Thursday, December 29, 2011

The 2012 ALTA season begins next week(end)

As both a captain and a player, it’s an exciting time: the first ALTA season of 2012 is almost here. For many of us, it’s been more than 2 months since we’ve played our last competitive match (unless we play USTA or in a flexible tennis league).

At the beginning of any season, there is the anticipation of what is to come. What kind of year will I have? Will my team be good enough to compete for a bag tag? As a captain, there is the additional responsibility of creating an environment that’s fun, and lineups that maximize your players’ strengths, hide any weaknesses, and give your team its best chance for success.

It’s the proverbial “clean slate”, nothing has been ventured and nothing has been gained, it’s all “in front of you” ... and any number of other clich├ęs that one can conjure up. But it’s also important to remember what the objective is: to try one’s best, to compete fairly, to not lose oneself in the heat of the moment and forget about why we play the game (and it’s only a game).

So good luck to you and your team(s); savor the days and thank God that you are healthy and able to play this great sport of ours, whatever your ability. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

More on USTA's NTRP rating system

One of the most frequently read posts on this blog is my article about ALTA’s ‘rating’ system, another is my one about USTA’s rating system, which leads me to believe that a lot of people are interested in this topic … probably because it’s controversial.

In my first post on this topic, I lamented about USTA’s system “it’s as good as any other, but it certainly leaves much to be desired.” To expound on this, I focused on regional differences. More specifically, Georgia is stricter than some of the other Southern states and it’s also possible that the Southern Area better enforces their ratings than other regions in the country. I wonder if the USTA has ever analyzed their data to see if any region is underrepresented in the National Champion category historically. I would think that they would want to know the answer to this question, which should highlight those areas where adhering to the establish standard is lacking: e.g. the ones that have teams which win at Nationals year in and year out.

I also pointed out an example of someone I played against locally who appears to have been rated higher than his ability despite having played for several seasons with minimal success at his lower rating. His bump was a half level, which – because he plays mixed doubles – may not have affected his being able to stay on the same team, but probably caused him to play with a different partner. Hopefully, our local USTA organization is as quick bumping players down a half level as they are bumping them up.

Because of my USTA mixed doubles team’s success this year, we’ve had a number of players bumped a half level, which has altered our team’s members and several pairings. This was to be expected. In fact, from the first team I joined 2+ years ago until now, there are less than a handful of us (and I’m the only male) that have been on every team, which has remained at the same 7.0 level. The real shocker this fall was that one of our players was bumped a full point after only two seasons of matches. While a half point would have been reasonable given this player’s ability, this unfortunate circumstance means that – unless his rating appeal is accepted – he will not likely play USTA League tennis ever again. I’m not sure that USTA wants to drive players out of their league because of a less-than-perfect rating system, we’ll see.

Monday, December 12, 2011

USTA Atlanta City Finalist

Unfortunately we lost our second straight Atlanta city final, to a team that seems to have our number. Last spring, we lost our last regular season match to this same opponent, but still ended up winning our division and earning the bag tag because we'd won more matches overall. Friday night was a close one: we won one line and lost the other two in third set Coman tiebreakers.

We had an outstanding turnout - our cheering section included not just several other members of the team, but also former players (members of our GA state championship team), one child, girlfriends, a sibling and even parents - and we had a huge picnic table spread of food. In fact, our team won the Spirit Award!

An invitation to next August's USTA Mixed Doubles State Championships was not awarded right away, but may be forthcoming. I certainly hope so because last Friday night reminded me just how special this team is - my teammates and all the others that wish us well - and how lucky I've been to be a part of it. I'm not ready for this 2+ year USTA journey of mine to end and would love to make a third straight trip to Augusta next summer!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

USTA Mixed Doubles Atlanta City Championships tomorrow night!

Many from our 2011 USTA Georgia State Champion Mixed Doubles 7.0 team will be playing for a chance to qualify for the 2012 Georgia State Championships (next summer) tomorrow night, at the Dekalb Tennis Center in Decatur. Because of our success this summer, our team is somewhat different; a couple players’ ratings were bumped up in August.

I feel a little bit disconnected from this team given that I played just twice this fall - plus once (in the quarterfinals) in the city championships tournament - which ends tomorrow night. Given the changes to our team, my partner – with whom I am undefeated over the past two seasons in 5 matches (including one in the Georgia State tournament) without dropping a set – has been assigned a new partner of late, and they’ve won both of their two matches together.

Because a couple of our current players’ ratings were bumped up this month, 2012 will be quite different from 2011; Friday night’s match will give us a chance to keep the vast majority of this past year’s team together for one last hurrah next August in Augusta.

Wish us luck!

Monday, December 5, 2011

A question of tactics, related to the mental side of tennis

Although I write this tennis blog, I’m not an authority on any topic related to our sport (even though my tone may suggest as much sometimes;-) What you find written on these pages are my experiences, observations and the knowledge (limited by my abilities: I’m a high B/3.5 level player) that I’ve gained while playing and captaining for (now) 11+ years here in Atlanta.

Obviously I can gain from your knowledge and experiences, if you’re willing to share by posting a comment to this (or any other) post. Although I know (from this site’s Urchin statistics) that many read my reflections – btw, thanks! – there hasn’t been a lot of participation from ‘you’ out there. Although I write largely for my own pleasure, I sincerely hope that what I have shared has helped you or others in some way over the past year. But now I am openly soliciting your help.

When I’m in the midst of a close match against persons that play at a higher level than me – in practice or a league match – I sometimes find myself wondering if I can maintain my level of play in the critical games at the end of the set, or not. Because of this self doubt and believing that my opponents have probably figured me out by now and will change their tactics – e.g. start poaching more – to close out the set (e.g. force a break, etc.), I’ll change my tactics and inevitably have a couple of bad games to effectively lose the set to them, and restore order.

I’m beginning to believe that this is a mental deficiency on my part: I don’t have enough confidence in my ability, in fact I believe that my opponents are better (because they are), such that I try to change my game (even though my physical ability is limited) to try to compensate at the most important time in the match, effectively sabotaging myself – and my partner – in what then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s easy for me now, in hindsight, to see the error of this … but that doesn’t mean that I’ll stop the next time I find myself in this situation. I can say to myself “dance with the one that brung ya” or “keep on keepin’ on”, but I guess I must believe in my heart of hearts that the outcome will be the same if I don’t change, so I try to force the issue to trip them up.

After all, when I play an opponent of equal or lesser ability, I’ve become pretty good about staying with what works to close out the match. I don’t fear them or their ability to raise their game or change their tactics to stop what ‘we’ have working and beat us, for some reason.

If anyone has any advice that would help me change this self-defeating pattern I've developed, words of wisdom or pearls of knowledge, I'd appreciate it. Thanks in advance!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

ALTA’s winter 2012 tennis team schedules have been posted!

The schedules for the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association’s winter 2012 season have been posted on their website.

As a tennis captain, today is always a highly anticipated day, almost as much as the first match of the season. It’s the first chance to see if any roster changes have affected the team’s placement/level, to see how many familiar opponents are on one’s schedule, and how many home matches each team will have.

Of course it’s impossible to predict how one’s team will do, especially before the season starts, but that doesn’t keep us captains from fretting over our players’ availability as we research the other teams that were assigned to our division, or begin to visualize the forthcoming season before the first ball is even struck.

It’s like a present that sits under the tree for weeks in December, dreaming what it will be and not wanting to wait to unwrap it.

Good luck to my fellow captains and future opponents; have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and we'll see you in January!