When I started playing tennis the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I didn’t know much about the game. I had been asked by some young single adults in my church to come out and play with them on a weekend doubles party they were having. They didn’t have enough players so they asked some of the young men at church to come out and bolster their ranks so they could have a round-robin doubles event. I had a great time and instantly fell in love with the game; I found out I actually had a knack for it.
After this experience I started playing every day and I started studying the game to find out everything I could about my new found love (remember, I’m a bit obsessive/compulsive). I watched tennis on TV whenever I could, I read books about tennis, and I even just hung around our local courts to watch players hit—I had an unquenchable thirst for the game!
I learned about all the pro players; current and past. I studied the amazing ground strokes and on-court demeanor of Bjorn Borg, the tenacity of Jimmy Conners, the great all-court game of John McEnroe, the shear competitiveness of Vitaas Gerulaitis, the marvelous one-handed topspin backhand of Guillermo Vilas, and the ferocious serve of Roscoe Tanner. I also studied the games of “Big Bill” Tilden, “Rocket Rod” Laver, Ken Rosewall, Pancho Gonzales, and many others. And in case you think I’m sexist, I also studied Chris Evert (I studied her a lot as any adolescent male my age would’ve), Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Evonne Goolagong (one of the greatest movers of all time—she floated on the court), and others.
Studying the game, its history and players, gave me a greater appreciation and love for it. It was like I didn’t want to let these great players down; like I had to get better to prove my love for them and the game.
And, you know, it worked—I got better and better that summer. I lived at the tennis courts. I saved my money to buy a little 13 inch black and white TV so I could watch tennis in my room because the family always balked when I put tennis on the family color TV. Remember, this was the 70’s, there was no ESPN or other sports channels. I was lucky though, I lived in New York and we had a PBS station that broadcast tennis throughout the summer and I watched EVERY tournament broadcast.
When I tried out for my high school tennis team the following spring, my coach asked me where I had been. (As a coach I know how he felt, “if only I’d had him as a freshman.”) I think I told him something like “I was sitting on the couch,” meaning I just started playing—what a stupid reply! I continued to improve over my last two years of high school, and I’ve worked on my game ever since.
As a coach today, I find there aren’t many students of the game anymore. I mention strokes and playing styles of current pro players to my kids and they just look at me with blank expressions. If only they knew how being a student of the game could improve their game. I guess I need to be better at instilling this in them.
Being a student of the game is so, so much easier now than when I was a kid. With the advent of ESPN, the Tennis Channel, You Tube, and the internet everything is at your fingertips. Matches are always on TV, there are many online instructional websites, and if you want to know how to hit an offensive lob all you have to do is Google it.
Study this beautiful game of tennis; you’ll enjoy the history lesson, you’ll watch some great tennis, and it will make you a better player.
See you on the courts!
This article was written by admin