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« OK, Here's the Plan Bouncing Back »
Win some, lose some
Posted 01/17/2007 @ 9 :25 AM

As I mentioned in my last entry, I participated in the 6.5 Combo District Championships at the Courtside Club in Los Gatos this past weekend. The weather was a factor all weekend. It was sunny, freezing cold (for California anyway) and often windy. Some of the first guys I spoke to were Lance and George from the Claremont Resort and Spa in Berkeley and they said something like, “Hey, you’re the guy from!” It turns out Lance had heard about my blog from Peter Bodo’s TennisWorld and forwarded it to his team as a potential scouting report. When I began writing, I decided to accept the risk of highlighting my weaknesses to others through the blog, but I felt on the plus side it would give me more incentive to shore them up. I was surprised though by how quickly this came into play. And, as it turned out, we faced Claremont in our first match.

I found the desire to record my experiences to share with you on this blog to be curiously at odds with the need to keep returning to the moment. Some part of my brain wanted to leave the moment to form a narrative in my head to write down later, and I found myself frequently making a conscious effort to release those thoughts, just as I had to let go of the awareness of the San Jose Swim and Racquet Club cheering section. I was glad they were there and I enjoyed receiving their support, but I had to resist the desire to interact with them and to register my delight that my wife and her parents were among them. The thought of you all, who ever you are, was with me too and I had to let go of forming the story in my head as it is happening, so I could focus on making my happy ending.

When it was over, I found myself with a mixed bag of moments. Some highlights, some low lights.

Match 1. Mike Ravel and I versus Herb Schreier and Chris Mok from Claremont Resort and Spa in Berkeley. We lost in two sets, 6-2, 6-4

Highlights: This loss didn’t hurt as bad as some losses do. I felt like I was playing pretty well. I was effectively varying my serves between slice, topspin and flat. Mike and I stayed positive and never gave up. We resisted the temptation to share hostilities with Chris, who has a bit of WWF in his playing style. I felt good about this because a) it would be distracting and b) it’s not really who I want to be on the court.

Lowlights: Chris did a great job of taking over the net either with Herb, who was also solid in the forecourt, or by poaching on his own. Mike and I never really dialed in on our passing shots or lobs. In particular, my backhand lob was often short, leading to big overheads from Chris.

Memorable moment: I was pretty offended when, after we broke Chris’s serve he sent a ball between us on a line drive into the fence. My back was turned at the time and I found myself thinking, “How would I respond if that ball had hit me. OK, let it go. Maybe he’ll self-destruct”. There were no hard feelings after the match. In fact we got to the know the guys from Claremont over the weekend and I’ll be rooting for them to do well in the next round in Fresno. In you guys read this, come back and tell us how it goes!

Match 2. Mike Ravel and I versus Paul and Patrick Lam—father and son, isn’t that cool?—from Mission Hills in Freemont. We won 4-6, 6-4, 10-7

Highlights: I bounced back from a break in confidence that I really struggled with for a couple games. Mike did a great job of holding us up when I was struggling. I dug out several tough backhand volleys that Patrick hit down the middle, and I ran down a number of lobs to keep us in and win some tough points. Late in the match I took the net more aggressively to good effect. I specifically warmed up deep backhand lobs to regain confidence in that shot from the prior match and did better with them. I was able to break the feeling of negative momentum when it was going against us and to nurture the feeling of positive momentum when we started to turn the tide.

Lowlights: My serve was not on for most of the match, though I was able to bring a weaker first serve in to close out the match. I struggled to handle several volleys at my body and had a general dip in confidence where I couldn’t find a good feel for most of my shots. I can’t wait to get deeper into my practice regime

Memorable moments: I remember a long point early in the second set where I ran down several tough shots, then closed to the net to attack and win the point. I suddenly felt like myself again flowing from shot to shot and felt this internal certainty. I felt that was a turning point and I smiled and breathed in the feeling and felt this calm, warm, glow spread to my eyes and through my whole body. Periodically throughout the rest of the match I recreated the feeling with a smile and a breath. I’ve heard that the physical act of smiling can actually cause the body to release chemicals that are connected with feelings of well being. Anyway, even now as I’m typing I’m smiling and breathing, and I can feel that calm, confident feeling, like I’m smiling with my whole body. In a tender moment, this would feel like compassion. In a competitive moment it feels like fierce presence, as if I’m saying “I am here and ready. Bring it.” Well, I didn’t mean to wax nearly metaphysical on you, but there it is.

I also remember a point in the tiebreaker when I was trading forehands with Paul and I decided to charge the net even though he’d hit a deep shot to me. It was a sequence just like my pro Ken Dehart talks about. I closed about halfway to the net and did my split-step just as Paul struck the ball. I moved through the volley which Patrick jumped on—he’s lightening fast, with good hands and he knocked the ball toward my chest. I was able to continue forward through the volley and strike it back into his body and jammed him up winning the point. Yes! Effective aggression feels so good! This came at a time when we were pulling ahead in the tiebreak, which I believe ended at 10-7.

It was an exciting weekend for our team, with five wins and four losses and all the wins coming in breakers. I find myself wanting to call out the highpoints of my teammates’ matches, but this entry is already starting to look like a novel. We didn’t do quite well enough to make it through to the sectionals in Fresno, so this season is over. Most of us will remain together on the 3.5 team for the upcoming season, so it doesn’t feel much like an ending. Thanks Captain Keith and the whole team for a great season. Also special thanks to Anna, the U.S.T.A. staff and volunteers for running a great District Championship tournament, and to Courtside Club for hosting it.

Next week I need to squeeze in tennis somehow despite three, all day team meetings; sort out a weekly morning hitting partner; and do some planning for the upcoming 3.5 season.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone out there who visits my blog, even if it’s just to say hello. And if any of you actually saw the matches this past weekend, I’d love to hear any comments or constructive feedback because an outside perspective can be so valuable.

Have a great one!


Next week: Joe talks about his plan for the next season.

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Good job at the districts. Sounds like you have a good attitude about competing.

It is cool you gave your captain some credit. Sorry you didn't make it to sectionals, but picking up a win at districts can only help your cause to reach 4.0.
Excellent writeup.

What Joe doesn't record in his post is how consistently friendly and sunny he was, despite that first day loss to my teammates, Chris and Herb. (And BTW, your description of Chris's WWF style is absolutely spot on. Hope no offense was taken.)

Whatever pointers Chris may have taken from Joe's blog, here's my memory of that first match. I saw the second set after George and I won quickly against Joe's teammates. Joe was visibly the stronger player on his team and, watching from the pavilion, I wanted to shout to our guys to pick on Mike (sorry, Mike). Joe's athleticism and solid shots meant there was very little joy to be had from attacking him. If I were on Joe's team I'd be encouraging him to get to the net more often so he didn't have to scramble in defense from the backcourt.

My most distinct memory of the districts, other than winning our group (go Claremont!), was the good humor, sportsmanship and friendship of all the players I met in Los Gatos. Joe was the first person George and I met and he definitely set the tone. I'll look forward to meeting you in some future matches, Joe.

Thanks! I do enjoy competing and try to balance my intense desire to win against, enjoying the experience and being the kind of person that I like being around.

Well Left:
Thanks and yes, I hope Captain Keith knows how much we appreciate all his efforts. It's a lot of work to be a good team Captain and he certainly is. I've enjoyed 2 fun, exciting, winning seasons that he has organized (along with co-captain Steve).

Hey Lance!

Go Claremont! Thanks for the kind words and sharing the first hand perspective. The feeling was mutual, you guys were a pleasure to be around. Regarding getting to the net. Yes! I've been emphasizing gaining comfort trading on the baseline, but need to get back to capturing the net, especially in doubles. I had success with that at the close of the second match and found myself thinking, "Why didn't I do this earlier?" I should have listened more to VT in my last entry. Hope to see you again soon on the web or on the court. Maybe you guys would like to schedule a practice match to stay sharp in prep for Fresno if the distance isn't too great?


I liked your bit on smiling and breathing. Those are two great techniques to help keep you focused instead of getting down when things are not going well.

I had a 3.5 doubles match last week. Me and my partner went down 0-6 in the first set. At that point, the only thing I could do was smile. Funny thing was, I noticed my game picked up a bit. We lost the second set 4-6, but at the end of the day, it felt good to show some progress against a pretty good team.

Didn't Tim Gallwey say something about breathing in his book "The Inner Game of Tennis"? Has anybody here read that book? It's been a while since I read it, but it's a classic.

I know what you mean. I sometimes find when I have nothing left to lose, I play better. Better to bounce back then, than to spiral down from there. I also want to be careful not to wait to be down 40 luv, or 5-0 to get better, so I work on lowering the stakes to begin with.

I haven't yet read the Inner Game of Tennis, though I've heard great things. I have read Smart Tennis, by Dr. John Murray and found it to be very helpful!

I read "The Inner Game of Tennis" and its sequel, "Inner Tennis: Playing the Game," way back in the '70s and it definitely changed the way I looked at competition. Gallwey had some remarkable insights about how our ego gets in the way when we compete and keeps us from performing complex physical tasks as efficiently as we might. It's an easy read and you could finish it in a day, and it still holds up after all these years. In fact, I think I'm going to get it and read it again this weekend for old time's sake.


I've read you blogs and I'm really impressed with your attention to detail and great efforts. Feel free to email me any time with questions about how you can tweak the mental game ever better, as I am sure there will be as many ups and downs mentally as there are in stroke improvement. You are very right about the smiling making you play better and stay more positive. This reminds me of the famous William James who talked about how acting a certain way can influence your emotions to feel that way. It's right along the same lines of knowing that you are the author of your own mental state and that there are no mental limitations. You create the emotions and thoughts you want - and hopefully that will take you to a better game and more fun too. Good that you are aware of your own frustration level and able to moderate it. It was interesting that you are thinking about your blog writing on the court. That is kind of ironic, as that which we are trying to use to help you could indeed throw off your focus if you think about it too much. I think the best bet would be to focus on your tennis and then later jot some notes down and reflect on your efforts, mental skills and actual physical performances. Your challenge there is very much like a top player here in Melbourne who is distracted by media attention after his or her first big win! The key is to keep those distractions to a minimum while still having fun and not going into a complete monestary of perfect focus! Anyway, I thought I would chime in and I am so thrilled by your efforts and goals. We're cheering for you .... so go for it!

John F Murray

Howdy Joe,

I reread "The Inner Game of Tennis" this weekend. I read it the first time 30+ years ago and thought it was incredibly insightful, and I'm pleased to say that I think it holds up really well after all these years. I'm gonna send you (and Kellie) a copy and see what you two think.


It's been a rough week on the tennis front. I had four days in a row with almost every waking hour scheduled for work, civic meetings and social engagements. I was so excited to be out of a chair and on the courts on Thursday for my clinics and recreational play. Then on Friday I woke with a nasty muscle spasm in my upper back that's lingering still. I'm confident that Dr. Sherry, my excellent chiropractor will soon have me sorted out. I plan to play early next week but depending on how I feel, I may avoid serving. It feels like the asymetrical movement of serving, particularly top spin seves tossed high and deeper behind me, are more likely to trigger what's ailing me.

Dr. John:
Thanks for the insights and support you've shared in our conversations to date. I will keep an eye on my internal as well as my physical game to work with you further. I feel pretty humbled, as a player at my level, to be in conversation with a leading sport's psychologist.

Thanks, I will look forward to reading and discussing it ("The Inner Game of Tennis")!


After reading the 'Inner Game of Tennis' this past weekend I went into my weekly doubles match last night with a different mindset. We play one set with each player—in other words three sets with a different partner each time. Historically we've been pretty closely matched and our sets are often 6-4 or 7-5.

Last night however I won every set I played and the scores were 6-0, 6-1, 6-2. We even had time for a fourth set which I won 6-3. It was amazing 'cause I wasn't too concerned with winning; I just "let it happen". And it did! I haven't hit that many winners in a long time. Serves, volleys, groundies, drop shots, returns of serve, passing shots, topspin lobs, you name it. I even hit a couple of short-angled passing shots off my backhand that I could only laugh at (to myself, of course). And three times one of my opponents tried to nail me with a high volley and I hit reflex volley winners right past them because everything felt in slow motion.

I'm looking forward to your reading this book.


Hey, Joe and Mike.
Thanks for a great follow up effort on the 2nd match. As it turns out all the top 3 teams were 2-1 at Districts, so we missed moving on by one win. Oh well, next is 3.5.
Joe, what you didn't mention was my great coaching after your 1st set loss. As I recall, I said, "You are thinking about all this @#$%^&** tennis stuff way too much. Start hitting the !@#$%^&*$% ball hard!" I am glad you did that and it clearly changed your game. You can emote later. See ya in 3.5's. Team practice this Sunday.
Captain Keith

Well Joe, it's great to see your positive force out there in the world. Your smiling technique seems to have spurred a lot of others to remember to "play" and also brought up some good books to check out. I may just read "The Inner Game of Tennis" myself. :)

Way to go Tony! Man, doesn't hitting a groove like that feel great? So maybe it doesn't have to be so rare, huh? I just got the book and look forward to reading it. I'll let you know my experiences trying to put it into practice.

Captain Keith:
Yes I continue to benefit from your gentle guidance and support.

HoneyG: Triple Love you!

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