As more time goes by and as I get older, I sometimes reminisce about the good ol’ days. This is something I do about life and about tennis, and it makes me wonder what I could have done differently that would have made me better at tennis — not career changing decisions necessarily but words of advice for my younger self.
The natural progression through life comes with an increase in knowledge and the things I have now learned, and it got me thinking… If I could give advice to my younger tennis-playing-self, I would say?
1. Know your strings. Growing up, I had a partial Babolat sponsorship, so I used a Babolat Pro Hurricane string. Great string, but to be honest, I have no idea why I was playing with that particular string. My point? It wasn’t that that this string was bad; in fact I play with it sometimes now and I love it, but when I was younger, I didn’t do much research into what string was the best for me at that time. Getting advice or doing some research can make life a lot better when it comes to reducing the risk of stress being placed on your arm, feeling the ball better, hitting with more power, getting more spin… The list goes on.
2. Acknowledge and practice your weaknesses! The less scared of them you are, the smaller the mountain will seem when you have to do them in a match. I practiced everything, a lot, but, there’s always one or two things that each person has that could be referred to as their achilles heel. For me, technically, volleys are probably top 2. My periodic lack of confidence in them is annoying to say the least and if I’d practiced them more and drilled more confidence into myself about them, I would have benefited. Don’t just accept them and avoid because with practice comes confidence. Write them down and have faith in the process!
3. Don’t be scared to play out of your comfort zone. It’s easy to stay on the baseline when that’s where you’re comfortable, or not come into net, or always hit spin balls, or never hit spin balls… Everyone knows where they want to be and what they want to be doing. For me growing up, I was a baseliner, a retriever, I could run all day. Looking back now, I worked with my strengths, but trying to hit a bit harder, coming into net more and being a more aggressive more often would only make me a better player.
4. Consistency is something you should ALWAYS be working on. I did well with this: cross court drilling, counting 20 ball rallies before you can play a set or anything along the lines that got me focusing on just hitting the ball in without errors, but I could have done more. You can always do more. Consistency is important. Period.
5. Doubles. Learn the tactics. Learn it for confidence, and practice because there is a whole game out there that I only started enjoying about senior year of college. Doubles got me playing time in college (that I couldn’t have in singles due to injury) as well as prize money in tournaments after I graduated, but best of all? It improved my game tenfold by making me work on my volleys, serves and returns.
I asked Chris what advice he would give himself and he said, “Hit more drop shots.” Then, when I told him I would line drive at him next time we played if he didn’t give me a better answer, he said, “Focus more on getting game points than getting games.” I asked him to explain what he said, and he offered, “Tennis is about constantly giving yourself the opportunity for success. If you keep focusing on getting the game points instead of the big picture, the success will come. It will make you play the big points more relaxed because you have put the pressure onto playing each point [instead of trying to win games]. It almost makes getting the games feel like it’s gravy.”
Jason actually said something that I hadn’t considered, which was to get coaching. He said, “I never had coaching – I had Sampras and Agassi coach me on the TV.” As someone who has always been coached this wasn’t something that had crossed my mind, so when I asked him how much he had ever been coached, he said, “Zero. All right would you stop making fun of me?!” — I would actually call Jason’s game pretty impressive for someone who has never been coached. He explained more that if he could give his former self more advice it would be “to seek out pro coaching. Not just for technique and strokes, but for strategy and how to construct a point.”
What advice would you give yourself? What would you do differently?