Lawn. And Tennis.

“If you can keep playing tennis when somebody is shooting a gun down the street, that’s concentration.” ~Serena Williams

If the closest you’ve come to tennis is watching Wimbledon on TV every two weeks in July, then you probably think the game is akin to golf, with nattily dressed people playing a gentlemen’s or a ladies’ sport while spectators “Ooh” and “Aah” over their precise shots and acumen. Of course Wimbledon, being on NBC for so long, was accessible to the masses. Regular folk like you and I could watch it and feel like we were transformed into the strawberries and cream loving crowd that filed in and out with spectacular precision from the grounds of England’s Lawn and Tennis Club. Lawn. And Tennis. That’s what we imagine. But that’s not the only tale of tennis.

Around here there is an old tennis court. I use the term loosely, because ages ago, when the weeds began to grow through the cracks in the cement, someone decided to take the posts out and transform the area into a place to ride skateboards. They didn’t take a broad stroke to it, though, as you could still see where the posts had been, and the ghosts of the lines still show through in places. I used to stand outside the fencing and imagine what it must have been like in its heyday, probably in the ’80s when pretty much every place had a tennis court within walking distance.

Of course the ’80s were for stars like Chris Evert, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, and others. Continue reading “Lawn. And Tennis.”

Love-30

It’s that time in the game when the server begins to get nervous, when the returner starts gaining confidence, that moment after the ball hits the net and the head judge calls out, “Love-30.” Palms are sweaty because both players know they can’t afford to make any mistakes. They know that momentum swings on a … Continue reading Love-30

Agassi vs. Sampras

090114_SamprasAgassi_2000_h.h2Both men were sweating profusely, those two titans of the sport, one ranked #1 in the world, the other widely believed to be the greatest of his generation, and they were playing a game with which the rest of us were not familiar. The one was a classic baseline player, the best at returning serve, while the other possessed the best serve the game had ever seen, so their heavyweight battles were full of punches and counterpunches, body blows that came in quick and fast with a dizzying array of shotmaking ability.

It was late night during Australian summer, in early 2000, and the roof was open to the late evening sky, ushering in a slight breeze that still did nothing to cool off the players. Sampras blinked first, losing one service game in the first set that proved to be the difference as Agassi won it 6-4. The second set was a mirror image of the first, however, with Sampras getting the set’s only break to win it 6-3. Agassi had a prime chance to win the third set with a couple of chances on Sampras’ serve but they were not to be, as Sampras took the lead with a dominating tiebreak win.

In the fourth set of that epic match in the making, Sampras looked fresher but could not capitalize, as it went to another tiebreak, this time with Agassi coming out victorious. Then the time had come for a decisive fifth set that seemed destined to be just as dynamic as any set they had previously played. But the Sampras who came out for that fifth set looked tired as he sluggishly thumped around the court. It didn’t look like he had any gas left in the tank while Agassi looked fresh and fit, even 2 1/2 hours into the match. Agassi looked like the man who ran up and down hills just outside of his native Las Vegas to train. He steamrolled Sampras in that final set and raised his hands in victory. Continue reading “Agassi vs. Sampras”

The Nature of a Competitor: Part 5

**Summary: I coached varsity tennis for both girls and boys for six seasons, and this series is meant to highlight those moments that I felt were real connections between player and sport, between player and coach, or between opposing players in a competitive setting. The real nature of a competitor is shown through how she/he deals with pressure, adversity, surprises, and expectations.

It was my first year coaching the boys team, and I had some real doubts about our ability to win actual matches. The crew was undisciplined and small. If there were just two players who didn’t show up for a match we would have to forfeit one of the positions. That’s how small the team was. But they were fearless, which was their best quality. Well, that and their sense of humor. Even though we had a horrible year in the win-loss column, we never gave up and we always played hard until the very end.

One of our early matches that season was with a school we matched up well against. In fact, my first and second singles players won their matches rather easily, as did their second and third doubles teams. That meant the match came down to third and fourth singles, and to first doubles. We sweated out the first doubles match, winning in the third set 6-4. The fourth singles match came down to the wire as well, but we lost it in the third set 7-5. And, as often happened in those high school tennis matches, when players finished their matches they gathered around to watch whatever matches were still in progress. That meant everyone on both teams, including both head coaches, was gathered around to watch the drama that was the third singles match. Continue reading “The Nature of a Competitor: Part 5”