Monday, April 18, 2011

It's all about unforced errors

A wise former tennis coach, former ALTA teammate and sometime doubles partner of mine once said that the biggest difference between USTA 4.0 and 3.0 level players was not how hard they hit the ball, but how many unforced errors they made.  Absorbing this lesson can help you to transform your game to a higher level.

I watched some A-level ALTA players playing a practice singles match one weekend and noticed that neither guy was trying to overpower the other.  These were two of the best players in our neighborhood and I’d never played with/against them; I’d also never seen them play until this day.  I was expecting to see un-returnable serves, deft drop shots and booming overheads.  While I did see some of that, what I noticed even more so was that neither man put the ball into the net, or hit the ball long or wide very often.  More times than not, their long rallies ended with a put away by one of a short ball response from the other, sometimes fiercely hit but usually just angled off the court.  In other words, a winner, but not necessarily a screaming one ripped down the line, the kind of shot that many lesser players love to try to hit, but which often end up in the net (or sail long).

This past Saturday, I had another demonstration of the fact of this blog’s titled premise.  My partner and I played what, afterward, felt like an unsatisfactory win.  Perhaps the least satisfying 6-1, 6-2 beat down I’ve ever been a part of.  In thinking through the match, I couldn’t recall or picture in my mind a lot of shots I’d hit which were winners, perfectly placed in the open court passed the outstretched racquets of our opponents.  Normally, I love to relive these moments in my head, and discuss them with my partner while enjoying a beer after the match etc., but not this Saturday.  Instead, I remembered several situations in which our opponent dumped the ball into the net, even when they were on top of the net waiting for a sitter to end the point.  Winning the match easily wasn’t about “out hitting” our opponent, it was about having fewer unforced errors.

While keeping the ball in play and allowing one’s opponent to make the error isn’t sexy and can feel less satisfying in victory than having hit a plethora of winners in a match, it beats the alternative.

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