I vividly recall several years ago I played a local club vs club competition and I had to beat a kid 24 years younger than I was. Nowhere to hide. If I had lost then it was going to be one of those local tennis articles written in the paper that I personally may not have bothered reading. When you are fighting for your reputation it is a matter of asking for your inner self to produce something that has substance.
I often wondered what the great Andre Agassi thought of his loss to Lleyton Hewitt in a lead up tournament to the Australian Open in 1998 at Memorial Drive, South Australia. Andre was 27, Hewitt a 16 year old upstart who held no fear of playing a living legend. The 7-6, 7-6 win by Hewitt had Andre saying in the post match press conference " I was just hoping he would go away, but he didn't".
I wonder if ego came into it for Agassi and did he call on everything that he knew about the game or did he continue to simply try to outhit a skinny kid who just kept getting the ball back into play ? I still find that match hard to comprehend because Agassi should have belted Hewitt, it didn't make a whole lot of sense really.
Once again I am sorry for comparing one of my small town matches to a living legends' but it's all relevant, trust me. We are all doing our best to work within the confines of a tennis court that at times feels like working on a postage stamp which is in fact around 23 x 8 metres. If you look at that area there is only so much you can do with the shots that you are best at. It's almost like a stunt bike rider who has to take off and land in an area that we as spectators look at in awe and shake our heads in disbelief at the skill involved in the whole process.
When I warmed up against that kid I saw that he wanted everything right in his slot, his hitting zone, but when I went with the slice or the high loop he quite simply hated it. That gave me an idea right from the start. I thought, let's take this kid away from what he likes and see how effective his rather glamorous shots will be then.
Rather than bore you with the whole match I will simply give you the run down on some stats that make the most sense. Because he never followed a serve into the net I floated many returns six feet or higher over the net that gave me a sense of a 50/50 situation that most returners can only dream of.
There was no point in hitting a great return, no point at all, just a high ball with depth was required that 'restarted' the point. At times during a rally I would put in a series of short sliced backhands that begged him to come to the net. When he did I just made sure that I gave him a ball to volley, nothing special, just a ball to hit at the net yet he missed every single volley I gave him. He obviously spent way too much time on his groundies but never practiced finishing a point at close quarters. Typical of the young kids playing the game now days.
So to the result and a rather funny assumption by a 'guru' of the sport;
A couple of my juniors were in earshot of someone who should have known better when it came to a match roundup which was relayed to the rest of the younger brigade of hopefuls. "Thommo won 10-5 in a third set tie breaker by hacking". Yep that was the 'guru's' way of putting it. Personally I felt it was a great tactic. All I did was loop the sh.. out of my forehand and slice the sh.. out of my backhand and made very few errors. I won possibly the equivalent of three games by drawing the 'robot' into the net and giving him garbage which he failed to clean up.
It was like a robot who is made to clean up a house with no dust pan and shovel.
"I keep setting it all up but I can't seem to find a place to put it".
So did the 'guru' really do the match justice when talking about the tactics involved from the guy who beat the hard hitter with patience and a better way of thinking through the tight spots ? Well unfortunately the 'guru' did not really know a whole lot about the sport otherwise there may have been something said in a more positive light.
I do believe that Brad Gilbert did in fact say "It's better to win ugly than to lose pretty". I am sure it's in that book somewhere which I will one day read and gain some more ideas that will help me through my old age in tennis.
When you play kids who can run all day and love a ball in the comfort zone I do believe that it is a necessity to bring out all the tricks you have learned over the years.
Why try to outhit someone when you can outthink them instead ?
Tennis, a thinking person's sport.........
** Just for the record, I played this same kid two years later and won in three sets playing exactly the same way. I was 42, he was 18. I didn't walk too well for the next week but it was a proud limp.....