It’s what I do, although almost no one learns it anymore…the two-hander is easier to master. But world number 4, Stan Wawrinka, won the Aussie Open last year with one of the most beautiful OHB in the game. So imagine how excited I was to read that Stan was playing in Arthur Ashe stadium, and I could watch him live from my seat.

Surprise! There are maybe 18 courts at the Billie Jean Tennis Center with so much simultaneous action you are frustrated often about who to watch next. And you are right up close to the players in these outer courts and smaller stadiums, rather than practically touching clouds in the uppermost cheaper seats we had at Arthur Ashe. So my group watched Andy Murray, Jo Willie Tsonga, Juan Monaco, Angelique Kerber and many other top-ranked players everywhere except Arthur Ashe. I loved it.

But around 4:00, I left my fellow enthusiasts, said that I had to see Stan the Man and mentioned that my cell phone was running out of battery. No problem, just meet us at Parking lot “F” at 6:00. Easy.

Off I went to admire Stan’s graceful OHB and try to learn how I might do what he does. It’s so elegant and powerful. You never see it on TV the way you can live. A real highlight of the day. At 5:30 I headed alone to the parking lot, following a map and guidance from a policeman and many US Open staff members. Still no problem…until I didn’t remember all the grass and trees when I was walking that morning from Lot “F” to the tennis courts. Nor did I recognize the lot when I was taken there by the shuttle bus. It was totally under the highway, rather than open to the sky as I remembered. Sim the driver drove me all around it. But nothing looked familiar.

Was I in a dream? Had I lost my mind? Intense disorientation. With my phone dead by now, I asked the bus driver if he would call my buddy on his mobile. Sure, but Sim only reached voice mail. A second call to a different friend resulted in the driver being told that he had the wrong number. Very strange, because Sim said he dialed the number I gave him. When I dialed the second number, I reached my friend and told him I was “lost.” I’d gone to the lot, been looking for almost half an hour, but still couldn’t find him. Where was he?

Only when I handed the phone back to Sim did he realize that my friends were parked in a DIFFERENT Lot “F”!!! There are two of them, and my buddies never realized that during 25 years of attending the Open: I was directed to the lot that caters to the tennis center. They always parked in another lot nearby that serves Citi-Field, the home of the New York Mets baseball team. As Clint Eastwood’s character responded in one of his films, “What a clusterfuck!”

When I finally headed back to the US Open exit/entrance and walked a bit to the left out the gate instead of a partial right, I found my mates, and heard their version of what happened. My first friend Phil hadn’t recognized Sim’s phone number, so he didn’t take the call. My second friend Y heard the strange message and ethnic accent, so he thought it was a wrong number. Then the first said he heard the message and became very concerned and nervous. Here is what he heard: “Hello Phil, this is Sim, and I have Ira here in the car. We are driving around, and he wants to talk to you.” Phil thought I had been kidnapped, and when he spoke to Y, they were both disturbed by this total stranger with a foreign accent using their names and stating that “Ira” was in his car. My buddies were sure Sim was going to ask for a ransom!

When I asked them how much they thought the ransom would be, I imagined they’d say $5-10,000. But no such luck, they figured my life was only worth $200. That gave us another laugh. Phil said with a dying phone, I should have stuck to the group “like Velcro.” Friend Y never realized that I would go to the wrong Lot “F,” because he didn’t know it existed. So he never mentioned Citi-Field.

And that is how my desire to improve my OHB caused my friends to decide that I was kidnapped for a ransom.

An unexpected conclusion to a great day of tennis. And an hour later Sim called to make sure I’d found my friends. Unforgettably nice guy. I hope he never finds this story and learns how misunderstood he was and how confused some Connecticut tennis players can be, when they make it to Queens in New York…

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Joe Marshall Describes How To Win In Tennis

Joe Marshall posted this comment to my “Mentality” article yesterday (below). Joe was a great mentor/coach for me and wrote about 15 articles on this site about how to play tennis much much better. His strategies have helped me and many others improve their game dramatically. You can find them by searching with the keywords Joe Marshall.

Great story….Remarkable in its coincidence. Yesterday, I played a doubles match with a couple of thirty somethings on the other team, and my partner and I (ages 64 and 59) on our side…..they got off to a 3-0, 15-40 lead. My partner was solid, I was very inconsistent. Our opponents run twice as fast as us, one hits twice as hard, the other hits with twice the spin….I usually serve the best of the bunch, but yesterday, we all served about the same….serviceable…We stole that game and won the next. on serve! But they broke me for the second time to go up, 4-2. But we fought back, and won the next 4 games, fighting off break points and game points in each one….6-4 us.

In the second set, we got up 2-0 15-30, but they held, then they broke and held again. We tied it up at 3-3. They got up 5-3, but we won three games in a row, and I served for the match….they broke me for about the 5th time….I have been holding serve very well lately, but I lost all confidence, and my partner wasn’t helping me by stealing a poach here or there, or even moving to distract them or anything….in the tiebreak, we got up 3-1, but then they reeled foo 5 out of 6 points to go up 6-4. One had an easy volley at the net and tried to dropshot it…he JUST missed it, but I was running in, and would have had it if it wasn’t a very good dropper, so I think I put some pressure on him…..Then I hit two service winners, probably the only two I got all day….neither a terrific shot, but both solid first serves. When my partner served with our match point later, I poached and they hit the return in the net.

The key was experience, playing the pressure points well, but mostly strategy. The only thing I had working for me wsa my mind and my reflexes…I made several fine reflex shots to extend rallies, and some great gets….My partner was solid as a rock….They kept playing one up, and one back, with the server occasionally sneaking in. They also made some terrific poaches. My partner and I realized the only way we were going to get ahead was to lob everything, especially the return of serve. We had long rallies of our team lobbing, and their deep man running around hitting (and occasionally missing) groundies, while their net man looking for overheads, that he would occasionally hit, and about half the time, miss (or we would block it back.

In the second set, my partner lost his lob, he started hitting them all short…..I reminded him to get his weight into the shot, like any other shot, and follow through HIGH. Correcting things when they go wrong is one of the great gifts of experience.

They changed strategies in the second set when they had their run…..their deep man started hitting big high topspin shots, backing us up, and making it difficult to lob the net man (the best way to get a lob over the deep man’s head is to move up and take it early)…..Unfortunately for them, they didn’t stick with this strategy, and inexplicably, their server started to come in fast behind creampuff serves, making my return of serve lobs over the net man twice as effective….On big points, experience teaches you to follow certain mantras…..”Keep your weight going forward on return of serves”…anticipate on a certain side, On a serve, keep the toss high, let it bounce if it isn’t good, make sure you clear the net, exhale, put plenty of spin on the second serve…..and above all BE CONSISTENT, but forgive your self immediately if you miss one…Stay in the moment, the past means nothing, the future isn’t written….you might lose, you might win, but keep fighting….Now’s not the time to think about results…now is the time to hit the BALL!

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Two Drastically Different Mentalities

I recently played squash in fear and tennis with hope. The different results are stupefying, and you might guess that I lost the squash game and won the tennis contest. You are partly right. However the details are worth describing. Especially if there is a lesson here for life beyond the courts…

A month ago I had just hit squash balls with a new friend who is a serious squash player, but out of shape. We stopped after 30 minutes. It was my first time on a squash court in three years.

Then I saw a martial arts movie, The Best of the Best, in which USA coach James Earl Jones says things like: you must win all the time, not just some of the time or whenever. Winning is a life style that requires total dedication and concentration. Losers on the mat are losers in life.

The next day I played squash GAMES with my friend. I usually just hit on the court, not play games with points. But I won the first game 11-5. I noticed that when I was ahead, I was hoping the game would be over soon and that I wouldn’t blow it. I lost the next game 6-11. We took a break and talked. During the third game, I was ahead 7-2 and 9-4. But I was terrified that I was going to lose. Every time my opponent bounced the ball before serving, it was so deliberate and practiced and intense and serious, I was actually afraid. I could see that he was an experienced player. I was incredibly impatient again for the game to be over. I sure knew what it was like to have NO confidence, low self esteem, fear and self-disgust.

I remembered the words from the movie and repeated them in my head. “I want to win, you can do it.” But I was definitely scared and had no confidence that I would win…even with a five point lead. I certainly didn’t want to be a loser. But I lost anyway, 10-12…I made one more point, while the other guy made eight. It was a rout. It was ridiculous. My game was pathetic.

Later I told myself that it’s not so important, I was out of practice, I have played few games in my life, none in three years. Yatta, yatta, yatta. My rationalization included recalling that the Malaysia plane had been destroyed, there was fighting in Gaza, etc, etc. A squash game means nothing. I got over it…

Two days later I played tennis. Phil Farmer, an experienced player, had told me earlier that he always plays to win, because it’s “his game… it’s who he is.” I admired his determination to play well and not accept losing to his peers. I play my best, but when I lose, I often say that “It’s just a game.”

On the doubles court one set, I was the weakest player. As part of the round robin format that afternoon, first team to five games and ahead by two is the winner.

The first time I served in the set, we won easily. My serving has improved considerably, since I took a lesson a month ago. I also practiced serving for an hour the night before and for 15 minutes earlier the day of this match. My partner certainly deserves credit for putting away a number of the returns to my serve. At least what I sent out when serving didn’t come back as winners. To everyone’s surprise, our team took a 4-0 lead. I was giddy. Winning would be an upset. I even wanted a bagel.

Now I was serving again for the match…but we lost. Then we lost again and again and again. Score is 4-4. Tiebreak.

Our opponents took an early lead, I lost both my serves. Soon we were behind 1-5. But I have much more hope and optimism and confidence in tennis than in squash. I am known as the guy who “never gives up,” and I tell my partners that all the time. We came back to 3-6, and it was my turn to serve again. I wanted to win, though I did not believe we WOULD win. But I was going to give it all I had, do my best, make a real effort. It never even occurred to me that we were definitely going to lose or that I was afraid.

I served a fast ball (for me) right down the middle that skidded off the line for an ace. 4-6. My second serve was not returned. I think it was hit into the net. 5-6. I hadn’t choked. We were still in the game. Then we break the next point. It’s 6-6, then 6-7, 7-7, 8-7, 8-8, 9-8.

My turn to serve again. I don’t choke for the second time. My serve is not returned in the court. We win 10-8!

Who would have believed it? No one. My partner and I talked later about the changes in momentum…after all, we were ahead 4-0, then lost it to 4-4 and 1-5 in the tiebreak. Then something changed again. Why wasn’t I afraid? I don’t know. I do remember though that when I was serving at 3-6, I was unsure how to do the serving motion. It felt awkward, forced, the farthest rhythm from smooth and practiced.

But somehow it happened…even an ace down the “T.” I want to know how to do this in everyday life. How to come through when I need to. How to not be afraid or so scared that I am wishing it would end and be over, even if I am the loser, which is an awful feeling I don’t have hardly at all. I mean I lose all the time. I make mistakes every day. But the fear I felt in that squash game was painful.

During the hour of talk and drinks after the tennis match, it didn’t register emotionally. I was proud when one friend I played with earlier said he’d heard about my victory and told everyone that I had probably told my partner to “Never give up.” I like knowing that people think of me that way. It’s a good attitude, and it’s definitely one that is part of me.

A couple of hours later at home, when I was telling my wife about how my team won the set in the tiebreak, I was exuberant, excited and exhilarated. I felt happy. It was great. It didn’t matter a bit that my teams with different partners had lost three other sets that day as well.

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I Am Jealous Of Simona Halep

Simona Halep post-surgery

Simona Halep post-surgery


WHO IS SHE?

Simona is the #3 ranked player in the world, ahead of Sharapova (6), Azarenka (10) and Wozniacki (13), all former #1s. She was named the WTA’s most improved player of the year in 2013, after winning six WTA tournaments that year. This year she made it to the finals of the French Open and the semi finals at Wimbledon. Amazing achievements!

How did she do this? She changed the weight and balance of her body by having breast reduction surgery in 2009, when she was only 17 years old. Since then she has moved up over 450 places in the world rankings. By the end of 2009, she had risen to 166th…to 47th at the end of 2012…to 11th at the end of 2013.

At the time of her operation, Miss Halep said of her breasts: “It’s the weight that troubles me. My ability to react quickly, my breasts make me uncomfortable when I play. I don’t like them in my everyday life, either. I would have gone for surgery even if I hadn’t been a sportswoman.” She also experienced back pain.

As one commentator explained: “She is more confident, more mobile and her strokes are less restricted now that those obstacles have been reduced.” Her recently appointed coach Wim Fissette said her breast reduction had been “an important part of her career.”

SO WHY AM I JEALOUS?

Because with one basic operation, she became a super star tennis player. Imagine if I could have something done in my brain to make the ball seem slower…so I could focus on it and hit it better/faster/harder. It takes half a second for the served tennis ball to reach me. What I could do with what seems like another quarter of a second! Just turn me into a tennis-playing hummingbird-humanoid.

Imagine if I could have the lower half of my body thinned out, so I could move faster. There would be so many shots hit to me that I could return if I reached the ball a fraction of a second sooner, because I was faster!

Imagine if I could go back in time to when I was younger and start playing tennis before I was 10 or 6 years old…so I would develop good habits that don’t have to be overcome or unlearned.

It doesn’t seem fair that she is able to make this physical change in one afternoon that totally ups her game! I want a bionic change like that to improve my game. Even if I don’t make it into the pro ranks and to Wimbledon.

How do you think the other pros feel about Simona’s path to greatness? Could anyone argue with what she has done? She might claim that she was genetically handicapped, and the other pros weren’t. Now everyone is on an equal playing field.

But of course that’s not true. Ivo Karlovic is 6’10” and has hit the second fastest serve in the game (156 mph). Yet he plays Olivier Rochus, who is just 5’5″ and runs faster, but is not as powerful or difficult to lob over. Those two certainly aren’t equal.

Anyway I can dream about having a different body type…but it’s not going to happen. I just have to keep working at improving my game and stop looking for shortcuts that would eliminate that effort. I am sure Simona has put just as many practice hours into her game as the other pros and is a great talent who deserves full credit for her achievements.

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An Embarrrassing Moment

Lleyton and his three girls at an earlier tournament.

Lleyton and his three girls at an earlier tournament.

I spent a week at Newport watching the professional (ATP) tennis tournament there. It’s held at the International Tennis Hall of Fame facilities…the only grass ATP courts in America. Was able to play on the public grass courts there as well, though I lost every game in two sets to a player more used to that surface. The ball does NOT bounce much at all…

After losing in the Hall of Fame finals for the two previous years, Lleyton Hewitt at age 33 was able to win the championship singles trophy. He did it in doubles as well. I was very happy for this Australian who is making a comeback…He was world number one in 2001 and is the youngest male to ever hold that distinction, when he was just 20.

So here is my amusing story. We were given two free seats in a box of six. Upon returning to the box after a break in one of the matches–this was earlier in the week, maybe after the quarter finals–I discovered that most of the seats were taken by three young guys and two or three kids. I really wasn’t paying attention. Sometimes ball boys sit anywhere, until the ticket holder chases them away. Other times there are tennis fans who sneak by the staff members who are supposed to check tickets in each area.

Anyway I guess I said simply, “Excuse me, but these are our seats.” “No problem,” one of them said, and they all moved to empty seats in the adjacent box. As we sat down in our assigned seats, my friend informed me that I had just chased Lleyton Hewitt away, and that if I had been thinking clearly, I would have not said anything and just sat in the empty seats nearby myself. Of course!

I give her credit for recognizing the famous player, particularly because he wasn’t wearing his usual baseball cap turned around with the peak in the back over his neck. We always saw him on the court, which was yards away, and facial details aren’t that apparent. I have to tell you that up close he could have passed for a teenager. And then I realized that one of the other young men was his doubles partner. No idea who the third fella was.

Most tennis fans want autographs and pictures with their heroes or tournament champions. I am now officially known by some friends as the passionate fan who made the former ATP number one and the current winner of the Hall of Fame Tournament move over and be inconvenienced, so that I could have “his” seat. Pretty embarrassing…but worth retelling. We all make mistakes…this should be my biggest one. Sorry Leighton…

By the way, after he won the championship, his three girls plus another little girl all came out on the court, while he received his check and trophy. So adorable to watch them do cartwheels on the grass and play nonchalantly, while their dad said some words to the crowd and cameras.

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Why I Constrain My Killer Instinct

When I accepted an invitation to be the fourth in mixed doubles, I had no idea that my partner would be a soft-spoken woman psychiatrist with gray hair and a very strong net game. We won the first set and were forced to end the second at a tie, due to time constraints. But the real blessing was the many 90-second chats we enjoyed during the changeovers.

I have always said that tennis is a metaphor for life: what you do on the court is probably a small-scale version of how you live your life. The biggest criticism some people have of my mental game is that I do not have–or hold back–my killer instinct. Especially when I am facing an opponent for whom tennis is EVERYTHING, and losing is the worst punishment. For me the sport is a sport, a game, a physical challenge that I’d like to improve at and win. However people around the world are starving, refugees, dying. How can I be miserable over the loss of a few tennis points? Not in my nature.

I am definitely competitive and almost always do my best…except when winning is the only thing to the man across the net…the guy who knows his life is over if he loses, who says to his doubles partner, “Take no prisoners…make them bleed…no mercy.” Yes I have heard these words.

In these cases, I notice that I make a lot of errors, when the scores are close. I definitely feel sorry for the guy for whom winning is the only thing. And I think my errors are subconscious…I never make them intentionally.

So here is the gist of what I learned today from my 90-second tennis changeover therapist…with a few other extrapolated conclusions of my own: I shouldn’t worry about the other guy. Losing is his problem, not mine. He has to deal with it, and I shouldn’t worry about his “suffering.” The fact that I have these sympathies suggests one obvious explanation: deep down I have a big need to be liked, and if I beat a player who thinks he should beat me, then I won’t be liked by that loser. It is very important for me to get along with people and have them think I am a great guy. I want to be included and invited back to play another day. I might have some fears that winning will keep me out of the group.

Wow!! Pretty mind-blowing for me. Needs some digestion and reflection time. When I started playing so late in life (just six years ago), I lacked the skills of others who had been playing weekly for 40-60 years. So the first impression I conveyed was of a worse than mediocre player. But I have improved continually, so my current performance is a surprise, when I play someone I haven’t seen in months. They are startled to find that they are losing. They still see me as the beginner they knew earlier. They can’t relate to this guy who is winning points against them. And it pisses them off.

Of course it doesn’t happen all the time or even most of the time. But I see their pain on those occasions when I rise to higher performance levels. Now that I know more about the psychological game that is going on, I am going to beat the crap out of every guy I face.

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Athletics When You’re Tired

After last Sunday’s push on the bike, I was pretty tired and felt a bit weak in the legs. So I planned to rest. But I played tennis four days out of five for a total of 10+ hours and did ok, winning 7/12 sets. The playing is so much fun and challenging, regardless of who wins. My game was fairly decent, serve improving…I would like to be perfect. I think my brain makes my body keep going. I rarely feel tired when I play. Sometimes I lose focus in the third set.

Interesting to me how each time I wondered if I was going to feel pain or strain or injure myself on the court. The player ranks at the club are often decimated by colds, illnesses and accidents. I am constantly looking for subs or subbing in other games. I only have two games scheduled regularly each week, yet I am often playing three times. In January, I played four and five times each of two weeks. And the injuries are frequently to younger guys (that means 40’s or 50’s), rather than just 60’s and 70’s.

I watch the old man’s daily game each time I play and keep hoping I can be one of them in my 80’s. Love the game…

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Living With Aches And Pains

If I play tennis tomorrow and Sunday as scheduled, I will have played 10 times in 12 consecutive days. I am now aching slightly somewhere most of the time. My friend Joe says he is ALWAYS aching. And I imagine the pros are as well, even though they are 40-50 years younger.

I am not at all used to pain, discomfort and illness. Blessed with good genes and avoiding many of the foods/drinks/drugs that are bad for humans (my chiropractor father said, “you are what you eat”), I am totally spoiled by continual good health. So aches are an unfamiliar experience. And though I can attribute them to the extreme activities these days, when I am playing tennis 2 1/2-4+ hours each time, I still mind that there is any ache at all. Totally irrational and unreasonable.

If I were a pro or a lifetime athlete, I probably wouldn’t give it a thought. I am remembering an earlier article about Matt Hoffman, who said “If I died with a body that wasn’t completely wrecked, then I’d feel like I completely wasted it.”

I am very conscious that if I make it to age 80, and I am in good enough shape to still play tennis, then my game is likely to be weaker than it is now. That is only seven years away. These days I am still improving, on the upswing. Just learned a new stroke today from Joe (the slice backhand…rotate those shoulders and throw the racket like you would a frisbee). Yet at some point, a downhill slide of poorer performance will take over. It is inevitable, and I can see it in older players at the courts.

Should I push hard, while I am able? Or start taking it easier?. Not accept so many extra matches, where I am asked to sub for traveling or ill players? But I love the game so much right now. I know, I know…it’s a high-class problem. Hopefully I will not seriously damage any body parts. And in the meantime, I am having fun…

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Confusion In Tennis And Life

Although I only have two scheduled tennis games a week, I just subbed in three others…so I played five times in five days (twice in one of those days). A total of 13 1/2 hours including serve practice. I was so tired that I slept 10 hours one night. Exhausting. Worse than that, my team generally lost. So I still need lots of work.

To help out, five different players volunteered on their own to tell me the “right” way to hit a serve. I was amazed by a video I was sent that showed the way professionals serve, and this one broke it down, so that for the first time I understood what I am supposed to do. Or at least what a professional is supposed to do. One coach told me to ignore it all. Another coach told me there is no such thing as muscle memory. Someone said hit harder. Someone else said just place it accurately. Rotate this way…no that way. Stand like this…no do it like that.

Pretty confusing…I decided that all the suggestions sounded good, took pieces that I liked from each person’s advice , and will practice some mongrel approach to see what happens. Oddly enough, my serve was going pretty well before the video arrived by email. I am just trying to improve it.

Of course I think life has the same challenges. People live it different ways, with different abilities, and most will not hesitate to tell you what should work for you. Everyone is after the same goals: enough money, good health, satisfying relationships, career success, fun, various degrees of excitement and adventure, and maybe a tiny bit of wisdom that makes it easy to deal with daily problems. It’s taken me decades to reach some of these goals and objectives. Yet it is often a struggle to handle the latest issues…like the abdominal pain that concerned me a week ago…which may just be a strained muscle and not a deadly disease.

At least I am still in the tennis game, striving to be one of those guys in his 80’s who plays a few times a week. And good enough now to keep on being invited back to fill in with players who are better than I am. Lucky me.

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Life Becomes More Fragile

I was a bit scared this week, when someone had to stop playing after just three games and said it was his heart. Should he go to the hospital? Are his tennis decades at an end? It was the same court, where a man just dropped and died at age 85 some years ago.

Two summers ago, I played doubles with a man in his early 70’s who stopped after just a game or two. His playing days ended right then. Too much pain in a leg after giving it a few weeks rest, I think. This August he was riding his bike and his heart gave out. How awful.

At my local indoor courts, I always see the “old-men’s game,” because they are there five days a week at 8:30 AM, and range from mid-80’s to 90 years old. Some can hardly run or move quickly. But I long to join them, if I make it to their phase of life. For now I admit that there is a tiny bit of anxiety that any serious ache or pain might signal the end of my athletic days…maybe my life. A constant fear that I can usually dismiss and forget about it.

Anxiety is a deadener in its own right. Millions have it, own up to it, try to overcome it with drugs, meditation or therapy. I know a retired cardiologist who dealt with life and death issues by burning up his tension running a few miles every day. And many friends talk about their fear of those doctor visits, when they might hear the dreaded diagnosis that will lead to no more: sports, athletics, frivolity, and life.

When I watch the deer and birds outside, they are constantly alert to danger from predators…every time they put their heads down to eat. In a developed country’s middle-class society, we generally don’t have to worry about being cut down physically by bullets and bombs–though car crashes are a risk–but there is still the reality of the doctor saying we too have a terminal illness. So it goes. Whatever. It’s why I play while I can and strive to live healthfully.

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Improving Your Tennis Or Your Life

In the last week, my tennis game has jumped to a higher level…in the opinions of those playing with me. I can feel it too.

Among the reasons for my stronger strokes and serve is great advice from a high school classmate I saw recently who has been a tennis coach for decades. Marilyn gave me suggestions that I have been working on for two weeks…and then it all came together during four tennis matches in the third week. I was the best ever. Everyone was surprised and commenting. My net game was also terrific, and I had few unforced errors.

I have always said that Life is a Smorgasbord, and you have to sample all the dishes to find out which ones you like. Marilyn told me to do things that were very different from other instructors I have taken lessons from and watched on video. So I was eager to experiment…anything to hit a harder ball with accuracy. Her techniques work for me…so my game is now at a new and much higher level…this is really fun. Especially when I can startle people who think they are going to dominate me.

Of course I think the same lesson applies off the court and in your everyday life: keep experimenting, don’t ever give up, maintain your enthusiasm, don’t be afraid to change old habits, embrace new ways that might be better. Unfortunately I see that most people are too comfortable with their established routines to risk failing in new efforts.

A Zen parable asks you to assume you only have one arm and hand and are holding a small bit of water in a glass. Now consider reaching for the pitcher that has more water. Most people realize that they have to put down the glass first, AND AT THAT MOMENT THEY HAVE NOTHING. So they hold back and settle for the smaller amount/achievement/standard, etc.

Would you take the chance of losing everything to go for a bigger life? Most of us are very cautious in that situation. It’s scary to try a new way of relating to people or changing careers or making money. That’s way people generally stick with what is familiar and do things the way “they have always been done.” Which is quite difficult in these days of constant and rapid change.

Luckily hitting the tennis ball differently isn’t that big a deal. So I took the chance and seem to be winning the bet. We’ll see how long this peak performance continues…

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When The Student Is Ready, The Teacher Will Come

You can’t cram advice or lessons into peoples’ brains, if they are not ready to receive them. We all become overwhelmed in certain situations…you can see your friend’s eyes glaze over, when you are giving such “needed, helpful guidance.” But staying patient is really hard in the early stages of a learning process.

I was aware of that again for myself recently from both sides of the divide. Some one asked me for advice, I gave it, they ignored it, and I think they are making a big mistake. But it’s not my problem. It’s just that the right way to behave—in this case NOT making a very expensive purchase—seemed so crystal clear to me. But my friend doesn’t see it that way and took actions that I pray don’t get him into financial trouble. Hopefully I am wrong.

The teacher came to ME this week, while watching the Barclay tennis doubles finals in London. I saw finally that in spite of what I had been taught to do, the pros were standing much closer to the net. I suddenly want to do the same, and two coaches I asked about it said I could stand as close as feels comfortable…doesn’t have to be in the middle of the box. Similarly, I finally noticed that doubles pros on TV serve and come up to the net, rather than hanging around the base line. I feel ready to do that as well.

So now I see in my brain what has always been reaching my eyes, when I watch the pros. But it hasn’t registered with me before…too much of a beginner…or intermediate player, and just not my time to “get” these lessons. It’s a good sign, gives me more confidence in my game, and I am starting to do it when I play. You can’t be surprised, when I tell you that old habits die hard, and I can’t always remember to rush toward the net after serving, or stand closer to the net. But I am eager to make these changes. Something has finally clicked. I must be ready.

As you know from earlier posts, I think of tennis and other sports as metaphors for life. You can learn a great deal about people from how they play the game, and you can learn even more about yourself. Then I am always attempting to extrapolate what I learn about playing tennis to the game of life, particularly when I am improving my skills at tennis. Maybe a flawed connection…but I love making the effort.

The TV announcers talk so often about how a player has lost, or has less, confidence…even the greats like Roger Federer, who is losing more than he used to. Believing you can win and staying relaxed, rather than tense and rigid, are such fuzzy terms. Clearly defined and visible observations are so much easier to follow. But that ain’t happening on the court or in the life mix. Nevertheless, I keep on swinging, and as a friend wrote yesterday, “keep on hitting winners…”

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Could An Inch Change Your Life?

I was frustrated about hitting more powerful ground strokes, so a friend showed me his grip: the butt of his racket ends in his palm. My hand was an inch closer to the racket head. So I moved my hand away from the racket head, and my strokes improved enormously. IT WAS A MIRACLE!!! This slight change puts the racket farther away, and the ball hits the sweet spot more often…the racket has more whip. It works for my serve as well. FANTASTIC!!!

Of course my mind is never satisfied to stop there…it immediately wonders if life operates the same way…just make a tiny change in some small part of actions or decision-making, and things will be a million times better? Where are these little inflection points that are so major, so determinative in our lives?

Choosing to proceed with a marriage, when your fiance has just revealed a huge character flaw or three is one place. Going into business or taking a job with a person who has just demonstrated immorality or deceitfulness is another. A third fork in your life road might be deciding to go away to college, rather than staying home with the familiarity and coziness of your high school friends.

But what about older folks like me, way past college, spouse and career choices. Our lives are far from perfect at any stage. Many of my friends are still striving to make more money for current bills, college tuitions or retirement nest eggs. Yet they struggle horrendously with risking their savings in unfamiliar investments. Big topic of discussion. What to say to children who appear to be screwing up, but want to be independent? Choosing the right expensive products, like cars or houses, are areas ripe for mistakes.

These are not everyday decisions. And poor choices can lead to much grief as a consequence. Wouldn’t it be great if all you had to do was make one little change, like altering your grip by an inch, and everything would be better and easier?

I like to think it can be that simple…once you are shown or learn the different way to behave or decide. But I can see that we are all locked in by our past experiences, fears, lack of confidence, and various levels of comfort with risk. I have made the same investment decision in hours that a friend came to after 18 months. I was intuitive almost instantly, while he was rational and conducted intense research and due diligence. And he not only has more money than I do–so the loss would be less damaging to him–but the project was much much farther along, by the time his mind said “Yes.”

Relocating to another town, state or country is a tough one, even if you have dreamt for years of living out of New York City or in Florida year round. Yet when I moved out of the Big Apple, some friends thought I was crazy. And a few ended our relationships as a result. I was basically rejecting their choice of how to live a life, and that was too negative for them to stay in touch. “Where will you eat? What will you do out there?” they confronted me. A number did say that it sounded idyllic, and they had often fantasized about doing the same thing, but they were “city people,” so couldn’t really move to the country. I laughed the other day, when I went into our newly renovated, 3-D theater in our neighboring town of 35,000 and watched a first-run movie without a line and with plenty of seat choices…and then heard three days later about a city friend who couldn’t see the same movie at night, because it was sold out since 3:00. Dinky, rural life isn’t so bad sometimes.

I know that risk-taking takes practice, just like serving a tennis ball. I know that decision-making and sizing up a person are other skills. You can’t succeed at them from the start. Some people are afraid of mistakes. Others use them as learning experiences. I had a consultant who was not impressed, when I told him that I had not failed at any of the projects I had carried out in my publishing company’s early years. “Then you aren’t taking enough risk,” was his response.

I never forgot it. Maybe that willingness to fail is like the inch on the racket handle. I will keep looking for those slight, small places, where your whole life can be affected.

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Humiliated, Devastated And Embarrassed

In Newport last month, I entered a “batting cage” for tennis players and learned that my serve almost never exceeded 65 mph. One out of maybe 10 was over 70. Whoopie Doo! Two videos made with an iPad and emailed to me revealed that my form was nothing–and I mean NOTHING–like the pros on TV. But to be perfectly honest, it looked so bad that I was devastated, dismayed and heartbroken.

Finally I understood why I have no power. So I watched how-to-serve videos, received advice from friends who play and practiced some serves. Of course Practice Makes Perfect ONLY if you practice perfectly. I felt like was bending my legs, dropping my racket toward my back, rather than leaving it above my shoulders, and accelerating the racket head. I could visualize my improvement.

Two weeks later my daughter filmed me and lo and behold…it was still awful. At this point I am practically suicidal from failure. (I know, I know…it’s only a game) In spite of how improved I FELT, the video didn’t lie. I was taking an unnecessary and power-robbing step backwards, I was still pushing the ball from above my shoulder, and worst of all, I looked like an old man farting around on a tennis court. Using this newer half-assed, still-weak serve in games, I no longer had my respected consistency and placement skills that gave my net man easy putaways to the opponent’s return.

Forget about the difference between a competitive game with others and relaxed, no-pressure, non-choking practice. I still couldn’t do it even on the practice court. And now I was double faulting a lot in games, along with sending my first serve too long too often.

Then a couple of days ago I faced two players who are both better than I am. Beautiful ground strokes and powerful serves, one a lefty. On my team however was a teenager, I think, who was better than both opponents. When I expressed envy for his serve, he said I had to drop my right shoulder. Aha! That is how you get your knees to bend naturally, I realized. The light bulb went on with the brilliance of our sun. I tried it immediately the second time I served, and I had a glimmer of improvement. Not easy. But I held my serve to win the set 6-1. My net game had been better than usual, and it resulted in a number of needed points.

The next day after work, I hit 250 serves until it was so dark that I couldn’t see the balls land on the court. The sky behind the tossed ball was almost totally black as well. And guess what? I still can’t get it. Somehow I can return net volleys like I am playing ping pong, but am unable to make my body contort itself anywhere near the desired form and coordination a good serve requires. Frustrating!

Well I am determined to “get it.” I have trouble watching the ball in the air, bending, bringing the racket near my back, dropping the right shoulder, pronating my right wrist, landing on my left foot with my right foot up in the air. And tossing high enough, which is the most important part of a serve I keep hearing.

It’s a real challenge that I will tackle like all other things in my life. The good news is that it’s not life and death, either physically or economically. The bad news is that millions of 13-year-olds can do it, so why can’t I also come close to mastering some approximation of a decent serve?

But when I do achieve this difficult goal, the victory will be all the sweeter. I never give up, I keep trying, and some day I will DO it, not just TRY to do it. Until then I am obsessed with practicing serves. The challenge is invigorating. My body and legs are sore. And I am amused by how we see ourselves one way, but the videos and pictures and outside world see a different version that we might never suspect. Painful. Embarrassing. But forever true…

And it lease it’s only tennis, not politics or a corporate ladder.

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Lunch With Laver And Conversation With Collins

Bud tells tales at a luncheon. Pam Shriver watches and Bud's wife Anita (seated) listens

Bud tells tales at a luncheon. Pam Shriver watches and Bud’s wife Anita (seated) listens

Rod also listens to Bud after telling his own stories

Rod also listens to Bud after telling his own stories

The day after the latest tennis greats including Martina Hingus had been inducted into the Hall of Fame, I was able to attend a luncheon at which Pam Shriver was the mistress of ceremonies. I was directed to an almost empty table and settled down to my lobster roll and potato chips. Within minutes Rod Laver was directed two seats to my right and Bud Collins and his wife were placed directly across. Our conversation was limited of course, and neither had any idea who I was or why I was at their table. But it sure gave me a kick to be breaking “bread” with these stars. Too funny. I love coincidences and random events like these. Keep ’em coming, Lord…

By the way, Bud was one of the first journalists who moved successfully to TV coverage in 1963 and specialized in tennis commentary, wrote books about tennis and wears astonishingly colorful clothes. Check his fashion style out here .

Another acclaimed tennis personality who spoke at the luncheon and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame the day before was TV sportscaster Cliff Drysdale, who co-founded the men’s pro tennis “league” and was the first president of the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals). In his speech at the ceremony to hundreds–maybe 2000—people, he made fun of one colleague when he said that although he (Cliff) was given five minutes to speak, this named buddy would probably not be able to focus on it after 30 seconds, because he had the “brain and attention span of a mosquito!” When I asked Cliff later about that dig, he said his buddy could handle it. Wow. That’s show biz I guess.

At the luncheon he made fun of another person’s shirt color, and for the rest of the day I heard people mentioning the guy’s shirt and color (it was chartreuse-y). I actually have a shirt almost that exact color, so I was personally offended by Cliff’s ridiculing it (just kidding). But it amazes me that he would be so critical, undiplomatic and insensitive and think it was funny. But then I am not a famous sportscaster and famous tennis executive.

snappy dresser Bud Collins (in orange pants) leaves the ceremony

snappy dresser Bud Collins (in orange pants) leaves the ceremony

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