Sunday, 30 November 2014

'THE WALL AND THE COURT' Part 8

Albany, Western Australia, when I was a kid growing up learning the game of tennis was home to so many outstanding players it was ridiculous. I believe it all stemmed from one man's driving force, Holmsey. I was invited as a 14 year old to hit with both Pete and his mates on a weekly basis, either match play or drills.
Some days Pete would make it up as he went along, I liked this idea, no real set routines, that's me now days, it's always something that I have been most comfortable with.
I remember one day Pete taking me to the indoor center and pausing for a moment before saying " Let's play two sets". I still remember the score, he killed me 3 and 1 but he told me my first set was great and his second set was one of his best sets. I wasn't disappointed because it gave me that sense of where I was at with my tennis.
It's like the runner who wins his 100 meter sprint by 15 meters in the local competition then goes to the City and runs third to the best in the State. A real indication to current form.
There was amazing talent from my age through to guys aged around 40 and plenty of tournaments plus pennant competition. If you wanted to get 'high' on tennis there was no excuse not to, it was a sport that was big in Albany, probably just as big with adults back then as it was the juniors.
I was also extremely fortunate to have one of the State's best junior players living here in Albany, Mark Leuba. Now Mark was the number one ranked player in Western Australia for the 14's age group, his standard was far superior to mine. Even though he lived in Albany, four hours from the State's best players he was the bench mark, an outstanding talent coached by his father.
I got to know Mark through the tennis club scene and we hit regularly in my fourteenth year. We didn't drill, we just played sets, it was a fantastic way to experiment with the art of point construction. 
Between my tuition from Pete plus set play with Mark my standard went from fairly average to very competitive in a short time frame. I used to play Junior Club set play on Saturday mornings at the Country and Suburban Tennis Club (C and S) on Albany Highway then Senior Club in the afternoon. 
Doing the sums on how many hours I spent on court each Saturday I suppose at a rough count it may have been seven hours, enough time to get grooved. The reason why I eventually left C and S was because a Senior player accused me of hitting the ball too hard to older players! I found this rather comical as I only ever hit with a heap of topspin, never with pace, I simply played a 'safe' style. 
I suppose the generation gap in sport can sometimes be an issue particularly with the 'more experienced' players. If these players are getting a run around from 13 and 14 year old kids then that can be degrading to some. Others will take up the challenge.
Last January I lost in the final of my local Doubles Championship to a couple of young guys who I used to teach but I was so proud of them. I was also proud of myself for still being able to give them a decent match.
That's the thing about tennis. If you still feel that you can give something to the game as you get a little older and slower then that's a good thing. While we are still breathing and can swing a racket it's important to still test the mind and body. Tennis is a game that does both in many ways and it actually becomes clearer to understand as you gain experience.
However as the great Jimmy Connors once stated "The  problem with experience is that by the time you get it , you are too damn old to enjoy it"........
Stay fit, that's my view........
Chapter 9 on it's way


Friday, 28 November 2014

'THE WALL AND THE COURT' Part 7

When a guy who is commonly known as a Tennis Coach begins working with you at a young age there is a significant amount of experience changing hands. On one side of the coin you have a 'guru', a type of sporting 'zen master' who knows the game so well it's almost embarrassing.
On the other side it's like a new born puppy learning some new life skills and that peeing on the carpet is not one of them.There were certain areas I had to learn about the game.
My greatest issue with the game of tennis was that I had watched Borg and Wilander play who didn't volley much, if it was good enough for them to stay back, well......
So my biggest area of improvement, like that puppy who needed to learn his limitations in life was to accept the fact that my game was so one dimensional it was laughable. I needed a volley. My only trips to the net were usually to shake hands and whilst this was good enough to beat the locals it was never going to be good enough to win against the better players. 
Pete started from the beginning with my volleys, the grip, the lack of follow through, the shoulder turn on the backhand volley in particular and the footwork. We worked on the approach shot also, the shot to get me into the net in the first place and the split step. 
There was no point in continuing the run to the net if the ball was on me before I got there, stop, split step, volley, then get in to finish the point. 
Pete would give me drills that were match situation type drills, realistic ones that were always going to come to fruition in a match. I vividly remember the approach shot drill. Pete would start me in 'green light' territory, half way between the baseline and service line, feed me a short ball then get me moving forward. He would hit me a ball when I reached the service line, working on a good deep first volley in followed by a final move close to the net to finish the point.
I liked this drill as it taught me basic things that I didn't know about the game. Sometimes I would see kids trying to emulate their hero's and with no disrespect it didn't look quite right particularly on the net charge. Running in from the base line resembled a charge from soldiers in the trenches, there was never going to be enough time to get where they needed to be.
I likened the base line to a trench, a red light area, do not go, stay and fight.
I enjoyed the simple way in which Holmsey taught me to get into a position that would conserve my legs and stamina, a way to end a point at last that didn't take me 40 shots. He taught me that I didn't always have to be the 'hunted', I could at last be the 'hunter', it all made perfect sense, implementing in was another story.
I did a rough count the other day when I was doing a lesson of my own that a student will hit around six to seven hundred balls in an hour of technique oriented hitting. That's a lot of balls hit.
If the balls are hit correctly then improvement will be just around the corner but during that session it is also an obligation to teach tactics also, the two go hand in hand. So it's one thing to teach a student to hit a ball correctly, it's another to teach them how to play tennis, one without the other is pointless. I learned from Pete that staying back and playing in the 'trenches' will only make me predictable to play and cannon fodder for a smart player.
Learning the approach and the net game was something I will be forever grateful to Holmsey for as it gave my tennis game a new found sense of freedom. I was out of the trenches and into the front line, dangerous yet strangely exciting. No longer the hunted I now felt like a hunter in search of prey. I was ready to implement the changes and become a more complete player.........
Part 8 to follow

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

'THE WALL AND THE COURT' Part 6

From memory Peter Holmes, 'Pete' or 'Holmsey' drove an old Ford that did not have a working speedometer and I have a feeling the fuel gauge didn't function properly either. I am pretty sure that Holmsey simply just guessed how fast he was going and kept his fuel tank topped up.
As far as local sporting identities in Albany were concerned Pete was right up there as far as 'Zen Master's' were concerned. Pete not only played tennis at a level that no one else could touch but his teaching of the game was also legendary.
I am pretty sure that Dad knew Pete from the local Golf Club as tennis wasn't his only sport, I heard he could also swing a golf club fairly well. Come to think of it Squash was another of Holmsey's sports and he played this at the highest level also, I watched him play one day, impressive. Dad knew I needed to learn the intricacies of tennis and there was no better man to teach the game locally than Pete.
Now my first introduction to Holmsey was from memory like meeting a Tennis Professional as I had seen him play at my local club and his standard was remarkably high. I also recall his unique way of talking about the game and the manner in which he spoke, he didn't stop ! In fact Pete spoke so fast and so much that a tiny spot of saliva would form at the corner of his mouth as he would rattle off facts and figures. I was without a doubt in awe of his knowledge. I knew he could help me.
I have always stated that it's one thing to be able to hit a tennis ball, it's another to be able to play tennis, Peter could do both plus he could teach it better than anyone by all reports. We 'hired' Pete. From memory again I believe we initially paid him $12 an hour for him to teach me the finer points of the game which he eventually put up to $15, Pete wasn't in it for the money, obviously. 
That's the one thing that struck me about Pete, he was generous, not in the game for the dollar, it was as though he just did it because he was bloody good at it and there was no one else to do it ! But he was passionate about it, the way he talked, the way he played and the way he taught the game, he was a man to be respected. 
The trips in his car out to the local tennis club were also educational as he would give me his version of what was going on in World Tennis and how to improve my game. I suppose that even though at the time I didn't realize it I was not only getting taught on court, I was learning the game on the drive to and from the club also.
Pete was teaching me how to play tennis and he did it so well that within maybe 6 to 8 months I could actually give him a decent hit. He always beat me but I made him play plenty of balls.
I am sure I use his philosophies each time I do a lesson now days, you never forget who taught you to play the game and you never forget how you were taught. That tuition if it has substance will always be in the fore front of your mind if you teach it yourself one day. The tactical side of tennis is what will just about always beat the opposition who just have flair without the knowledge. Pete taught me tactics.
I will never forget just a few months after turning 14 I drew the reigning Club Champion John Knuimann in the first round of our Club Championships .
John had won the title on perhaps 3 or 4 occasions and he had a great serve and volley so his style suited me, he gave me targets. I stood back 10 foot behind the base line as my hero 'Borgie' did and I pushed him all the way in a 5-7, 4-6 loss.
Within 6 months of learning tactics with Pete I had a win over John that I will never forget. It was a night match at our indoor venue and I played John in a best of three match that I won 2 and 3 then in one more practice set I beat him 6-4.  I was learning how to play.
My fourteenth year was a time where I had learned that hitting on a wall was one thing but understanding how to play tennis was another.
Peter Holmes had a remarkably knowledgeable way of teaching tennis and I am disappointed that I was too young at the time to have really appreciated his input into my tennis. He gave my game substance that without his coaching would only have ever been 'tactical cannon fodder'. Holmsey could walk the walk, talk the talk, he could have made a player out of a card board cut out, genius.........
Part 7 to follow

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

'THE WALL AND THE COURT' Part 5

I will never forget my first ever tournament, I believe I may have just turned 13 or it may have been a week before as my birthday is in January, as was the Albany Junior Open. This tournament was a chance to prove that all my hitting against the wall had paid dividends.
Two brothers who were regional 'hot shots' came to play the tournament and I drew the oldest one  in the first round. Looking back I had hit a lot of tennis balls but I didn't actually know how to play tennis.
The initial rounds were just one set matches and I got a free tennis lesson from this kid who I refer to still as 'Mr Tennis'. I called him this because he was the best player I had seen, way better than all of the kids I had hit against at Junior Club on Saturday mornings. This guy was a player who actually knew tactics and how to play someone like me who could get a ball in but didn't have a clue how to win a point. 6-0 to 'Mr Tennis'.
What disappointed me more than the loss was his rather cocky way of strutting around after the win and his official 'postmortem' of our match to his mates. I had gone up to the board to see when my doubles match was to be played and I heard him say that 'Thompson's weak'. 
This was possibly my first real indication that I was playing a sport that was more than just a physical outing. It was a personality war, an ego battle, a way to gain a mental edge over somebody and it wasn't just confined to the tennis court. My way of thinking was that it was an opportunity to have 'something' over somebody after a win, sort of like owning a part of them, perhaps their mind.
It was starting to make sense to me as i watched 'Mr Tennis' strut around as a group of others would follow him, like a bunch of ducklings following their mother. This guy seemed to have an aura about him but I didn't know why, after all he was just a fairly big kid who could hit a tennis ball well with an old wooden racket. Confusing. 
Being at your first ever tennis tournament gives you a view on the game that will probably stay with you forever, good or bad. Mine was bad. I didn't like the way the good players strutted around and hung off the back fence asking their buddies for regular score updates. I didn't like the lack of sympathy for the guys that got smashed, like me, and I didn't like the 'posse' style of hot shot players thinking they owned the place.
There was a part of tennis that I already didn't like just an hour or two into my first competition.
I recall speaking with my advanced group of players some 25 years later and telling them that if I witness the 'posse' strutting around and asking mates for scores then we would be having words.
I think they understood that it was a part of tournaments that I despised but I didn't tell them that I had seen it at my first ever competition as a kid. Unfortunately the 'posse' still exists and the modern day Coach turns a blind eye, not sure why as it reflects on their 'mentoring' skills. There's nothing wrong with a group of kids hanging out at a tournament but when they intimidate kids at the back of courts with their presence and score asking I find that disappointing.
My first ever tennis tournament was a flop, I had hit thousands of tennis balls that accounted for nothing, I had no idea how to play tennis and I hated certain aspects of the tournament scene. Whilst I was not interested in getting around at a tournament with a group of sidekicks I was interested in having another shot at 'Mr Tennis'. Perhaps that was my first sign of having an ego, a necessity for the sport of tennis.
My next year of learning the game is not clear to me but all I remember was when I turned 14 I was a much better player than the one who got belted by the big guy 12 months earlier. The Albany Open that year unfortunately did not give me my return bout against 'Mr Tennis' but the 'tennis gods' were looking after me. I drew the younger brother of 'Mr Tennis' in an early round, he was just as sure of his own importance as his older brother was. If ever there was a chance to right some wrongs of a year earlier this was it.
I don't forget too many matches or scores and I will never forget this one as I beat 'Young Mr Tennis' by a score of 6-3, I remember playing well. I made a point of walking close to this kid as he walked to his older brother and gave him the score. " You lost to Thompson" ??!! I didn't hear the reply, I kept walking, mission accomplished.
I won my age group that year and I had gotten some sweet revenge even though it was not against the guy I really wanted to beat but I had a moral victory. Tennis was a game that I knew I could play but I didn't like certain aspects of the tournament scene, I still don't. 
To this day I don't ask people the score and I cringe when I see others do it, young or older players, a part of the game that should command common sense, yet it doesn't.
My earliest memories of the game were not all good but I loved playing, there was a burning desire to get better, but I needed a Coach......
Part 6 to follow....

'UNEXPLAINED'

Whilst i have a break from my early childhood chapters I ponder at the rather unusual circumstances that gave Switzerland the Davis Cup Title this year. There was more than just one situation that surely will have people talking about for quite some time in the future, especially the French.
Now the Country that we refer to commonly as 'romantic' due to it's classic country side and architectural brilliance that is the back drop for many movies is in fact France.
This part of the World is known for people to forget common sense and facts and figures regarding marriage success rates.
It is possibly home to more marriage proposals, particularly at the Eiffel Tower than anywhere else in the World. France has had a love affair with their Male Tennis Professionals for quite some time also and currently has 15 players in the top 115 money earners on the tour. The French have almost an embarrassment of riches as far as Tennis Professionals are concerned with Spain being the only other Country close to their success rate.
So as far as the Davis Cup Final that was held in Lille in the North of France on the weekend it comes as a rather large surprise that the French team did not fair better. There is a site on the Web called '145 things to do in Lille, France'. Perhaps the team Captain was more interested in doing some of these than fielding the strongest team.
Gael Monfils was the exception, a man who held two match points against Federer at the US Open in September and who troubles most players with his flair. Gael was always going to play. Jo Wilfred Tsonga has not performed well this year and his inclusion in the team over Gilles Simon, especially on current form seems to be the biggest mystery.
Simon pushed Federer all the way in Shanghai just recently as he lost by a whisker in two tie breakers. He also pushed US Open Champion Marin Cilic to 6-3 in the fifth set in their Fourth Round match.
Simon was the form player for the French team without a doubt. The decision to play Gasquet over Simon will have French tennis fans shaking their heads in disbelief for at least another week . As good as young Aussie Nick Kyrgios played at Wimbledon this year it is still hard to believe that with nine match points up for grabs the much more experienced Gasquet couldn't nail one against him.
What about the Men's Doubles ? Another mystery . Julien Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasselin won the French Open Title this year and made the semi finals of the year ending Tour Finals yet they did not get paired up together for the Davis Cup final. Why also would you play Gasquet in the doubles ? When was the last time you heard of Richard Gasquet troubling anyone in doubles ?
What about Michael Llodra ? There is a man who is another doubles specialist and has won three Grand Slam titles including Wimbledon with current French Davis Cup Captain Arnaud Clement. Surely even if Roger-Vasselin was injured Llodra had more doubles experience than Gasquet.
The Swiss would have been licking their lips at the thought of their two big guns Roger and Stan taking on Benneteau and Gasquet , with no disrespect leveled at  Benneteau of course. They knew though that this team was not as finely tuned as they were. There could be an argument against Fed and Stan being a 'credentialed' doubles team but have you ever seen Fed play dubs ? Unbelievable.
And what about the much publicized Federer back injury ? My view on his straight sets loss to Monfils is this : Why risk the back in his first match when he still had a pivotal doubles rubber to play plus another singles ? They knew they were basically over the line if they could snatch the doubles win after Stan's opening victory. Going all out against a red hot Monfils would have been a dumb decision and possibly would have cost them the Title.
Interesting Davis Cup Final this year, that's an understatement. I think that the French Captain Clement will have plenty of time to sample those '145 things to do in Lille, France' this time next year. Somehow I can't see him retaining his current status for too much longer......

Monday, 24 November 2014

'THE WALL AND THE COURT' Part 4

When the decision is made to build a tennis court on the spare block next to your house there is always going to be some teething problems. The biggest issue as far as I was concerned was the room behind the baseline, there needed to be a 'paddock'.
Bjorn Borg quite often played from ten feet behind the baseline as he waited for the ball to drop into his comfort zone. I felt the same way and I played the same way at the tender age of 13, I needed room.
The conversations with my Dad were at times frustrating ones as I pleaded my case that there was no point in building a tennis court unless there was enough room to play on it. Unfortunately with the amount of space that was available there was never going to be that paddock that I yearned for behind the baseline. I would simply have to learn to step up into the court and take it earlier, I hated the idea.
I don't remember how long the court took to be completed but I finally had a 'field of dreams' next to my house as well as a hit up wall, no excuses for not improving. The issue in my house however was the lack of practice partners available other than the wall. Dad could play golf almost to perfection and he was the local Albany Golf Club Champion and he could regularly play under par. This talent of his unfortunately was never going to help my tennis.
My Mum could play tennis though and I believe I have her to thank for there being a tennis racket in our house when I found the desire to play. Mum was a member of a local Tennis Club and I remember playing on the swings some days as she would hit against other Mums in the mid week competition.
We used to play until I got too strong for her. My sister Amanda was a good runner and hockey player but had no tennis talent whatsoever. In fact we only hit once, at the Hospital court and I still remember her first shot going over the fence ! Amanda was never going to be part of my practice schedule.
Between hitting with Mum on the court and Dad throwing me balls some days to warm me up before Junior Club plus many hours on the wall I received plenty of tennis. My house was a place that I can honestly say was a 'field of dreams' as it had almost everything I needed as far as tennis was concerned.
If I could have wished for one thing back then when I was learning the game it would have been to have had a neighbor who could play well who could train me on a daily basis. It's one thing having a court next to your house, it's another to have handy practice partners in the same street. I was a typical kid who simply wanted everything to be perfect for my new past time.
As a famous quote from Vince Lombardi once suggested  "Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence". That was me , I wanted the whole package deal to be within touching distance, typical kid with high aspirations.
The garage wall wasn't actually my first location of hitting at my house, that place was a wall at the rear of the house that now overlooks the court. I still remember trying to hit the wall perfectly hoping it would bounce up on the grass for me to play another shot. It rarely ever worked as the grass was too soft and the brickwork didn't allow for a perfect strike, it was frustrating.
The reason I moved to the garage was because one day my sister had words with me over my continual loud cursing as the ball would refuse to come back to where I required it. I was a kid in need of a place to play a game that for some unknown reason I felt I had to, it just seemed right. That's the thing about tennis, you don't know why you like it because some sports are a whole lot easier to play. 
I still believe that tennis is a game that challenges your mind more than your body and perhaps a tennis player at any level is a person who aspires to solve a problem. Tennis is a game full of problems and it is up to each player to work through them until they find the right answers.
That's why I 'employed' both Borg and Wilander at different stages in my mind to help me with the many questions I was asking of the game......
Part 5 to follow


Sunday, 23 November 2014

'THE WALL AND THE COURT' Part 3

Bjorn Borg's serve was once described by a tennis follower as 'like a rigger's knife, sharp and practical'. Borg never relied on his serve to win him tennis matches, he simply used it as a way to start the point though in saying that he was a smart server.
In 1979 against Roscoe Tanner in the Wimbledon Final he rolled his serve in at a pace just slightly faster than a second serve. He was not interested in giving a nut rusher a look at a second serve. The tactic worked as he held on for victory from a break of serve he earned at the start of the fifth set.
In 1988 in the final of the French Open Mats Wilander hit 71 of 73 first serves in or 97 per cent in technical terms. The straight sets victory against Leconte was one of the smartest tactical matches played by the Swede. Did he take notice of Borg's 1979 Wimbledon winning tactics ? 
What these statistics say about both of these Swedish Champions is that their strengths were not in the way they commenced a point but in the way they finished it. Both played a style that appealed to me because I felt it was a safe way of playing tennis, not a risky one. Their results spoke volumes.
'Coming to the net is like being at the frontier, you are fighting the unknown' was once a famous comment made by Borg's Coach Lennart Bergelin. He knew his player was almost unbeatable from the back of the court so he did not try to turn Borg into a more 'complete' player with a stronger volley.
A win once by Wilander over French Open Champion Yannick Noah at the Lipton Championships was once described as 'the longest session of prolonged stretching I have ever seen'. This was in reference to just how dominant the Swede's game was over the net attacking style of Noah.
All of the above examples and facts gave me an idea for a style of play that was both safe and comfortable to implement.
It was a style that waited for the opposition to either make a mistake or come to the net to challenge for the point. My way of thinking was that if an opponent could come up with enough volleys or baseline winners to beat me then they deserved the match. 
All of this of course was from a 13 year old kid with an average but reasonably consistent game and with a serve that resembled a frog in a blender. I would hit the delivery in and then retreat three feet behind the baseline. "Ok buddy that's my way of starting the point, show me what you got from the baseline", that was my way of thinking anyhow.
I was playing with a wooden Borg Donnay racket strung at a ridiculously high tension, as Bjorn did and most opponents back then owned a similar 'weapon'. Due to the Borg / Connors domination of World Tennis it was usually a Wilson steel racket or a wooden Donnay as preference for the new junior players.
No one really had a style that was overwhelming and come to think of it no one really had a game plan either so a weak serve often was simply just returned 'politely'.
Watching Borg play Wimbledon against Connors when I was a kid was almost complicated from memory. Their rallies were so long I could not see how the match was to finish before darkness fell. I also saw no game plan either as I felt that these two just kept hitting it back to each other so that's what I did, not just against the wall but against opponents.
I didn't have a Coach to teach me so I just assumed that 'finding' your opponent during a rally was the way to play tennis. So that's what I did, I 'found' him, on every single ball but I started winning.
I finished a match one day at Junior Club and Dad asked me why I kept hitting it back to my opponent so I replied with "Isn't that how you play tennis ?!" Dad suggested that I actually try hitting it away from the guy down the other end and I may just start winning a little more comfortably.
Hitting against a wall when you are learning tennis followed by Junior Club with no Coach teaching you any tactics all adds up to one style of play, rallying and more rallying.
I actually found it enjoyable all the same even though my 'game plan' was non existent, I just loved a long rally as that's just what Borg and Connors were doing at Wimbledon.
I used to teach my advanced students the 'rally ball' more than the winner as my theories on tennis have always been the same.
Make your opponent hit as many balls as possible, clear the net with a height that will be uncomfortable to return and make your opponent earn the point. I remember once playing a kid in the 16's final of the now non existent Albany Junior Open and on more than one occasion his racket hit the back fence as he tried to return one of my high balls.
This style is now called 'hacking' as it's not a 'cool' way to play but I still have never met a player who can consistently return a high topspin ball .
The rally ball now has many perceptions but the one that I learned from both Borg and Wilander still has the most merit for me as it takes the opponent out of their comfort zone.
I couldn't serve as a kid, I still can't ! I could rally though and still can. If you keep it in play long enough you can find a way to win.........
Part 4 to follow......

Saturday, 22 November 2014

'THE WALL AND THE COURT' Part 2

My time as a kid playing tennis against a wall with no one around me except the aura of my hero Bjorn Borg was an educational time. When you hit up against a brick wall it is a time of thought and a time of playing future matches inside your head. 
In my last chapter I wrote of 'Borgie understanding' , it was what I believed and it drove me to hit and keep hitting. On one particular day I timed myself at 4 hours, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. You imagine that you are playing in your hero's shoes or playing in front of them. I imagined both scenarios. 
The only issue with hitting against something not too far away from you is the speed of ball factor, it comes back at an uncomfortable pace on many occasions. What I did find however was that this type of training was brilliant for grip changes, reflexes and fitness, all were a necessity for tennis.
The transition from wall hitting to junior club on Saturday mornings was fairly smooth from memory as I found I had plenty of time to play my shots. The wall was working.
The other aspect of wall hitting is the ball control factor as you simply can't 'blast' a ball and expect it to give you a return ball right in your hitting zone. There's an 'art' to playing a wall, no doubt about it.
My style of play was one that was only ever going to be like the ice cool man from Scandinavia and hitting as much spin on the ball as possible was my only goal. Topspin and more topspin, simple really, just clear the chalk line on the wall by at least three feet, preferably more.
At least if the ball is over the net by a comfortable margin you are always a chance in tennis. I vividly recall training my advanced kids one day 'Swedish style'. I paired them up one day and told them, "There you go, you got ONE tennis ball, I suggest that if you miss, you hit it long, take the net out of the equation".
As I previously mentioned, the disappointment of my hero retiring was something that put my garage wall hitting out of whack, it shattered me. Bjorn Borg was the reason I played tennis, the reason I got myself fit and the reason why I wanted to hit tennis balls for a living, he was larger than life as far as I was concerned.
The clay court season of 1982 however was a time where I developed a new sense of enthusiasm for playing. My prayers for a new idol were answered.
The Italian Open of that year saw the emergence of the 'heir apparent' to Swedish Tennis and that was the run to the semi finals by Mats Wilander. Watching the long haired 17 year old Swede was like viewing a 'ghost' of the past as his style was almost identical to that of Borg's. 
He didn't just hit the ball with heavy topspin and a two handed backhand but he was just as cool and calm with his mannerisms. Whilst I was disappointed he lost his match to Andres Gomez , the eventual Champion I honestly felt this guy could maybe just fill that 'hero void'.
When I was a lad there was not much tennis on television, Wimbledon was where I watched 'Borgie' play but this was really the only time I watched Professional Tennis in my home town of Albany. I saw Wilander play for the first time when I was staying in Perth as many tournaments were televised, not just Wimbledon.
So my only way of finding out how my new 'brick wall hitting partner' was going was to read the paper and watch the highlights on the sports news at night. Tough way to follow the game you love.
"Hey Glenn that young bloke won the Swiss Open". That was my Dad's exact words to me as he broke the news to me on June 6 of 1982. Now Dad wasn't really up to date with tennis back in those days so 'The Swiss Open' of course was in fact the French Open. I knew of the final between Wilander and Vilas , so naturally I was playing it  against the wall.
From memory I don't really know how Mats and I were going  but I think we were leading the Argentinian Champ when Dad told me the news. I knew this 'kid' with the long locks and magnificent backhand was going to be my new inspiration to play tennis. He didn't know it but he was a 'necessity' for my mindset as a 13 year old kid learning the intricacies of tennis.
What Mats Wilander did in Paris in 1982 was more than remarkable for a player of his age but the date that he took over from Borg had rather special significance and it still does. 
Bjorn Borg just so happened to be born on June 6 so with the great man's decision's to not defend his 1981 French Open Title Wilander kept the title in Swedish hands.
The date of June 6 also happens to be my youngest son's birthday, what's the chances ??
My ground strokes as a 13 year old kid were on the improve but I needed somewhere to work on my serve, Dad's idea was to build 'the court'. Like the movie with Kevin Costner "If you build it , he will come", an all time classic line from the 'Field Of Dreams'.
Bjorn Borg and Mats Wilander were 'with me' I am certain of it when I was up against 'the wall', I was hoping they would also follow me onto 'the court'.......
Part 3 to follow.......

Thursday, 20 November 2014

'THE WALL AND THE COURT'

Whenever I walk through the gate onto the tennis court that was built next door to my parent's house when I was 13 it takes my mind back. I still believe that the reason the court was built was so Mum, Dad and my sister could get some peace.
The constant sound of the ball hitting the wall in the garage was probably something that was slowly driving them insane. That's where I practiced, some days for hours.
The spare block at the side of our house had enough room to kick a football, bowl a cricket ball and even saw some two on two hockey games with the neighbors. The block saw some 'classic matches' of many sports but eventually the decision was made to build a tennis court.

I didn't pick up a tennis racket until I was 12 and this came possibly from my Grandpa giving my sister the Bjorn Borg book for Xmas. From memory Amanda read it once, I possibly read it 48 times, it gave me inspiration to play the game. There were no Ipods, Ipads, X Boxes or otherwise to take our minds off becoming 'superstars' in our chosen sports.
In saying that however I once played 'Space Invaders' against former Australian Davis Cup player Richard Fromberg in Tasmania ! Whilst over there for holidays in 1980 we were staying at a resort and a curly haired kid asked me to play against him.
Not sure who won, just glad I didn't get asked to play him at tennis as I watched in awe as he hit on the resort court the next day. At the time i didn't know who he was but I remember seeing his picture in a tennis magazine not long after our holiday. Anything to do with tennis as a kid I can still remember, it's as fresh as yesterday's hit on 'the court'.
The hours I spent hitting against the garage wall was time in 'the Zone', a place that no one could bother me. I even did a 'Borgie' and gave myself a goal against the wall, after all I was never going to beat a brick wall. Borg used to tell himself that if he hit a certain amount of shots back then it was one point to him, now this takes concentration !
20 shots in, a point to me, 10 shots then an error, 15-15, 50 shots in a row I took two points, 40-15, and so on. I wouldn't stop hitting just because I got to 20 and 'won' a point, I kept hitting until I missed.
So what about the net on a garage wall ? Easy done, that's what chalk is for and don't forget a hammer while you are at it.
My house as a kid had a rather unique style of brick work and I spent hours chipping away at the wall from just above the chalked net line until it was completely smooth. The garage wall was perfectly manicured to hit tennis balls against after I had finished as I was the 'groundsman' also.

I recall the 'devastation' of 'Borgie' retiring when my tennis was in full flight as a kid who looked to his hero for guidance. I would ask many questions of Bjorn as I hit the ball into submission against a wall that if it could talk would have begged for mercy. I don't know if I ever received the answers that I was looking for but I kept asking them anyhow. After all I was on 'court' with 'Borgie' and that time to me was priceless.
No amount of Space Invaders with 'Frommy' in Tassie could ever have beaten my time with the long haired 'Rock Star' from Sweden. In fact that was something else that I wanted to do but my parents wouldn't allow me to grow the locks down to my shoulders.
There was only one thing to do, I had to, I mean I just HAD to become a Professional Tennis Player so I could grow my hair long . It all made so much sense, 'Borgie' understood but now I would have to do it all without the great man. He had simply hit too many tennis balls in his time against his garage wall, Connors, Mac and Vitas and made too much money.
It was ok, I understood, it was time though to find another hero, one who would answer my many questions against the wall in the garage. I needed one who looked and played just like 'Borgie' and they weren't easy to find.
Lucky for me a 17 year old kid by the name of Mats from Sweden had just made the Semi's of the Italian Open. Maybe he could fill the void that my retired hero had left.....
PART 2 to follow......








Tuesday, 18 November 2014

'SOME MORE STATS'

The ATP World Tour Finals in London were a bit of a fizzer really, way too many one sided results and the much anticipated final between the best two didn't even take place. After the US Open the entire Tennis World were talking about 'the changing of the guard'.
Could it just have been a 'blip' on the radar in World Tennis that has now been corrected and viewing is now back to 'normal transmission' ?
Kei Nishikori however proved that he may just be the player to watch as he nailed Murray in straight sets. He obviously has the repertoire of shots to trouble the top 4 as he won two matches and took a set from Djokovic in their Semi Final.
That particular match though proved that it's one thing to take a set from the World Number 1, the other is to sustain that level of play. Nishikori failed to win a game in the third set of that match.
Thomas Berdych won one match , against an out of sorts Marin Cilic who was by all reports injured, but the heaviness of his two losses are surely something of concern. To win just two games against Wawrinka and only four against Djokovic surely proves there is a huge gap between himself and the players ahead of him. It's not to say that Thomas can't play tennis, he hits it hard and well but his game plan surely needs a 'tweak'.
There was a lot of talk about Andy Murray and how he has 'gone missing' but let's put his efforts into perspective also. Andy had to play a lot of tennis just to qualify for this Championship and he won two titles to sneak in, it was a huge effort just to get there.
I personally believe that he was just plain tired as he probably played more matches than any other player in the lead up to the Tour Finals.
If Roger's win against Nishikori was anything to go by well it may just have been a classic final match against Djokovic. All base liners hate being rushed and Federer knows just how to put them off their game. As well as Kei has been playing he won just 5 games against Federer.
A straight sets win to Federer over Novak in Shanghai last month proved that his game upsets the base line rhythm of the current World Number 1.
At least the Semi's of this event saw some good tennis as until then it was all pretty much one way traffic from the top 2. In fact Djokovic and Federer gave up just 22 games in a total of six matches between them leading up to the semi's, Novak 9 and Federer 13. Surely this is way too one sided for anyone's liking and almost defies logic. 
I have never seen so many one sided results as what this year's Tour Finals produced and if anything I enjoyed watching the Doubles highlights more than the singles. Sure the Bryan Brothers won again but there are no 'sure things' in Men's Doubles now days and the quality of teams now are very high. Any team in the Top 10 is beatable.
Jonny Mac suggested just recently that Doubles should be scrapped from the Tour , interesting comment from a man who won around 70 odd Doubles Tournaments.
The Singles in Men's World Tennis is still fairly predictable, the Men's Doubles is still a 'raffle'. Hopefully one day we will see it all even up, it will make viewing this great game just a little more interesting......
*** FOOTNOTE*** The Paribas Masters in Paris just recently saw 7 of the top 8 seeded players make it to the last 8. All too predictable .

Monday, 17 November 2014

'OUTRAGEOUS'

Have a look at the following point in the final of the year ending Championships in London between the Bryan Brothers and Dodig and Melo. Now that's entertaining tennis without belting the cover off it.......

Watch Amazing Doubles Hot Shot Between Bryan/Bryan

Saturday, 15 November 2014

'TOUGH STUFF'

The Semi Final at the Tour ending Championships in London this week proved that when a top player is in trouble he can think his way through it . The match between Wawrinka and his mate Federer was a nail biter and Stan had 4 chances to close out the match. On all of the match points that he had he was forced to play a shot. 
Now that may seem like common sense but many players at match point down do not make their opponents win it, they instead lose it. It's better to get a ball back into play with a chip return rather than go for the almighty strike as some players do , Federer the best example. On one of the match points he saved he used his brilliant chip technique on the back hand return which forced Stan to volley up which ultimately gave Roger a swing at a pass. 
After Roger had saved the 4 match points he only needed one of his own to close it out, he had weathered the storm. I believe that Stan played the match points well though as he asked the question of Federer each time, he made his buddy win the point by coming into the net. This type of play is gutsy but it can be a smarter way to finish a match rather than playing 20 shots from the back. Obviously however Federer answers most questions from his opponents with relative calmness no matter what the situation in the match is.
In the US Open in September Federer fought of two match points in his quarter final with Monfils and in Shanghai in October he saved five match points against Mayer. The Swiss genius believes he is never out of a match until the umpire says so. In 2008 at the Masters Cup Federer saved seven match points in one game against Murray, how is that technically and mentally possible to do ? Roger did eventually lose that particular match to Murray but his efforts to save that many match points is nothing short of remarkable.
Murray , as I mentioned in an earlier chapter also showed amazing mental strength in two Championship deciders against Tommy Robredo as he saved a total of 10 match points to win both.
What ever these players at the top of World Tennis own between the ears is something that perhaps cannot be taught by any Coach on the planet. It may just be something that these players are born with but maybe a surgeon could study Roger's one day if the great man would give his blessing to do so.
It's one thing to hit a ball well, it's a totally different thing to be able to play the game of tennis........

Thursday, 13 November 2014

'MY MATE JONESEY'

I don't do too many dedications on this site, I do a lot of knocking, but apart from my obvious hero's namely Mats, Bjorn etc I don't single too many old mates out for praise. This chapter I will go against the flow, a dedication to an old mate who could play the game well, Dale Jones.
Now from memory 'Jonesey' was a Wesley College Student and once took a set off former West Australian Number 1 Darren Patten in a school comp.
I met Jonesey at the East Fremantle Tennis Club in 1984 or thereabouts and we struck up a friendship. Now here was a man who could not only play the game but he also did some good impersonations of professional players, I found him to be good value.
We decided we would team up together and play a Perth Junior Championship at the Melville Tennis Club, not far from the East Fremantle courts. From memory we did ok in the singles, maybe quarters but it was our doubles play that was creating a bit of a stir.
We had a draw that was not easy and we faced the number 1 pairing of Ken McCreery and Tim Burrows in the Semi's of the 18's Doubles . Now these two guys were in two words, brilliant and funny. In fact I thought they were awesome, not only with their play but with their comments, they were good to be on the same court with.
Ken was a Country Week Men's Singles Champion and ranked top 5 in the State for 18's and Tim at one stage was in the top three 16 year olds in Western Australia, I looked up to these two. I am almost certain that I played Tim in one of my first ever junior tournaments in Perth and received an 'education'. Back to the Semi.
I don't know what Jonesey was looking for in this particular match but I was simply in awe of their stroke play and wanted 3 games each set just to brag to our mates. Sometimes as a kid all you are looking for is respect rather than a win that may seem out of reach.
Our first set against McCreery and Burrows was a good set, an enjoyable one with a few laughs, after all we were only there to 'make up the numbers' , 4-6. Now something happened in the second that I am sure given their time back the two 'Big Guns' may have decided to go a little harder . 6-1 to the 'B Graders', Jonesey and Thommo. I was ready to shake hands, go home and tell all my mates about the second set score against one of the State's best teams. But we had a third to play.
At 4-5 in the second set 30-40 we were forced to save a match point then went on to score one of the most unlikeliest wins 7-5 in the third. I remember Tim saying to Ken " I can't believe we lost that".
The final was a 'formality', we were still on a high from our semi and we won the final 3 and 4 against two guys who from all reports still play at Melville, Richardson and Muenchow, nice guys also. So a State Doubles title was ours and what added to the win was the fact that Jonesey and I had played 'up'. Dale was 16, I was 15 but we wanted to test ourselves so we played the 18's for a 'bit of fun', and it turned out to be just that.
Now to many, many years later, Jonesey and his family decided to come down to Albany for a weekend , I asked him if he could tie it in with the Albany Open Doubles Championship. He was happy for a trip down memory lane, 20 years later.
Now I love this Tournament , always a great day and some tough competition as some pretty handy country players turn up at The Emu Point Tennis Club.
Now to cut a long story short Jonesey and I were on fire all day, no one got close to us . I remember a 6-0 set against a local team who apparently hadn't been beaten in 'two years' ( So one of them told me). I didn't have the heart to tell him that his 'exploits' in Men's Division 2 or 'B Grade' at Bridgetown and Esperance doesn't really count as 'unbeaten in two years'.
Anyhow to our second last Round Robin match against equal tournament favourites' Brad Rundle and Gary Connell , the match to decide the tournament. Now some Country Tournaments have some funny rules and as much as I love Emu Point I felt they had definitely thrown the book of fair play out the window.
At 5 games all I went to the Tournament Director's window just to confirm that there would be a tie break at 5 or 6 all, we all couldn't remember. This was the answer. " No Tie Breaker, first to 6 games wins " !!
As the great Jonny Mac once famously said " You cannot be........." , unfortunately though these were the rules and Brad served out the last game comfortably to 15, shattered. We won our last match easily as did Brad and Gary as they pipped us by a game.
I will never forget the Presentation when the results were read out " And these two won by just one game" Brad Rundle and Gary Connell !!" Now I consider myself a fair player but to lose a tournament, especially Jonesey and Thommo's 'Memory Lane Tournament' by a rather bizarre rule , well .........
So to Jonesey, hope you read this Champ, well played back in 1984 and as far as the Albany Open 'near miss' around 10 years ago, well buddy I have a plan. One day before we are too old to play Men's A Grade let's have another crack at it. It's a 'timed' format now but could you imagine if we were beaten by the clock next time around ????
Legend Jonesey, Regards GT........

Monday, 10 November 2014

RIDICULOUS'

I find it rather hard to believe that at the Tour Final Championships out of a total of 8 sets played over 50 per cent were decided with a 6-1 score line. In fact 5 of the 8 sets played were 6-1, work that one out or does the 'cream' simply rise to the top in Championships such as this ? 
Thomas Berdych has suffered two huge losses lately and he is a player in need of a head Doctor to work out why in fact he can't win against the players in front of him. He doesn't just lose against these guys, he gets smashed.
Novak served for a double 'bagel' against Thomas a few weeks back but proved he is a Gentleman after all and let him have two games. Against Wawrinka last night, a man who he pushed all the way in the Australian Open Semi's in January , he barely turned up , he won just two games again.
I thought Federer would win in straight sets as I wrote in my last chapter as he learns from a loss better than most but a 6-1 first set win against Raonic was rather brutal. Perhaps Milos was thinking just where he was , up against the best in an and of year showdown for the first time , maybe nerves played a part. His second set was more than competitive yet he failed to win a point in the second set tie breaker.
Murray was disappointing against Nishikori but at least a 6-4, 6-4 loss is a competitive loss, Murray very rarely gets belted. Cilic was very disappointing against Novak , I felt that his serve and big hitting may put the World Number 1 on the back foot initially but it never happened. Another 1 and 1 result in a tournament that should never really have one sided results to the extent we have seen so far. 
So to the next round;
Federer vs Nishikori        Tough match but Fed's net attacking may throw the 'new kid on the block's' back court game out but it should be close, Fed in 3.
Murray vs Raonic          Andy should bounce back here, providing Raonic doesn't serve too many bombs, I will go Andy in two close sets.
Berdych vs Cilic        Who really cares ?? After their first round efforts I doubt the public will care who wins, me included but I will tip Cilic in 3.
Djokovic vs Wawrinka       Big match, tough match, should be a ripper , Wawrinka to win the first but lose in 3, big call I know but Stan the Man can play and he hits it hard, match of the round.
I tipped 3 from 4 last round but way off in my set predictions, see how we go this time.......

Friday, 7 November 2014

'THE TOUR FINALS'

I am going to put down a few tips as to who I think will go well at the year ending Tour Finals and who I think may be a disappointment. Taking into consideration however that these guys are the World's Top 8 , Rafa being the only injured exception;
Murray vs Nishikori   Andy is in red hot form and I believe he will be too strong for Kei in this first match but I believe it will go three sets.
Federer vs Raonic      I believe that Roger always learns from a defeat and his loss to the Canadian in Paris last week will give the great man all the inspiration he needs to reverse the result. Fed in two.
Wawrinka vs Berdych      Tough to pick but Berdych has never performed well at this event and I doubt he will start this year, Stan the man but in three sets.
Djokovic vs Cilic       By all reports US Open Champ Cilic is slightly injured but I think he will come out and try to make a statement with the big serve early against Novak. One break is all Marin will need to perhaps win the first set against the World Number 1 but I can't see him sustaining it. Perhaps a close first set but Novak in three.
I like trying to tip the big matches, always tough as these guys are brilliant and quite often it simply comes down to a point or two to decide a set and a match for that matter.
Murray, Federer, Wawrinka and Novak as First Round winners for my tipping, let's see how we go....