Thursday, March 20, 2008

Federer, Not

I've been playing this game, or trying to, for fifty years. I started on a tar-covered court in Kentucky, the only tennis court in town, and learned the game from studying still photos in the one tennis magazine I managed to acquire. The game was not broadcast on TV back then, and I had no local players to watch or learn from.

A friend of mine, Bryan Lesieur, and I worked for many hours every day to learn the rules and some basic shots. In the winter we sometimes swept the snow off the court so we could practice and in the summer we played shirtless for hours on that steamy court. (still paying for all that sun...)

The game has changed radically in the last couple of decades. The rackets are lighter, quicker, more powerful and require that the strokes be looser and the racket head speed be faster, and all that requires footwork be quicker. The techniques of striking the ball are so different from the days when I was watching Laver and Rosewall and Pancho Gonzalez.

My father took Bryan and me to Nashville, to watch Laver and some other pros of that era play an exhibition match on an indoor court at Vanderbilt. They stretched a green tarp with a tennis court drawn on it across the basketball floor. I was in heaven that night. I remember Laver broke several rackets from mishits that shattered the old wood frame of his Dulop Maxply. Most of those broken rackets came off his incredibly powerful backhand service return.

These days there's the Tennis Channel for 24 hour a day coverage of all things tennis. And all of the grand slam tournaments are shown from the early rounds to the finals and lots of other out of the way tournaments are on the tube too. It's a great time to be a tennis fan.

But the game is even more of a challenge. I'm still tinkering, still trying to get my feet to move faster, still trying to hit my serve with a bit more kick. Maybe next week I'll finally get that forehand sharp-angled crosscourt I've been working on for the last fifty years.

This first clip is a service return then an approach to hit a backhand volley. My opponent, Fred Begeman, has a great "buggy-whip" crosscourt forehand. I think this one went wide.

And this one shows my first and second serve, and backhand and forehand. I see I've got to stay more nimble through both strokes. Go forward, hit through the ball. Man, this game is tough.

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