12 November, 2007

Ideal Tennis

I played some 4.0 doubles last night. 4.0 is high level amateur, and I fit right in. 5.0 is much higher level, and while it's my goal, I'm still a good ways away. I don't think anyone had a career night, and my partner carried me from time to time, but I got to return the favor once in a while too. As usual, they were some really great guys, and fun was had by all.

For those keeping score (and I always do), my partner and I went 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 against 4 different teams. We should have won that second set, but it was closer than the score. My partner served up 10 double faults out of nowhere in that set. The only difference is that I served most of my double faults in the first set, and they were weaker opponents so I got away with it.

Three volleys from the last set stick in my mind. I was thinking about them during the little drive between homes today.

On the first, I volleyed exactly where I wanted to, but I had chosen a poor target. I aimed too high, and the other joker could have toasted me down the line. He went for the right shot, but it hit 6 inches too low.

On the second, I went down after the ball with perfect form for a short volley, and put the ball exactly where I wanted it. Both opponents took one step for it and quit. They had no chance. Given the speed of the incoming ball, it was highlight reel stuff.

On the third, the ball was coming fast and I lined it up and picked a good spot, but hit it with my racket frame such that it dropped into the net. Sometimes you get lucky off those frame shots, but not this time. I certainly did not deserve to get lucky off that error.

On the first shot luck was with me. On the second, there was no luck and it made for something beautiful. On the third, luck was against me.

The most frustrating thing about tennis for me is that it would still be a perfect game if the luck were removed from it. It would be a very different game, but it would be a heartbreakingly, breathtakingly beautiful one.

Tennis is not tic-tac-toe. If I always hit the ball exactly where I mean to, and if my opponent does too, points will still be won and lost. In tic-tac-toe or checkers, a perfectly played game results in a draw. In tennis, a perfectly played point results in a win. It's a head-to-head game, and one player always has a better idea than the other.

On the court, I always want to measure my ideas against my opponent's. That only happens on about 1 in 10 points, and it's depressing. At the professional level, about 1 in 3 points ends with a blunder, 1 in 2 with a forced mistake, and 1 in 6 with a clear winning shot. At my level the numbers don't look anywhere near that good.

So tennis at my level is best played realistically. Wise players don't try to outplay their opponents, but to sell them enough rope to outplay themselves. I'm learning to play that game, but I really wish I didn't have to.

I wish we all could play ideal tennis.

And that's always been one of my biggest problems in tennis. I give both myself and my opponent too much credit, and play too many unrealistic points.

I won last night, as much as for any reason, because my opponents made more errors than I did. Now I just need to learn to take pride in that.

(Christian applications of this abound, but I won't belabor them.)


Milly said...

You should be proud of you tennis skills and drive, not all of us possess that.

karen said...

Good for you. I'm a tad bit jealous!