Tuesday, 30 September 2014

'A HAIRCUT AND A FOREHAND'

If ever there was a famous quote in World Tennis it had to be the one from Czech Champion Ivan Lendl in 1987 when asked at a press conference what he thought of a young Andre Agassi.
 The Stratton Mountain Tournament in the US played in August of '87 saw the emergence of a 17 year old kid who wore denim tennis shorts and wore his hair rather long. The kid would go on to win every Grand Slam available and became the World's best player in 1995.
Andre Agassi entered Stratton Mountain as a player ranked 90 in a field of 64 players so naturally he had to receive a bit of a helping hand by the tournament committee, a Wild Card was granted.
 In the first round he faced American Luke Jensen , a player ranked number 415 but who could serve with both his left and right arms , now that's clever.
Andre struggled past Jensen in three sets then set up a second round meeting with '87 Wimbledon Champion, Aussie Pat Cash. On paper this match looked rather one sided however Agassi found a way to sneak past Cash in two breakers , people were starting to take notice.
The round of 16 saw Andre take out American Chip Hooper in three, then a quarter final win against countryman Joey Rive in straight had him up against World number 1 Ivan Lendl. Now this match was entertaining however I have only seen extended highlights of it , would love to watch the entire match one day.
This match saw Andre running around his backhand at any given opportunity to belt his already huge forehand back at Lendl who at times looked rather confused at the kid's ability. The big Czech eventually won the match in three sets , 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 but not before being given a huge fright by a skinny 17 year old with flash shorts.
The press conference after the match was one that produced this chapter's title as Lendl gave his opinion on the new kid on the block. Looking back I suppose Andre could've taken it as a compliment as it was rather obvious that Ivan rated the forehand highly, perhaps not so much the haircut.
A year earlier at the same tournament John McEnroe beat Andre at the quarter final stage in straight sets but paid him a huge compliment. Whilst I do not have the transcript in front of me he told a press conference that a winner by Agassi from his forehand was the hardest shot he had ever had hit against him. Fair endorsement for a 16 year old. 
Some people knock Agassi because he admitted taking drugs but they obviously haven't read all the detail.
 I don't remember the last time a recreational drug has been proven to enhance any sportsman's performance, Andre included. At the time that he tried it he stated he wasn't enjoying the game and his ranking had dropped. I believe everyone is entitled to a little 'time out'.
Andre Agassi didn't have to tell anyone yet he was big enough to admit he took something, I think that shows integrity........
Glenn Thompson.

I am no writer, I simply know tennis reasonably well so I do my best to explain it on my Blog. The following is the first Chapter of my book which I am putting together day by day, week by week, month by month.
I will keep posting pages regularly until it is finished.
I cannot afford to publish it so I will simply post it on line, free of charge.
The following is a typical tennis story.
If you can relate, please send me your thoughts.
Regards Glenn ( glennthompson@westnet.com.au )


ON COURT IN EUROPE 
Bordeaux, France, 1991

I am receiving an absolute shellacking from a young French base liner who I swear has not missed a ball, either in the warm up or during our match. He has a really intimidating name and game to go with it. 
I look at the sky, I look at the surrounds, I look at the French people watching the match and I think to myself, Is this really worth travelling over the other side of the World for ? 
Surely tennis was not meant to be this tough.
I thought I played a brand of tennis that owned substance. I ask myself many questions.
Why is this guy so much better than me ? Why is this guy not missing a ball and why is it that he can read me like a book ?
Have I not hit enough balls in practice to know how to handle a player like this ? He probably hasn't hit any more tennis balls than me yet he knows how to play this game like a chess player who owns all the right moves. He knows how to check mate me every single fucking point.
Tennis wasn't meant to be this difficult, I can beat most players in practice, I am fit, I can run all day, I can do 100 push ups without stopping, I am better than the score suggests. 
I am totally confused at the current situation.
Why am I in France in the first place ? I am not good enough to be a Tennis Professional, it's becoming brutally clear. I am playing two levels down from the Challenger Circuit against some of the most remarkably gifted tennis players that I have ever seen and I am not up to the challenge. 
Is it a mental thing ?
It's more than that.
I just can't seem to match it with these guys because my mind is not as strong as my body. 
I momentarily hate the game as well as hating myself. 
Maybe that's harsh but if I win at tennis I win at life, if I lose I suck, I am no good, I won't sleep at night because I will be asking myself why I was not good enough to hit more balls over than my opponent.
You see, tennis not only gives me confidence if I win on court but it gives me a sense of credibility off court, a sense of worth, a sense of being someone who can feel good about themselves. 
Tennis is a sport that asks many questions not only of you as a player but of you as a person.
I am getting belted by someone who has way too many answers but the problem is he is asking the questions also.
My view on tennis is that it is an argument between two players, not necessarily verbally but a test that requires one to answer more questions correctly than the other. 
Tennis is like an school exam where achieving 50 per cent is still no where near enough for a 'pass' mark.

I tell myself it's all in the head, tennis is a mind game, not necessarily a sport that is just a physical test, that's just one element of it all, you have to be able to out think your opponent. 
I am currently losing to a guy who just keeps getting the ball in play and my mind is crucifying me. How do I get out of this hole and if I don't will it make me feel worthless like I usually do when I lose or will it make me work even harder next time I get on that practice court ? 
Is this building character or is it ruining me ?
I sit down at a change of ends and think about why I am even in this situation.
'You signed up for this when you bought the plane ticket, this is what you paid for, it was never going to be easy.  You weren't after a Walt Disney version of tennis, you were after the real thing. Quit your mind battle and focus on hitting the ball, you know how to hit a tennis ball but you don't know how to stop asking yourself stupid questions while you are playing'.
I get two games in the second set after 1 in the first, I walk to the net and shake 'Sebastian's' hand. He says 'Well played', I reckon he was just being polite. I walk to the dressing room and peel off my brown socks that have clay all through them and I place them in a plastic bag for a later day wash. 
In the shower I watch the clay wash down the drain and ask myself is this what I imagined it all to be like and is this something that I can recover from because losing is getting to be a habit.
The answer is yes, I can handle this because I am doing what I told myself to do right from the start and that was to test myself at tennis.
No one ever got anywhere in life without a test.....

Analysis;
That tournament series I Europe in 1991 was a time I will never forget because from that moment on I never looked at tennis the same way. I became someone who analyzed every single point that I played, watched and coached from then on with an almost CSI crime scene investigative like view.
Tennis is a head battle more than anything else because anyone can hit a tennis ball, it's much harder to actually PLAY TENNIS. The intricacies of tennis are such that it can destroy a player's self confidence in the space of two sets because it is a one on one personal battle.
You have nowhere to hide and you have no one else to blame if things are not going the way you expected them to. A tennis court is not a huge area yet it can feel at times like a cow paddock in dimension due to the amount of territory that sometimes a player needs to cover.
 Europe gave me perspective, a must in tennis and it's something that I would not trade for anything because it is a sport that without perspective cannot possibly be fully appreciated. I received so many beatings on court in Europe that the game should have flattened me, like a boxer on the wrong end of several right hooks, yet for some reason I found it educational.
I was gaining knowledge on my sport and deep down I knew that it was in some strange way helping me despite how deflating it was at the time. My junior days seemed so easy because I had some success as a kid but if a kid never gives his sport a go as a man does he perhaps leave too many questions unanswered ?
Tennis tests you first as a person, secondly as a player as it asks what you are made of and it is up to you to find a way through it all.
You can enter an obscure tennis tournament where nobody with any tennis ability even bothers turning up to or you can test yourself to the maximum. Do you want an honest assessment of where you are at or do you want to be like that golfer who had the 'perfect' round but neglected to tell anyone that you kicked the ball out of the bush on numerous occasions ? 
Golf is a sport which requires honesty just as tennis does but perhaps in a slightly different way.
Every time you play golf you are in a battle with a course that you will never really beat on a consistent basis. Tennis on the other hand asks you to beat many opponents with different styles all whilst asking you to not beat yourself in the process.
It is a sport that tests an individual like a golf course does a golfer but does a great golfer keep finding the easiest courses to play to gain a false sense of security or do they keep finding the ones that will keep make them work harder ?  
My theory on tournament tennis is simple, do you want to finish the game one day knowing that you tested yourself against the best possible opposition that you could or will you finish your days on court as a big fish in a small pond ? 
 I used to think that I was totally worthless because I didn't make the pro ranks but in time I learned that tennis is a sport that as long as you reached your full potential then it was an exercise that paid dividends. Tennis is about you beating many factors and not just an opponent.
It's whether or not you can beat the things inside your head that tell you that you can't beat the guy down the other end. It's not just whether you can simply hit a tennis ball well.
I had been playing tennis for around ten years when I travelled to Europe in 1991. Ten years for some is plenty to own a knowledge of the game, for others it is only scraping the surface of learning.
Ironically I would go on to play my best tennis when I was in my early 40's, some 20 years later. Looking back I suppose that was the one thing that I should never forget, I may have been into my tenth year of playing as a 21 year old in Europe but my knowledge was minimal. 
In all honesty at age 41 I would have beaten my 21 year old self with ease, maybe not physically but mentally.
How is that possible ? Simple, it's a sport that takes almost a lifetime to understand and only the 'once in a generation' players can become successful at an early age. To confirm that statement the average age of the current Men's Top 20 is in fact 27. Teenagers now are a rarity unlike the days of Becker, Chang, Borg and Wilander who won Grand Slams at age 17 and 18.
When you think about those victories one thing is evident and that is the mental toughness at a young age to deal with pressure. I was someone however who struggled with their mind when it was the one thing that could have brought me more success. 
Ok so I was never good enough to play the Pro ranks but even to win consistently in the much smaller tiered events is something that takes an incredible amount of mental toughness to achieve.  
My journey in tennis began in 1980 or thereabouts and is still going 36 years later as I teach students both young and old that the sport is not just about hitting a ball back and forth. I am blessed to have seen just how tough the sport can be and I believe in teaching with a realistic view that most probably will not include that Walt Disney ending.
Europe gave me an insight into a sport that I am glad my own kids do not play as I believe it is one that can strip you of your self confidence in more ways than one. I am happy they play team sports. 
I do not dislike tennis but I do not like what it can do to someone's mind.
I was too fragile mentally to handle the brutality of tennis, it's something that I ponder to this day yet I believe it can in a way create a strong character. 
Tennis takes a unique mind to play at a high level for long periods of time and I know that my mind was not up to the level required.
Such is life..... 


'THE RUSH'
'To those dead souls inching along the freeway in their metal coffins, we show them that the human spirit is still alive' ( The late, great Patrick Swayze as 'Bodhi', Point Break 1991 ).
Possibly one of my favourite movie lines of all time as the thing I loved about that statement was the defiance to conform to the ho-hum day to day activities of 99 per cent of the population. 
To me hitting tennis balls for a living was my dream and I did not want to be one of those 'dead souls' travelling to work on a congested freeway each day from 9 to 5. The thought repulsed me.
I have often likened surfing to tennis, I believe it has similarities. The adrenalin rush of riding a wave I am sure is one that cannot be replicated by another sport yet in my own silly mind I could imagine it to be like the feeling of hitting tennis balls to perfection. 




'RIDING THE PERFECT WAVE'


I could never surf, tried , nearly drowned , gave up , wore surf clothes to look the part instead , but I wish I could have mastered the art of wave riding. I hear that there is a feeling of pure freedom when you ride that wave to perfection. I believe Roger Federer could lay claim to riding that perfect wave on many occasions as he effortlessly hit his way through matches that he could look back on and say to himself 'perfection'.
Would that be the driving force behind tennis players as they go in search of a feeling that brings euphoria and a sense of self satisfaction that perhaps could be likened to surfing a barrel ? 
I would think so. Tennis is a game that can bring a feeling of greatness  then a low point of disgust in one's own ability in the blink of an eye. Quite often it happens in the time frame of perhaps two matches . Why is this ? 
There are many reasons why we can or can't play a perfect game of tennis and they include conditions , mind set , health and perhaps the biggest factor of all , how well our opponents allow us to play . The perfect game of tennis can be played if all of the above factors fall into place on the one given day that gives us a true sense of worth as a tennis player that invariably gets us back on court wanting more the next time.
When things go wrong we tend to despise the game and go through the thought process of hating ourselves for the lack of commitment , concentration or desire to push the physical barriers that are required in a one on one sport.
In reference to the great Roger Federer once again, as brilliant as he is there are better stroke makers in the game yet not too many as smart. 
 In his prime the great man rode the barrel and received the perfect score more often than not . His mind set was so good that every day to him was a day where the sun shone and the birds sung his favourite tune. The 40 km winds were a gentle sea breeze and his opponents, despite their high rankings were putting each ball exactly where he wanted it. 
Quite often you will see a low ranked player beat a top 20 opponent then lose the next day to a player who is ranked 50 places lower than themselves , why is this ? The mind works in mysterious ways . It's not the shot making , it's the thought process that doesn't allow for greatness in certain players that it does for others on a regular basis .
Not many players can stay switched on for long enough periods of time that will bring them victories day after day and it's what can bring players to their knees in frustration and anguish as to what is in fact taking place.
'Who am I today ?? This is not the same person who beat the number 3 seed yesterday!!'
Does a surfer ride the perfect wave each time he enters the water ? Does a golfer hit the fairway on each drive ?
The body is willing on most occasions, teaching the mind to be just as committed is not only sport's biggest challenge but perhaps life's as well........







 


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