I once read a quote by the great Andre Agassi as he gave his usual informative view on life as a pro tennis player. Agassi spoke of 'the hunter or the hunted' and it was one of the most insightful things I have ever read as far as tennis is concerned.
The terminology of course refers to who you are as a tennis player and what role you play when you step on court. It's all about being comfortable with who you are, the most important part of being successful in sport in general.
The following is a personal story regarding the final doubles competition of last tennis season here in 'sleepy hollow'. It involves an old man and a young fellow who I have all the admiration in the World for as he finally got his head together and became one of the town's finest tennis players.
It goes something like this.......
Around two months prior to the last doubles comp of the season I sent my mate Matty a text, "Hey Champ what you up to, you want to play a comp " ?
Matty is 24, half my age. When looking at tennis tournaments as a 48 year old you have to use your experience as far as choosing partners goes, you want one young enough to chase the lobs.
'Yeah ok, sounds good, but I haven't hit a ball for around six months'.
"You will be fine buddy, let's start doing some training".
So train we did, twice a week for 8 weeks, for maybe 90 minutes each session.
We talked about doubles tactics and worked on cross court hitting. It didn't take Matty long to get back in the swing of things, he's a talent, every shot in the book, big serve, big groundies, great volley, the complete tennis player in any mans language. Did I mention he was 24 and fit ?
A week prior to the comp I texted through our entry and the tournament organiser asks the question, 'How you guys hitting 'em'?
"Matty can't hit the side of a supermarket at the moment and I will simply play from memory".
Good luck he says, probably with a smile.
I text Matty a day before the comp when I see who is playing and who we have first round.
"Champ, we got a real tough first up match, not sure if we got a seeding but I put them off the scent anyhow, told 'em we are a bit underdone at present but will give it a shot".
Matty fires back a quick text.
'What you tell 'em that for ? We have been training a fair bit. Don't we want them to know that we are in form' ?
That one made me smile, typical young fella, wants to start a comp with all the bells and whistles, like walking into a boxing arena with the loud speakers raging, 'AND HERE IS THE UNDISPUTED WORLD CHAMPION'.........
Nope I was not interested in any of that.
"Champ it's like this, we are going into this comp as the hunters, I am way too old and past my prime to be going in to any competition as the hunted, there's a big difference. We will have no pressure on us, no one expects us to trouble the score board, trust me".
There's a long pause before the reply.
Now in round robin competitions every team has to play every team but our draw was a horror show to say the least and I believe it was because we were meant to be 'cannon fodder'. Remember I was playing from memory, Matty couldn't hit the side of a supermarket, we wouldn't trouble the score board.
First match we broke at 5-5 and we served the match out, one set matches, first to seven games.
Second match, down 3-5, we win the last 4 games.
We win our next four matches with ease, we take the title. I don't often hug men but I did give Matty a big one when we took the last match 7-3.
"Champ, you see what I mean ? We had no pressure whatsoever, you played the loosest tennis I have ever seen you play and basically I did nothing except get a few back. As far as I am concerned this was YOUR title. Legend".
For the record, the two teams who we beat in round 1 and round 2 finished second and third respectively.
Still not sure to this day whether Matty could understand my approach to the competition and whether he appreciated me telling the tournament organiser we were simply there to make up the numbers but it's like this.
Matty when you are my age I trust you will find yourself a former pupil, if ever you take up coaching of course, and run the same idea past him as I did with you.
If he wants a seeding, a number next to his name to give you guys some sort of 'halo' around you that is supposed to give you an air of invincibility,remind him of that day in 2017 when you and the old bloke flew under the radar.
The 'hunter' should always play with a mind set that has nothing to lose.
The 'hunted' is a whole different ball game.
I know which one I would prefer........