It's hard to believe that it's been a whole year, time flies when you are having fun. I had a blast with this project. I've always enjoyed writing down goals and taking baby steps to achieve them and seeing them come to fruition. My big goal for this project was to reach USTA 4.0 but how to accomplish that task was where all the hard work on court came into play. Nancy and I both knew it would be difficult but if I stayed true to the work schedule we had set it could happen.
The first couple of months were very rough and frustrating. Nancy really had to break down most of my strokes and rebuild them. I didn't grow up playing tennis so my strokes were developed on Fridays with friends and not very sound. Those first months were the most challenging part for me. I had always competed effectively and won just by athleticism and desire to win, but I couldn't control the transition period I had to go through with my stroke development. When I look back at those days I can still feel the punch in the gut as I was sailing forehands and slamming volleys in the net. Though I have had many proud moments along this journey, being committed to the plan and playing through the rough patches are my personal proudest moments.
Sometime during the spring my strokes started clicking and I could feel the difference and I grew more confident with every match. I started to play some of my best tennis and walked on every court knowing I had the game to compete in doubles; I was still struggling a bit with singles. Our USTA team had already dominated the field and Sarah (my USTA partner) and I were on a roll. Going to sectionals in St. Louis was both the high point and low point for me in this year-long journey. Since our team was so dominate in our season I really had no fear going to sectionals and knew that we had a real chance at nationals. Though I had a blast with the girls and our team did very well--that's my high point--I personally fell apart (my low point) and I lost all my confidence. That weekend I played five matches and only won one of them. Leaving St. Louis I felt I had just blown my chance to move up to USTA 4.0 and therefore my goal for this project. Those couple of weeks following sectionals were awful for me, I kept thinking about all the time and effort I had put into tennis and how much I wanted to reach my goal and in one weekend that could all be erased.
When those early ratings for USTA came out I was so relieved and proud to see my name on the "moving on up" list. However, there was still work to be done. I now needed to add a serve to my game; I knew there was no way I could play with the big girls at 4.0 with my puffy second serve. Yes, once again I am adding and changing parts of my game. Because I had already been through the transitional part of changing a stroke I was much more open to changes and therefore came through the rough patches quickly. I practiced the second serve every chance I got and really tried to put in practice time on the hitting lanes. By the time I played in my first 4.0 match my game was as solid as it had ever been. I've competed very well at 4.0 and I'm challenged, which I love.
The last part of my year-long journey was to develop a singles game. For me, singles is freedom. You have the whole court to work with and you're not letting down another person if you have an off day. However, the flip side to that is it's just you out there and if you are having an off day you don't have a partner to help you through the match. Throughout the year I had competed in several singles matches, in-house leagues, USTA competition, and friendly matches. In all situations the same struggle kept appearing for me: Consistency. I realized that I had two sides to my game: Hard hitting shots and soft floaters. I really needed a middle zone which I have currently been working on with Nancy in our lessons.
To wrap up my final entry, it's been an awesome year and I'm lucky to have had the opportunity to live this crazy tennis life for a year. My family has had to listen to me complain about losses and celebrate first time victories and through it all they have always cheered me on. Thank you Thom, Makenzie and Katelyn for allowing me the time to participate in this project, I love you very much.
I would also like to thank all those players out there who allowed me to write about our matches. People started dreading every time they had to be on court with me and wondering if I would write about that match. A special thanks to everyone at Midtown for supporting me all year and everyone at Tennis magazine for giving me this wonderful opportunity. To my virtual partner Joe, congratulations on achieving your goals this year and it's been a blast sharing this experience with you. I enjoyed meeting you and getting to play a little live mixed doubles. Good luck to you in the future.
Finally, I would like to send a huge thank you to Nancy Hougland, the teaching pro at Midtown Tennis Club who was my partner in this journey. I couldn't write enough about her or express how grateful I am to have her on my side. Thank you Nancy for all your time and hard work during this past year; it's amazing how much we have accomplished.
Thank you to everyone out there who has followed me through this year and participated with comments and e-mails. I guessed I have just proven that if you set goals and identify the steps you'll need to accomplish them, you can. It worked for me.
Thanks for stopping by,
From Nancy Hougland:
Wow! We have accomplished a lot this year. It has been so fun to work with Kellie. Our overall goal was for Kellie to reach a 4.0 NTRP rating and she did that. Our biggest technical goal was to develop a forehand that was versatile and was a weapon. The forehand may be her most improved stroke, but it's also the one we will keep working on and perfecting. Every stroke of Kellie's has improved greatly but at times it was painful as we were making the changes. Kellie is proof that goal setting really does work. We had four main goals and many smaller goals within those main goals. By September she had reached all of them and we had to add a few new goals. Kellie possesses some intangibles that a pro cannot teach. She has a great work ethic, is very athletic and has a great desire to win. These three qualities are a very nice combination of attributes for an improving tennis player. We are very proud of how Kellie has represented Midtown Tennis Club in Overland Park. Thank you Tennis magazine for giving Kellie and our club a chance to be a part of this goal setting challenge.
To lob or not to lob, that is the question. Let me explain. I played in a USTA match this past Friday. My partner, Lyla Flohrs, and I were having a great match against two solid players. Both gals could hit the ball with underspin and I was struggling to lift the ball over the net. Every time I tried to hit a solid ground stroke I lifted the ball right into one of their wheelhouses for easy smashes. Not only did I give them easy points, I also left Lyla with difficult defensive shots. Though we won the first set I knew I had to come up with a better plan for the second set.
Lyla is an incredible player who has the fastest hands at the net. Though she can hit solid ground strokes, she's even more dominate at the net. Our goal was to make sure that Lyla stayed aggressive up there. Early in the second set I threw up a defensive lob and noticed that our opponents struggled with it. I began putting up lobs when I thought it was the right time: If they closed in on the net too much, if we pulled them off the court, or if they were dominating the point. I don't normally use lobs in this manner but most of the time I did it we would came away the winner. Lyla was anxiously waiting for an opportunity to put the ball away at the net. It all worked and we won the second set in a tiebreaker.
A couple of our teammates watched the end of our match and later said they were surprised that I could lob like that. One gal even said that those lobs would have driven her crazy. At first I was a little embarrassed; these gals are experience 4.0 players and are used to pounding ground strokes-a lob at this level seems a little elementary. However, if you have identified a weakness and your opponents can't adjust shouldn't you try to keep that strategy going? Believe me, I would much rather win a match with solid ground strokes hit with pinpoint accuracy, but sometimes a player's got to do what a player's got to do. I know my teammates meant nothing by the comment and would never want to offend me or anyone on our team, but I've heard adverse comments about lobbing since I first began tennis.
So here is the question, "Why is lobbing so looked down upon?" If you are taught a lob shouldn't you get to use it in a match? I think even the pro's use this shot to win a match: Michael Chang came back to win a match with the lob against, I think, Ivan Lendl. I'm not comparing myself in any way to those great players I'm just using them to make my point that at any level of tennis the lob shouldn't be shunned. What are your thoughts?
I did laugh at myself as I saw our opponents frustrated by my lobs because I felt deep down inside it was a "cheap" way to win a match. But I just want someone to explain to me why.
My other competitive match this past week was a singles game that I played against Becky Samuelson who has the best topspin lob and frustrates most of her opponents with it. We always have a good battle on court and enjoy playing against each other. I won-barely-in a third set tiebreaker.
Over the past couple of weeks I've been on court in several different tennis situations: singles matches, doubles, drills, and private lessons and the topic of this past year keeps coming up. Questions like, "Are you ready for this project to be over?" "Are you ready to play for 'fun' again?" "Have you accomplished all you were hoping to?" "Are you striving for USTA 4.5 rating?" These questions are a little challenging for me to answer because I've had a blast setting and documenting my goals/progress. Though at times it was hard writing the brutal truth of me falling apart on court or having a bad attitude towards a situation, it was just as rewarding writing about accomplishing a specific goal or beating a player I thought I would never beat. I know I still have a few more weeks left but I can't help to start to reflect on this journey and see the finish line around the corner. I'm a big believer in what I call "process and digest." Which simply means, "Give yourself time to swallow the situation and let it settle before providing an opinion."
So I'll get back to the courts. I played in another USTA 4.0 match, this time with Richelle Johansen who was on my USTA 3.5 team last year and was moved up with me this year. I can't even tell you how much I enjoy being on court with her because of the confidence she brings. It just rubs off on her partners and you end up playing fantastic tennis. We played against two ladies that had been playing USTA 4.0 for a while and brought experience to the court. Richelle and I noticed two things during warm-up: They both put a ton of spin on the ball and they both like to talk. Richelle and I are both distracted by chatter on court and just like to walk out there, play tennis, and chitchat after the match. We had to really focus on staying in our zone and ignoring the conversation.
The first set we spent the first couple of games getting familiar with our opponents, testing shots, moving them around the court, and serving to different locations trying to identify a few weaknesses. What we noticed is one lady could move to any ball and put it back in play; the other lady was intimidated by Richelle's strong forehand and didn't like my poaching. So, our strategy was for Richelle to hit a great approach shot and I would move in and poach the ball for a winner. We played very well with each other and captured the first set 6-4.
The second set we were up 3-0 when we had a little mental breakdown to allow them a couple of games to even the score three all. However, I never felt the danger of us losing that second set. I was so confident in our ability on court that even though we had a hiccup I knew we would win. I wish I always had the feeling because it allows you to play freely and unrestricted. I know some of you out there are saying, "That's how one should always play." I couldn't agree more and I'm really working toward that mindset. I'm getting there and I practice the mental side of tennis every chance I get.
Just as I had felt we would, we won the second set, 6-4. Our team also won on another court so we won another 4.0 match. That puts my record at 2-2. I'm very proud of my transition so far this year. I'm still working on return of serve and trying to set my partner up for success instead of a beating. One of our teaching pros at the club, Larry Yocum, suggested that I get on court with my husband Thom and have him hit serves to me while I stand between the service line and baseline. Thom is a strong server and Larry feels this will get me accustomed to a strong serve plus standing between the baseline and service line forces you to have a shorter back swing and less time to wind up on the ball. I am planning on doing this and I will report back.
Looking ahead: I'm playing in another 4.0 match, some time with Nancy on court, and tons of shopping to do for the holidays.
Over the past couple of weeks I have played in two USTA 4.0 matches. I’ve won one and lost the other. In both matches, I found myself marveling at the level of tennis that was being played. I have to remind myself to stay focused on the tennis and forget how impressive my opponent’s strokes appear. These gals have been playing tennis for years and have the fluidity that I strive to achieve. This just makes me want to work harder in practice and really zone in on shots that I would like to improve. These matches have also identified an area of my game that needs some attention – my return of serve.
In the past, I’ve always been fairly consistent with my return of serve. I really didn’t give too many “free” points away. But since I’ve been facing better opponents – and hence better serves – I haven’t been as effective. I’ve played in three USTA 4.0 matches and in all three matches I’ve struggled with the return of serve. These gals can hit lines, add spin and kick the serve all over the place. I spoke with Nancy and explained that I really need to work on this part of my game. This one area can really make or break a match.
Let me explain: In my last match I played with Zena Kyle, very dependable player with a good grasp of what it takes to win at this level. I played the deuce side and because I struggled to return both of our opponents’ serves, she was constantly trying get us into the game. This puts pressure on her to always come up with the return to keep us in the game. Since we lost the first set in a tiebreaker, my return of serve played a huge part in the result. Had I been able to return my serves, we might have won that tiebreaker and captured the first set. The second set, I just sliced the returns back into play so at least we could have a chance at the point. Sometimes this would set my partner up to have balls slammed at her by the opposing net person. She handled most of those balls just fine but as a partnership it is my responsibility to hold up my end of the court. That is where my focus will lie this week in practice with Nancy.
In addition to the doubles matches, I did play one singles match. I played against Sheila Ost, a very sweet lady who really wants everyone on court to have a good experience. I started out very strong and was hitting really well. Then I started to lose my focus and rush the points and therefore lost the first set. Sheila played steady and smart. During the change-over Sheila explained how she turned that first set around to come back and beat me. She said that if she could get me moving out wide on my backhand side, she could read my shot and be in position to put the ball away. At first, I didn’t know what to make of what she was telling me. I’ve never had anyone explain to me what that did to beat me.
Going into the second set, I could hear Sheila’s voice ringing in my ears: “if I can pull you out wide I know where you will go with your next shot.”As I was thinking about what she had said I noticed that she was executing that same strategy and pulling me off court. She was right, I placed the next shot right where she had anticipated and she put the ball away for a winner. I giggled to myself because I’ve never had someone be kind enough to explain what they were doing to beat me. But if we are talking about generosity, then I have to mention my contribution – I kept giving her the exact shot she was wanting. I quickly changed my pattern and went on to win the second set and the tiebreaker to win the match. I felt a little guilty because she really was trying to be kind and give me some helpful tips and I just ran with it. After the match I chatted with Sheila and explained to her that I have never had an opponent give up so much information and strategy. I told her I would not reveal what was working against an opponent. I’m just too competitive. Nonetheless, it was a nice match and she was a great opponent.
Looking ahead: I have to focus my attention on return of serve and not getting too lost in how great my opponents are – just remind myself that I fought my way to this level. I am a scrappy player and my tennis game may not always look as technically sound but I will fight for every point.
I competed in my first USTA 4.0 match last weekend. I found myself surprising calm and confident about the match. I played with Sarah Kreutzer whom I've played several matches with so maybe that contributed to my absence of my nerves. During warm up our opponent kept killing the ball and making it very difficult to have a proper warm up. I really don't know why people do this; it just really isn't necessary and is somewhat childish, in my opinion.
The first game we broke their serve right off the bat and fairly easily. I served next and won my serve again fairly easily. At this point I was thinking, "What in the world?" I know I've improved but come on not to this level of domination. Then they switched their serving formation to the "I" formation, because I was hitting a solid return crosscourt that gave them some trouble. Though I didn't panic, I just wasn't sure where to aim my return. I ended up hitting down the line which they obviously were hoping I would do because they handled that return just fine. Once they were able to get the ball in play they would control the point. These gals didn't hit with much power but they could place their shots.
Sarah and I began to slide down hill very fast and couldn't keep up. One of the gals hit with a lot of slice and Sarah struggled with it a bit. They also began running me across the back baseline with lobs. Needless to say, we lost the first set 6-2. That's right, they won six games in a row-brutal!
The second set I was still convinced that Sarah and I could win. I really didn't think our opponents were giving us anything we couldn't handle. The second set mirrored the first set with several balls sliced back to us and several baseline lob rallies. We tried to hang in there but the proved to be too tough for us and we lost the second set 6-3. I was a little frustrated leaving the court because I felt like we could have give them a better match but we just didn't. I know I've entered a more experienced level of tennis but I am forever the optimist and thinking and believing that I can win. Now I just have to back it up with the proper strategy.
That's how we lost this match. They discovered early in the first set that we could dominate with crosscourt shots and power so they changed up the target and made us come up with different shots. Very smart. They didn't out hit us they out maneuvered us. Our top court played tough but lost in a third set tiebreaker and we also lost our third court. Not a good day for our team.
The following Monday I had a lesson with Nancy. I was very anxious to get her advice on how to the "I" formation. She explained that the ideal scenario is to keep hitting crosscourt because that would be a very tough volley for the net person to hit (it wouldn't be a winner volley). She said they changed their positioning to throw us off and avoid my crosscourt shot.
She also stated that hitting down the line is not the wrong approach-definitely test the shot and make sure they can handle it, but know that's what they are hoping for. Lesson learned.
We also worked on my serve and trying to set up my partner with it. I am now able to hit with spin on my second serve. This is something I have been working on for a few months now and in the beginning it didn't look like I would ever be able to execute this it. However, by practicing and watching myself in the mirror, as Nancy had suggested, I've been able to finally add this to my bag of tricks. I'm still struggling a bit with spinning the ball out wide from the ad side of the court but I'm working on it.
To wrap up this entry, I was pleased with my performance in my first USTA 4.0 match. I was surprised at the new level of strategy and experience but I don't feel it's anything I can adjust to and handle in future matches.
On a special note: I wanted to congratulate our Midtown women's USTA 3.0 team that competed this past weekend in Las Vegas at the USTA League National Championships. They came away with the 3rd place trophy and made Missouri Valley proud. Way to go ladies.
Thanks for stopping by,
Next week: I'm playing in another USTA match and a singles match.