Given today’s soggy weather, I will journey into my own modest past playing USTA junior events on har-tru/green clay. I remember two losses that could have gone the other direction had I been less stubborn on court.
Lesson from Match One – Vary Service Speeds and Placements
In the early round of an event, I drew an opponent who was roughly my equal. My footwork on clay was never as solid as it was on hard courts (still true today). I recall being the more powerful player and better volleyer, but my opponent was more consistent. I had one big advantage in that I was winning a lot of free points on my serve or getting easy volleys off of a big serve. So in my own teenage mind, I just thought keep throwing pace at him off of the serve and win. As the match went on, I kept going for the same speed serves in two basic spots (up the T and out wide). He eventually started getting a lot more serves back and making some of those volleys tougher with better returns. I lost two close sets. When we shook hands, he told me, “I’d hate to face your serve on a hard court.” His comment was the only reason I really remember the match at all. A hard court would likely would have helped me, but by giving my opponent the same 2 looks on every first serve, I set the stage for a loss. If a weapon becomes predictable, it had better be a weapon an opponent has no possible answer for because otherwise its relative value will shrink. I had a good kick serve. I could slice my serve. I could serve the body. I failed to do any of those things.
Lesson from Match Two – Have My Equipment Ready
I remember this match because I had faced the same player at a hard court junior tournament a few weeks earlier. That match was a close 3 set loss. I felt I could avenge that result even though I was never a fan of playing on green clay. In a similar manner to our earlier match, we split the first two sets. I had won the 2nd set and felt I had figured him out to some extent. I had two racquets, but one was strung in a manner that I really liked. The other was overdue for a string job, but I so rarely broke strings I was holding out until after the tournament to get both strung the same way. Well, I broke a string in the 3rd set and my level of play dropped. Some of the drop was probably psychological, but I also just felt like my other racquet was dead. Well, I lost a close 3rd set. The crazy thing about this is I was pretty meticulous with my equipment. I had my towel, water, extra pair of socks, and hat with me at all times. I just took a risk on my back-up racquet that I normally would never have taken.
These seem like simple lessons. However, if one is coaching a junior player, it may be worth finding a way to remind a teenager of the simple aspects of the sport because taking care of those can prevent some complex situations from arising on court.