October 22, 2010
After waiting four days to get on the court due to a number of rain delays, my doubles partner Gary Sacks and I lost in the first round of the Calabasas Challenger 6-3, 6-2 to the No. 4 seeds, Rik de Voest of South Africa and fellow American Bobby Reynolds. Both de Voest and Reynolds are former top 50 in the world players, and their exceptional skill and experience showed on Thursday night. They executed doubles fundamentals extremely well, making a lot of well placed first serves and a high percentage of returns, while being very solid around the net and making very few volley errors. By playing solid, high-percentage doubles, they put the pressure on us to come up with “something special,” forcing us to overplay a lot of shots and make unnecessary errors. The result was a routine straight-set victory for the more experienced team and a great learning experience for Gary and me.
I took a lot away from the match, both things that I did well and can build on and other weaknesses that were exposed by the seasoned veterans that I will need to work on to succeed at a higher level. Let’s start with the positives…
I’m continuing to see that my return of serve, which has been a strength of mine my entire life, is holding up as a strength at every level I play. I’m able to defend against strong first serves while also attack second serves, and yesterday my return was one of the things I did well that bothered my opponents. Secondly, my serve is continuing to improve, and I served pretty well yesterday, hitting my spots and making a high percentage of first serves. I’m going to need to keep working on serving smarter and to the right spots at the right time to set up points around the other strengths of my game.
On the other hand, my net game was exposed last night, and I made way too many errors around the net. What I’m noticing about all the good doubles players whom I’m running into is they make very few errors around the net. When the ball is drilled at them or they have to make a tough first volley off a return of serve, they play a smart, solid volley, usually through the middle of the court so the opposing team has no angles to work with. They also make quick aggressive moves around the net and play the ball to the right spot at the right time. Last night, I learned that I need to be more solid with my volleys and not to try to do too much with the ball when I’m making an aggressive move or when the ball is ripped hard at me. I made too many unforced errors on my first volley as well as when my partner and I were up at the net, and those free points were the main reason why we lost. I’m learning that it’s not necessarily the ability to come up with unbelievable shots that sets players apart, but just the ability to play the smart, solid shots consistently under pressure that makes the difference.
Overall, the match was a good learning experience, and I was able to take much away from it and have things to work on for the near future. I’m a rookie on the tour, and rookies have to take their lumps and go through these learning experiences. It’s what makes the veterans players experienced. I’ve been in a lot of new situations, and as I go through them I’m learning and becoming better at knowing how to handle them and succeed. Tthe key thing I must remember is that I’m in these new situations because I’m playing at a level I’ve never played at before, and if I wasn’t improving or doing well, I’d just be playing in tournaments and be in situations that I’ve seen a thousand times. So these type of matches are to be expected, and all I can do is look at them in a positive light and grow from them. The next time I’m in a main draw of a Challenger I’ll be more comfortable and have a little better idea about how to handle it.
So now I can finally get ready for Laos and Thailand. I’m taking today (Friday) off from tennis, but I’m still going on a run along the beach this afternoon to keep the body loose. I’ll practice over the weekend, and on Monday, and then head to the airport Monday night for my 18-hour flight to Bangkok! Thanks for reading!