When you are playing on a decent club level you come up against a lot of retrievers. Guys that run everything down but don’t give you any pace and you need to hit solid shot after solid shot and after a while you break down completely and start missing.
Today I played retriever. He has a solid game, no real strengths except for the willingness to run, but no obvious weaknesses either. I decide to pound on his one-handed backhanded that he insists on blocking back and then go for all short shots. I started out well, winning the first set easily 6-1.
After holding serve easily to 1-0 in the second set I felt confident. Things were going my way. I was going to win this in two.
Never think you’re going to win, before the match is over. Never.
Because then he held serve and in the game after I made a few silly mistakes. I didn’t move my feet and mishit a few forehands. Somehow, already here, I felt the match slipping a bit and started kicking myself. I had a breakpoint in his serve at 1-2 but gave that away as well. I was down 1-3 and fuming, in desperate need of raising my game. I let out a scream. I come back and I fought my way to 3-all and then to 4-3 after a good service game and then I broke serve to 5-3, ready to put the nail in the coffin. I spent lots of energy in those games, but I relaxed too soon and thought the match was over.
At 5-3 I choked. My legs were suddenly heavy, I felt the sun beating down on me, and I started to badly miss-time my forehand. The shot I depend on. The shot that wins me matches. Suddenly the wheels fell off completely. I sprayed balls long and quickly landed in tilt mode.
After 4 completely horrible games, I lost the second set 5-7 against a player I beat 9 times out of 10. A meltdown that simply shouldn’t happen. What did I do wrong?
In retrospect it’s easy to see that:
1. I thought I had won the match too soon.
2. I relaxed when I was vulnerable.
3. I underestimated my opponent.
4. I lost my patience and thought “the rest is easy”.
In the third I switch strategy and decide to do something I read from Brad Gilbert’s excellent book “Winning ugly”. I stay patient, give him no pace back, hit heavy top spin on his backhand and don’t go for any crazy winners. I promise myself not to play one sloppy point.
And it works. I break him down in the end, only one break to the good because I’m definitely not playing well, just patiently. But winning is what counts and the set ends 6-3 in my favour. Thanks Brad Gilbert for that piece of advice.
Some tips from the book:
Patience is your greatest ally – this is what I tried today.
Prepare to suffer – Believe me, I did.
Bring the retriever to the net – I tried this as well, maybe not often enough.
Get to the net – I should have done this more!
Softer is harder – they feed off pace, so I give them no pace.