When Bad Things Happen to Good Players

  1. Strings break in the middle of a point. Don’t panic. If your strings break in the middle of a point, hit for higher margin (middle third of the court, high net clearance), soften the hands, avoid exaggerated swing patterns, use backspin to take pace off the ball and look to conclude the point by coming in on a short ball. Of course if you string your racquet at 30 pounds as I do (slight exaggeration), it’s hard to know when and if you do break a string.
  2. Dehydration (muscle cramping). Look for economy in motion – no unnecessary action and avoid abrupt changes in direction. To alleviate cramps in the legs, extend your legs (one at a time) and raise your toes. Extend your arm and pull back on your fingers to address similar issues with your arms and hands. Drink fluid (preferably a product that has a full electrolyte profile) and if possible apply ice compressions during changeovers. If cramping is extreme, stay mobile and do not sit down during the changeover. Strategically, try to stay in the point but at the same reduce angles by playing close or inside the baseline and close into the net when possible. Mentally, focus and acknowledge the discomfort and pain rather than to wish it away and remain singularly focused to be as efficient as possible with every action (effortless action).
  3. Intense sunshine when serving. Should the sun break out in glaring intensity just before the start of your service game, blink to bring fluid to your eyes and to adjust your vision to the new conditions of light. Grab your favorite visor or hat out of your racquet bag. Curl the bill (brim) of the hat to provide more cover and push the bill (brim) lower down on your forehead. Use your tossing hand to shield your eyes. Stay back on the serve to allow your eyes to readjust after looking up into the sun and to provide more time to respond to the next shot. Very often, it’s that temporary blindness right after looking into the sun that is the most difficult thing to contend with in the point sequence.
  4. Lost forehand. Don’t panic if you lose your best shot or weapon. The important thing is to reestablish rhythm, timing and confidence. Hit with more spin and net clearance. Hit to the middle two-thirds of the court. Be patient and don’t go for too much (particularly when hitting from a neutral or defensive court position). Aim to hit over the middle of the court (using the net strap as a reference).
  5. Serving yips. Similarly for the serve, reestablish confidence by focusing on the fundamentals. I like to focus on my tossing arm (full extension and hold), head position (chin up) and elbow (bend, loop and cartwheel extension up and out and into the court). Don’t go for the lines. Take some pace off of the first serve to get a higher percentage of first serves into play.
  6. Extreme fatigue. Copy what I said with dehydration. Stay relaxed and fluid with your strokes and be efficient with your motion.
  7. Playing a (perceived) cheater. Give the player initially the benefit of doubt. Don’t get distracted. Stay focused on the task at hand. Get help (someone to arbitrate) when possible and appropriate. Questions calls (but don’t get too worked up or energized with every perceived missed call). Hit within a safer margin as necessary. Never retaliate but at same time don’t forget. Look for the opportunity next time to thrash this particular opponent and not put yourself in the position where one or more perceived bad calls could impact the outcome.
  8. Choking. Everyone has or will experience that gripping, debilitating fear of losing or winning. The symptoms are restricted range of motion, difficulty breathing, etc. To get yourself back on track, refocus on the process of hitting the ball and not the outcome (easier said than done). Breathe out and then pull your chest up and draw breath deep into your diaphragm (breathe in and breathe out). Slow things down by taking more time between points (within the confines of the rules). Hit with more spin and margin when taking a ball outside of your strike zone or when hitting from a neutral or defensive court position.
  9. Compromised vision (such as a lost contact or broken pair of glasses). Focus on the point of contact and keeping your head still through the finish of each stroke. Maintain a centered, upright posture, particularly when moving to the ball. Square off to the hitter. Essentially do everything possible to accentuate your line of vision and ability to track the ball.
  10. Dysfunctional partner. There is no such thing as a dysfunctional partner only a dysfunctional team. Collaborate to solve problems together. Prop up your partner and worry first and foremost on what you can do to help your partner be more successful.

Next article – “When good things happen to bad players”

Steve Gallagher

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