This is a combined post about my adventures returning to the fabulous sport of tennis.
I Joined The Glastonbury Tennis Club
I’m back, baby. I’m back.
As I was walking out on the court this morning with the tennis instructor, he asked me where I lived. I told him where I live and then informed him that I just moved here a few months ago. He asked where I had come from and why I had moved. I told him because there were no tennis clubs where I used to live. You think I’m kidding.
I suppose that was just the icing on the cake or perhaps an indication of the type of area we lived in. I think the only indoor tennis court within 30 miles was inside some old barn. This guy I used to work with told me that someone had redone a barn and put a tennis court in it. That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.
You would be surprised at how many dinner conversations Laura and I have about life. We are real thinkers. I probably over-analyze more than she does, but we do have some pretty worthwhile conversations. One of the topics we talk about is what we could do in the recreational arena. I mean, we probably do more walking, hiking and biking than anyone I know, but it never seems to be enough. We work out on the Bowflex, but that doesn’t seem to be enough. I work around the house cutting down trees and spreading mulch, but still not enough. We even wrestle, well, you get the picture.
This type of thing becomes very important to me when the bad weather sets in. I get the Winter blues easily and need to be constantly entertained or else people are going to hear me complain. No one wants to hear someone else complain.
I used to work at the Carmel Fitness and Racquet Club over in Carmel, NY. I worked there for about four years as the head life guard from 1993 to 1997. I loved that job because it would allow me to do all my homework for college when no one was in the pool. I credit that job for helping me graduate Westchester Community College. I also loved that job because I got free use of the gym and the indoor tennis courts. I love to play tennis and having indoor courts at my disposal year round was the best thing to happen to me. Also, to have a life guarding job year round was great too.
At the Carmel Fitness and Racquet Club, I played a LOT of tennis. You couldn’t keep me out of that place. I get bored very fast, but back then, I had something to do about it. I would hop in my car and go play tennis. If there was no one to play with, I would practice my serve or just hit against the ball machine. Those four years taught me a lot about the game and I actually got pretty good at it.
When I went to college at Binghamton University, I stopped playing. Twelve years have now gone by and I have only casually played tennis a few times, but nothing to write home about. I really miss the game.
Living where we used to live didn’t help. Since people were more into farming than tennis, I had a better chance of somehow driving a bulldozer across a field than to actually play some indoor tennis. Year after year, I got more and more sick and tired of putting up with the lack of recreational activities in the area. There is only so much of walking up and down the road someone can do. I mean, people can say, “Oh, we have this and we have that,” but really it’s the feeling you get when you are somewhere. It’s the culture.
So when I gave the tennis instructor that answer this morning, I wasn’t kidding.
Yesterday, as we were out and about, I decided to take a different way back to the house. I drove through a back road (Oak Street) in Glastonbury to hop on Hebron Avenue. As I was driving down Oak Street, I noticed a sign on my right. It said, Glastonbury Tennis Club.” I almost fainted. I had planned on joining the tennis club up in East Hartford when the weather got a little cooler, but this was a heck of a lot closer to where we live. I drove a little further and turned around.
We walked in the club and talked to the front desk person a little while. I eventually signed up for a membership and scheduled a lesson for this afternoon at 12:30. I thought this was just great.
This club has six nice indoor courts and four pros for lessons. I thought a few lessons would be a good idea, since I hadn’t played in such a long time. I didn’t want to jump right back into playing matches with strangers when I wasn’t sure of my abilities.
I had my first lesson with John, the Tennis Director. He was pretty cool and probably got a kick of how fast my face turned red from all that running around. I must say, I played rather well. I hit some great shots and was consistently “OK.” Let’s just say that I could hold my own against an intermediate player.
This tennis club has a bunch of clinics where there is a pro and about five people per court. They hold the intermediate clinics on Wednesdays and Saturday mornings. I will most likely go to all of them. I want to get back in shape before the Winter comes because I want to start playing matches. The instructor told me that in a few weeks, I should be ready for the advanced clinics.
That would be the cat’s meow.
My New Prince O3 Speedport Black Team Tennis Racquet
I know, I know, you have been getting “Jay’s Blog withdrawal.” I haven’t written in a few days. It’s not because I don’t love all of you, it’s just because I have been a little tired.
Ever since we got this Bowflex and I started playing tennis again, it seems as though I am constantly sore. I mean, my muscles are always in recovery. My shoulder hurts, my back hurts and I think I pulled a butt muscle.
The muscle injury in my shoulder is from twelve years ago when I “over served” a few days in a row. I was so thrilled that I could actually serve, that I went to the club day after day to practice. Well, lets just say that I must have served about a thousand balls. I am not sure I even got any better. If today’s playing is any indication, I didn’t. Oh well, it’s working itself out, with the help of some Motrin and ice.
I remember when I could do a good workout and then go back and hit the gym the next day. I am trying that now, but unfortunately, it’s not the same. Apparently, it now takes two and a half weeks to recover. Maybe that is exaggerating a little bit, but for any of you over 30 years old, go out and get drunk. Then, come back here and tell me how long it took you to recover from that. My point is that we are falling apart. That is why I am trying to stay in shape as best I can.
I have now been to two tennis clinics and have had two private lessons. I learned a lot in yesterday’s lesson, only to apply none of it in today’s clinic. I don’t know what happened. I guess I am going to have these kinds of days. Tomorrow, I am going to hit with a youngster from the club. He is a really cool kid (17 years old) and is going to kick my butt. He has been playing since he was four years old. His father is the pro that gave me yesterday’s lesson. I think he is pretty lucky to get free lessons for life. I told him that today. Tomorrow, we are just going to hit back and forth, with no games. He is great at giving advice too, which I appreciate.
At least I am now learning the proper way to hit a tennis ball. After all these years of playing tennis, I never actually had a real lesson. I mean, I guess I had a few lessons over at the town beach when I was like five, but those don’t count. These are real, hour long tennis lessons. I walk away actually thinking I might get better.
Now to the point of this blog post. I have been using the same tennis racquet since I was 21. It’s one of those cheap ones from some store like Jamesway or Caldor. I am not even sure where I got it. I have been using it with some success, but thought that since I am going to need to get it restrung soon, I may as well get a high quality racquet to play with. I tried a few different racquets at the club and there is a huge difference in quality and playability.
A few days ago, I ordered a new Prince O3 Speedport Black Team tennis racquet and received it today. It’s the latest from Prince. I did a lot of research on different racquets and am hoping this is the one.
Here are the specs:
– Length: 27.0”
– Headsize: 100 sq in
– Cross Section: 23-24-22mm
– Weight: 9.9 oz/280g unstrung
– Balance: 13.6 in/34.5 cm, 1 pt. Head Heavy
– Grip: DuraPro+
– Rec. Strings: Syn Gut w/ Duraflex 16
– Power Level: 975
– Swing Weight: 295
– String Pattern: 16 x 19
If you notice in the photos above, the great feature of this racquet is the “Os” on the sides, where the strings go through. These “Os” are supposed to make the racquet more aerodynamic. When I read that, I said, “Yeah right.” Well, as is turns out, you can actually hear the wind whistle through the racquet when you swing. It cuts through the air much easier than my other one.
I had this racquet strung at 57lbs, which is too loose. The recommended stringing tension is 58lbs, plus or minus 5. 57lbs is too loose for me and I may play with it for a while and then cut the strings out to get it strung tighter. We’ll see. I can always wait for them to break too.
I am going to give this racquet a try tomorrow and let you know how it plays.
Great Tennis Lesson Today – Forehand, Footwork and Strategy
So, as I mentioned in my last post, I decided to get back into taking private tennis lessons. After today’s lesson, I am sure I made the right choice.
For now, I am going to skip the Wednesday tennis clinic. I am going to replace it with a private lesson. I think the one-on-one instruction is a better bang for the buck and I learn so much. Both private lessons and clinics have their merits. As I said above, private lessons offer a full hour of intense instruction. The learning potential and cardio workout is awesome and personally, I walk away with a lot to think about. Clinics are great to get out there and hit the ball around with some other people. There is some light instruction, but the tennis pro is honestly incapable of getting into the nitty-gritty of every ball each player hits.
I was really pleased with today’s lesson and it lifted my spirits after Monday’s terrible loss. I know Mike feels the same way after he loses, so I don’t feel all that bad.
Okay, so I thought I would give you a little breakdown of what we did. First, we warmed up “short court.” That’s typical to get the arms and legs functioning. Basically, that is simply standing on the service line and gently (and cooperatively) hitting the ball back and forth to each other. Then, we backed up to the baseline and hit some forehand shots back and forth for about five minutes. Then, Jim (the tennis pro) said something I found pretty entertaining and quite welcomed. He said, “Okay, I think I’ve seen enough.” That was exactly what I was looking for.
For some strange reason, whenever I try to learn something, I think that I have to walk in and guide the instructor on how to teach me. I have a faith issue. It’s weird. I guess you know when you are with one of the “good ones” when they can totally pick up on what you are doing wrong and what you need help with all by themselves. I really liked his style. Also, I wasn’t in the mood to do a horrible job trying to explain what I need to work on.
So, as it ends up, I needed some fundamental changes with the way I have been hitting my forehand. The way I used to used to (before today) hit it was to have my chest facing the net. My arm would extend to the side and do most of the work. Jim very kindly explained to me that I needed to rotate my shoulders to the right, so I was completely facing the side of the court. Then, as I swing my arm forward, move my shoulders and torso with the racquet. Makes sense to me, but it still feels pretty strange. The reason I am having so much difficulty, is because I am trying to shed years of hitting a terrible forehand. As I explained it to the ladies at the front desk, “I am like a piece of taffy that keeps trying to twist back to the way I always was.”
Jim didn’t care about what grip I was using, as long as I was comfortable with it. Also, I can still use my open stance, I just need to turn my shoulders more. After I tried this for a while, I was hitting some pretty solid forehands.
Also, I needed to loosen up on my racquet grip a bit. I was squeezing too hard and it showed.
Next, we talked a bit about the mental side of the game. I explained that I have a bad habit of totally falling apart during a match if I start losing some games. It’s not a good scene. Jim told me that the reason for this is that I (and everyone else out there) start to get nervous and start over-correcting everything I think I am doing wrong. Once that happens, there really is no chance. He said that once I am playing a match, forget about what I learned, about form and all that. Those things will start to show naturally during a match, once I get proficient at them during the lessons and the clinics. Again, that made sense to me.
Next, we went over what to do if you are experiencing some low, fast balls being hit towards you. I told Jim that when that happens to me, I just pop them back over the net to keep them in play. The problem with that is that the other player is sitting at the net waiting for them. He told me that what I was doing was correct because it’s a defensive shot, I just need to lob the ball over my competitor’s head to neutralize the play. Basically, I want to take the other guy away from playing offense and myself away from playing defense. If I can lob the ball over the other player, we will be on equal footing again. This holds true for the backhand and the forehand.
After we got that squared away, we went over where exactly on the court I was supposed to be when the ball is in play. Jim hit me a few balls and watched as I returned them from behind the baseline and stayed there. The way it is supposed to happen is, I am supposed to start on the center of the baseline and move back if I need to return a deep ball. After that, I need to get back on the baseline, where I started. That was a stupid mental block for me. Also, if I am trying to return a shot from in between the service line and the baseline (approach shot), I need to move up and hit into the ball, then get back to the baseline, unless I feel really good about where I hit the ball and in that case, I can get up to the net. If I am returning a ball that is hit before the service line, I need to get up to it and then play the net. I told Jim that the whole idea was just genius. One of my main problems was that I relied on my wonderfully powerful hits that I would stand there and admire my work.
Lastly, something was discovered as we were going over our little court strategy. Jim noticed that I wasn’t hitting the ball at the peak of its bounce. I was waiting for the ball to fall too far and then trying to grab it as it neared the ground. The better way to do it is to smack it before it starts falling and move into it.
I am starting to notice that playing tennis is a lot like trying to land a plane…you need to think about and do 20 things at the same time. I guess this is why it takes so long to get proficient at either.
Practicing My Forehand
Today’s clinic was pretty fruitful, if I don’t say so myself. There was actually a point when I said to myself, “Okay, this is where it clicks.” Strangely enough, it did.
Why I have trouble with my forehand, I’ll never know. This is supposed to be the “natural” stroke that everyone picks up the fastest. The backhand and the serve are what usually gets people into trouble. Nope, not me. I am fine at those two, it’s the forehand that troubles me.
I now have the proper grip. It’s the full western…the one I used to use 12 years ago when I played at the Carmel Fitness and Racquet club in Carmel, NY. I played with younger people, so their grips were much more exaggerated. Young people watch the pros a lot and like to copy them. As players become more mature, they tend to hit safer, more conservative shots. I always liked the exaggerated gameplay, so I think I’ll stick to that.
There are two things I am working on; the first one is keeping my elbow closer to my body. When I don’t do that, I get a big, loopy swing. Changing my grip from the semi-western to the full western grip has helped with this. Also, holding a tennis ball to my body with my elbow reminds my to keep the elbow close.
The second thing I am working on is extending my swing more. Usually, after I make contact with the ball, I pull up too fast, when I should be moving the racquet forward more. They like to call this the “windshield wiper” swing. It’s not as bad as the big loopy swing, but it is annoying. The way I avoid this is to keep my left hand out in front of me, and after I make contact with the ball, I catch the racquet with it. This helps put more pace on the ball.
There are so many videos out there on YouTube showing people how to practice their forehands, but many of them are for beginners. I did find one that really shows some helpful tips on how to swing and some good exercises to practice. For the record, I would like to say that I absolutely love the facility these players are practicing in.
Going Back To The Open Stance Forehand
Since my last tennis post, my forehand has been getting better. It still doesn’t feel right though. It kind of feels like I switched hands and am now trying to learn lefty. I have to admit, I don’t think I’ll ever get it.
I have decided to go back to my natural “open stance forehand.” This is the way I have been playing for years, before attempting to learn this sideways stance forehand that I am having all sorts of trouble with.
Just to let you know, tennis is one of those games where old habits die hard. There are a lot of new players using a more extreme Western grip and open stance forehand and getting tremendous results with them. The pros don’t like to teach that way of playing for some reason.
Trying To Climb The Hill
You know, I am not sure I like this whole “getting older” thing. I mean, I try and try and try to stay in shape by walking, playing tennis and working out on the Bowflex, but it seems like all my body wants to do is get tired and ache from it.
I am playing tennis four times this week. I already played two ladder matches (Mon and Tues), have a lesson today and then a clinic on Saturday. I did well on Monday’s ladder match because I had a lot of energy. I ate a nice big dinner and then went to burn it off. Last night, I ate at around 4PM, so by the time 8PM rolled around, I could only last so long. About half-way through the second set, I began to fade. Towards the end of the third set, I was almost crawling off the court. Mind you, we did play 30 games.
When the time came to roll out of bed this morning, my age started to show. I am sore and tired. Sounds rough, huh? Also, my feet are killing me and my shins hurt…not to mention my arm that has been aching for over a month. Boy, I feel like I am complaining a lot here. I only wonder what this lesson will be like today…these things give you a real cardio workout.
I keep telling Laura that I need to get past that “hump.” It’s like I am chasing it and once I catch up to it and get past it, I won’t get as red in the face, sweat and lose my breath as much. The only problem is…that hump might be unattainable. Perhaps I was able to catch it when I was 18 years old, but now, I am going to have to work twice as hard and I’m not even sure it’s possible.
I guess I have a few choices here. I can double down and start running, like I have always wanted to do, or I can just keep going as I am. There are a few runners who play tennis and it really helps their game. They are able to play a heck of a lot longer and are much faster on the court. They can pretty much get to any ball you hit at them because they are so light on their feet. As I try more new things on the court, that is becoming more important. The good ol’ days of me smacking a powerful ball over the net and admiring it are over. These guys are starting to return them to me.
Since I have written so much about tennis on this blog and have hardly shown any pictures or videos, I am planning on bringing my video camera today. I am going to have my buddy take some videos of my serve so I can post them here. We’ll see what happens with that.