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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