Learning Tennis for Baby-Boomers (over 45)
Tennis Blog by Mark Gallagher
Send Feedback: mark@gallagher.com

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Tim Henman Tennis Swing

This is the swing you want.
Tim Henman (pro) with the classic
low to high top-spin forehand.

Purpose of this site:  Share experience of a 54 year old guy (Mark Gallagher) as he learns the game, attempts to become a competitive 4.0 club player,  have fun, and get some good exercise. I  started playing tennis in 2003 at the age of 49.

 

New Quick Poll #2  (started June, 2006)

 

 

Results of Quick Poll #1  (Jan - May 2006)

Tennis Blog  by Mark Gallagher
Send Feedback: mark@gallagher.com


Summer 2010

Slugging it out in the singles league and my Wednesday regular doubles group.

Had one good win over Chris playing a serve and volley game. When I run into a player with mediocre service return I find I can come in on almost every serve and win a lot of quick points. If I get into a baseline rally with any player I will lose the point the majority of the time because of inconsistency in my basic ground strokes. But my double play has improved my volley, so the serve and volley works.

But, I lost badly to Steve because he always returns my serve low down the middle, so my volley is down near my feet and I can't do anything with it.  Note to self, when returning against a serve and volley guy sometimes best to take something off your service return but get it back down the middle creating a tough volley for your opponent.  There is a tendency to hit your return harder against the serve and volley player (because they are being aggressive so you think I must hit an aggressive return), but you are better off hitting a weaker return that is well placed.  The volley guys hate that.

My doubles group on Wednesday nights is great. These are mostly 4.0 guys that have been playing together for over four years and we really know each others games, so we have a lot of long rallies.  Fun stuff.


May / June  2008

Changed racquets.  I now use the Wilson K Factor KBlade Team racquet.

Love this racquet, it's pretty lightweight and has a nice balance of power and control. It also has a big sweet spot, good for a player at my skill level.

I'm playing doubles with my regular guys on Tuesday nights and having fun with that. 

In order to go the next level I need to work on my conditioning, a workout that will improve stamina, strength and foot work.  This is the killer weakness of over 50 tennis - slow footwork.  There are many excellent training programs tailored to your sport and your age.  I need to come up with a plan and do it.


March / April  2008

Winter 4.0 singles league results  Finished in 3rd place out of 7 players with 5 wins, 3 losses and one tie. This is the 4.0 league at Wheaton Sport Center and most of the players are 3.5 to 4.0 level and their was one player that was a legitimate 4.5 player.  He smoked all the members of this league.

One problem I have - I play to the level of my opponent. I play better against a good player but I play down to a less skilled player.  It's all mental - I have to be mentally tougher and more consistent.

Serving into your opponent.  I'm learning at the club level of play, a lot of your opponents do not have quick foot speed or quick reaction times, so if you serve the ball into their body, they don't adjust and hit a weak return.  Also, many opponents have a weaker return to a serve to their backhand side.  So I try to aim my serve into their body but to the backhand side of their body.  You need to mix it up, but I find if I try to hit my serve wide, I have a higher fault rate, and if my opponent reaches the serve, he takes full swing on the return.  Better to keep it closer to their body and it's an easier serve to get in.

Travel Team Results (3.5 - 3.9 level). Our team finished in 3rd place. My record was 4 wins, 4 losses and one tie, playing singles.  A real mixed bag. Our team made the playoffs (where we lost in the first round. I play the #4 singles spot and my play was all over the map. My conditioning is not where it needs to be and I lost some matches when the footwork got sloppy in later sets when I was tired.  I have to say, many times playing on this team this season, it was not fun because I was frustrated with my game.  I really need to change things up next season and work on conditioning or perhaps skip this season and let other club members play.

I hate Doubles.  Ok, I don't hate it, but many times I feel completely lost playing doubles. The fact is I don't really like doubles. I play it because I think it helps my singles game - more experience hitting volleys, etc. I also play to network with other players I like at the club that play a lot of doubles.

People assume if you are over 50,  you must play a lot of doubles and like it.  I don't. I like singles tennis. I met a tennis instructor at the club for the first time and she said to me "you play a lot of doubles, right ?".  No, I play as little doubles as possible. Ok, Mark, take it easy.


January / February 2008

Tennis Drills with Women  I had an opportunity to drill with a woman pro and 3 women players at about the 4.0 level. It was more fun and I hit more balls compared to drills I've done in the past with the guys. The drills with women were more about maintaining rallies, working on shots, supportive comments, sustaining a rhythm to a drill.  When I first started with the women I was trying to win points during the drill. But then I realized that winning points quickly was not the goal, the goal was to be consistent, show good form and be competitive.

Hey you older guys trying to improve your game, try to get into drills at your club run by women.

Recent Match Play - all over the board. In January I lost two travel team matches to retrievers that hit moon balls.  Very discouraging.  But in the past two weeks I beat two guys in my league that are good players and I won by being more consistent in my ground strokes and a good return of serve (two of my long-term weaknesses).  Let's hope it's a trend.


December 2007

Hitting Through the Ball  (and the problem of heavy top spin)

I've taken several lessons from different pros at our club.  Most the pros are in their 30's and they work a lot with younger players. I'm 53 years old and I'm trying to learn the game and move up to the 4.0 level.  

Most of the pros teach the heavy top spin groundstrokes and I've been working on that for two years. I started playing tennis with a natural slice on both forehand and backhand because of years of playing squash in my youth.  But I now hit the ball from low to high.

But I don't think the heavy top spin shots are the right approach for an older player that is learning the game. The heavy top spin strokes require a lot of energy and good timing and in matches this approach can result in a lot of unforced errors and tire you out.

When I started trying to hit a big top spin shot, I jumped up with my feet trying to get the big power behind the shot.  I also started putting a lot of wrist movement into the shot. This only resulted in poor balance and wild shots.

I read a great article in Tennis Magazine about the advantages of hitting through the ball with a natural but more subtle low to high swing (not much wrist movement).  Instead of concentrating on a fast brush up behind the ball, you concentrate on hitting through the ball and hit deeper, more penetrating shots with some top spin to keep the ball in the court.  The backswing for these shots is more fluid and balanced  and no jumping as you hit the ball.

This is the swing I am working on now.  I'm hoping it reduces my unforced errors.

Watch the groundstrokes of Lindsey Davenport and Daniela Hantuchova.  They both hit through the ball with some top spin and balanced footwork.

_______________________________________

Fighting for Ties.

My last two matches on the club travel team have resulted in ties. We ran out of time tied at 1 set each. In both cases I lost the first set after a long battle with retrievers. In the second set I told myself to just play as hard as you can and go out swinging.  In both cases my unforced errors went down in the second set.  I think I stopped thinking too much. I have to find a way to start matches better - a more confident and relaxed mental attitude going into the first set.


September 2007

How to beat Dave.

Dave defeated me in our last meeting in the club 4.0 league. This is his game:

- Good forehand, weak backhand, always runs around a ball hit to his backhand,

- Good retriever, hits a lot of balls back, moves well, plays conservative to avoid errors, waits for you to make mistakes, will come to net after his first serve,

- Sometimes loses track of the score after long rallies and at critical points in a  game, nice guy, somewhat quirky on court habits,

Last time I lost with this strategy:

- Always try to hit deep to his backhand and move in to volley winner off his slow backhand return,

- Serve hard to his backhand side on first serve, put lots of spin on second serve, play aggressive, when he comes to net go for down the line passing shots.,

Why I lost last time:

- Many errors trying to place ball deep to his backhand, he hits many good passing shots when I come to net, he is anticipating my hits to his backhand,

- Lose patience when I fall behind in the game, looking at the clock, getting annoyed with discussions trying to re-create the current score, many unforced errors playing aggressive during rallies.,

- Trying to pinpoint first serve to his backhand is reducing my first serve percentage,

New match, this was my new strategy after reviewing Winning Ugly:

- His real weakness is the running backhand, so I decide to try to start all rallies by hitting first to his forehand and then to his backhand,

- Hit a high-percentage first serve aimed directly at Dave, nothing big, he does not hit big returns so just get the point started (tall guy, foot speed is just OK, so hitting it at him forces him to adjust),

- Only come to net when clear advantage is offered, grind it out, stay patient, make him hit more balls,

- When he comes to net, don't try for big passing shots, hit softer top-spin shots that drop to his feet,

- Pay attention to the score, call out score when he does not or ask for score at all key situations, stay friendly, compliment him on good shots.

Results - it worked, I won 8 - 5


August 2007

I think I am hitting the ball better.  The lessons I took from Matt earlier in the summer seem to be taking hold. But it has taken many weeks and I'm still thinking too much about the change to my swing.

I'm trying to take the ball earlier on both sides and take less of a follow-through on my one handed backhand - hit through the ball with a shorter swing. I'm also trying to stay more balanced on the baseline, not jump at the ball trying to get more power or fall back as I hit the ball.. 

I think I'm breathing better. I try to tell myself to inhale when my opponent hits the ball, that way I should exhale as I hit the ball.

The other mental change I am making is to tell myself I enjoy a long rally. In the past I have trouble in rallies (hold my breath, don't turn my torso, hit the ball in front of me) and have unforced errors.  Now I try to tell myself I want a long rally, they are fun.  Try to relax more in a rally.

I've got some league games starting and the travel team starts in September, so let's see if the perceived improvement is real during match play.


July 2007

Did not play much tennis this month.  A lot of my regular guys play golf in the summer. I'm still playing with my regular doubles group on Tuesday nights.


June 2007

Finished the Men's 4.0 Singles League (Spring) with record of 6 wins and 3 losses and finished third..

That's the best I have done in this league, but I am not happy with my game. Still frustrated with a lack of consistency in my groundstrokes.  Something is not right.  I took several private lessons with a club pro and we identified needed changes in my swing, but it's not taking so far.  Just need to work at it.

Also, breathing is still a problem. I hold my breath in the middle of important rallies. Not good. Causes your heart rate to go up and you get winded and tired and then the footwork goes.  It's something I am trying to focus on (to exhale when I hit the ball), but it is still a problem.

Some 4.0 League Match Highlights: 

Win over Mark (8-3) I'm not hitting the ball that great, but Mark is making lots of mistakes. .

Lose to Mike (1-8) Wow, I have not lost this bad in a while. Mike is a retriever, gets everything, cagey, lot of experience, anticipates well, spots my weaknesses (backhand, overheads), hits good lobs when I rush the net, good return of serve, moves well, no great shots, just all-round good player.  I try rushing to net, but his lobs always hit within one foot of the baseline.

Win over Walter (8-4) Goes for big shots all the time, but hits a lot of them long.  I just wait him out and he makes mistakes.  Good win for me, because I have done drills with him and thought he was probably a better player.

Win over Dave (8-5) I play very aggressive with Dave and rush to net after every first serve and after chipping back a return of his serve.  It works and Dave makes a lot of errors going for passing shots.  The second time I play Dave in this league,  I lose.  He is hitting his passing shots and making way fewer errors.  My overheads, particularly from low lobs are a clear weakness, errors hear probably cost me 3 games.  I think too much when I see a lob, and react late with sloppy footwork and typically hit the ball long.

Win over Sean (8-5) Big win for me because I have lost to  Sean in past league play. Lefty with a big serve. I loosen the grip on my racquet for the return, punch the ball back in play and break him twice. I am serving well and hold my serve.  I notice Sean hits a lot of low balls into the net, so I start slicing some balls low to his backhand.

Lose to Mike again (2-8) My tactic the second time is to only go to net if in a clear advantage (not get beat by his lob) and accept that I just need to play consistent, expect him to get to every ball, mix it up with short balls and long balls.  I'm doing a bit better, but it's 100 degrees and humid in this indoor hard court and I'm getting tired.  I'm fighting hard in the early go, but the footwork is going and I start to make mistakes and the last few games go quickly against me. I am bummed I did not do better against him.


May 2007

A busy month of tennis. Our Wheaton Sport Center Travel Team (level 3.5 - 3.9) finished first in our division and we made the finals of the playoffs. We tied in points in the championship match but finished second based on sets won and lost.

Overall for the season, my singles record for the Travel Team is 5 wins, 4 losses and 1 tie. My doubles record is 2 - 2.

Highlights of my travel team matches in the past month:

I play the #4 singles slot.

I lose to Mike (2-6, 4-6) from the Rush Copley team in the Championship match. Very fit younger guy that wacks the ball with big top-spin. But he goes for too much on many balls and if I just play steady I should beat him.  But I have trouble returning his spin serve and he wins many of the key points.  In the second set I am up 4-2, but I lose the next 4 games. My groundstrokes are still inconsistent, too much thinking, not the confidence I need in a rally. Live to fight another day.

I lose to Wilson (6-4, 1-6, tiebreak 3-7) in the playoffs from Norris. Wilson is about 30 and very fast around the court - tracks down everything. I'm getting my hard serve in well in the first set and I win it 6-4, but it's very close and I'm working hard to win every point.  Wilson starts to reduce his errors in the second set and I'm getting tired.  When you get tired your footwork gets sloppy and my unforced errors are going way up.  We are running out of time and play a tiebreaker for the third set and I lose that with many errors.  A disappointing loss.  I have to work on my conditioning.

I win over Ken (6-1, 6-1) from Hanover Park.  I'm getting my serve in with some pop and then rushing to net and Ken can't seem to get much on his return and I win some easy points.  His serve is medium pace and I stand a foot inside the baseline to chip back a return and then rush to net.  I usually start most matches with this tactic to test if my opponent can hit a good passing shot or lob.  If they prove they can, I'll adjust and rush to net only when I'm at an advantage in the point.


April 2007

Wheaton Sport Center Travel Team (level 3.5 - 3.9) Update:

Our team is in second place with one match to go - our best performance as a team in several years.

I play the #4 singles slot.

Recent matches:

I lose to Lester (2-6, 4-6) from the Hanover Park team. Not my best effort.  Lester is crafty but beatable. No big shots, he is a good retriever.  I lose the first set but all the games are close.  In the second set I decide to go to the net after most serves and I go up 4 games to 2.  I start thinking do we have time for the third set and once I look forward, I lose my concentration and drop the next 4 games.  Sheeeeesh.  I can play much better than this.  I also must do something about nerves at the beginning of the match. I have no reason to be nervous.  Maybe I should run some laps before a match to burn off some adrenaline.

I win over Dave (6-2, 6-4) from the Glen Ellyn club. You run into every kind of player in the #4 singles spot of this league - every age, every style of play.  Dave is older (60's), thin and in good shape.  During warm-up he hits every ball back hard - hard and low and flat.  I lose the first game, and start to worry - one more older, crafty guy that gives me trouble.  But if I hit the ball low to his backhand, he hits it into the net most of the time.  A lot of the older guys (like me) have trouble running forward and hitting the ball in - particularly the guys that hit flat.  Also Dave can't return my serve - the spin has him hitting it way left or right.  He punches back the return, and I've learned you must swing through a return of a serve with some spin action.  I'm not particularly happy with my overall play, but I was serving well.

Lessons to Improve My Groundstroke Consistency

I can't seem to hit more than two consistent groundstrokes during a baseline rally.  So I've started taking weekly individual lessons and group drills with a club pro.  The pro - Matt has me working on my basic stroke.  I'm hitting with too much of an open stance on my forehand and I still fall backward during my backhand strokes. I'm not balanced at the moment of contact.  It will take time and my unforced errors will probably go up during this transition, but I'm serious about improving my stroke.  My inability to hit with consistency during a basic rally from the baseline is keeping me from winning against the good 4.0 level players.  I've got to work hard on the change and play a lot of tennis to get the changes to take hold during match play.


March 2007

I'm playing about 4 times per week.  My game still feels a bit lost.  My goal is to work on conditioning and take some lessons to improve the  consistency of basic groundstrokes so I can hold-up better in rallies. I have to improve my unforced errors.

Equipment update.

I've been using the Dunlop M-Fill 300 racquet. Great racquet, plenty of control and pop. This racquet is now on sale at Tennis-Warehouse for $70

Read the reviews of this Dunlop racquet here.

I string the Dunlop with Technifibre X-One Biphase 16 gage string at 56 pounds of tension (reviews).

I also use Nike shoes.  I just ordered the Nike Max Breathe Free II tennis shoes on sale for $90.  Since I changed from New Balance to Nike shoes, my Achilles pain is gone.  I'm sure it is the shoes that cured the problem with better support.

Note, the shoes and racquet are not the latest models, they are the last generation of shoes. The latest Dunlop racquet and Nike shoes are getting mixed reviews, so I'll stick with slightly older equipment at these low prices.


February 2007

I'm back playing 3 or 4 times per week. It feels great to be back playing after 5 weeks of no tennis.

Played on the Wheaton Sport Center Travel Team (level 3.5 - 3.9) twice in the past month.  Here are the results.

I tie Jim (1-6, 6-2, 3-3) from the Rush Copley team. Jim is a 30ish player with good movement. During warm-up he doesn't hit his groundstrokes with any consistency and I notice he always runs around his backhand. I try to hit to his backhand at any opportunity. He gets to everything. We use no-add scoring on the Travel Team and I lose the first set 6-1 but every game goes to deuce and I lose almost every game point.  I tell myself to relax. In the second set I serve better and win all the big points and win 6-2. In the third set I have a great opportunity to break his serve but make a bad unforced error into the net and we both hold serve, and run out of time at 3-3.  Sheeesh, I have to win matches like this.  Our team wins the match and my tie was important.

I win over Paul (6-4, 6-2) from the Oakbrook club. Paul is older (mid 60s?) and short and his movement is a bit slow. He's cagey and hits these odd angled slice shots.   If I just play steady and move him around a little,  I should win this. But I'm nervous early in the match (why?) and I drop the first two games badly.  Man, you are going to lose this. No rhythm at all, I'm  hitting simple groundstrokes long or into the net.  But somehow I hustle my way to win the first set.  No idea how I won it. In the second set I come to net to try to force him to make shots and he makes more mistakes and I win 6-2.  Wow, what an ugly win.  I have to get some lessons and drills to just improve on basic groundstrokes.  I feel like I have lost the good game I was starting to develop last December before I took that 5 week break. Our team wins the match 5 wins and 1 loss.


January 2007

I have to take 4 to 6 weeks off.  I had a bit of surgery (not related to playing tennis) on December 29th, and everything went fine, but no hard exercise for at least 4 weeks.  I'm doing a lot of walking.  I haven't played for about two weeks, and I really miss it.

One topic I failed to cover last month - one hour lesson from one of the pros at the club

This is what I learned during the lesson:

- I still have the problem of falling back when I hit basic groundstrokes and return of serve. Particularly when I return of serve, I found when I hold my ground,  I hit the ball back with much more control.

- Problem with my overheads - I setup late.  I need to begin pointing at the ball with my left hand immediately after my opponent hits the overhead, and move back earlier so at the point of contact I am setup and not falling backward.  When I try this, suddenly I can hit great overheads.  

- Top-spin backhand is still a work in progress.  I need to turn more, remain upright, legs bent down, and strike the ball a bit in front of me.  This is getting better, but still a source of unforced errors in matches.  I just need a lot of practice on this shot.


December 2006

Results so far playing on the Wheaton Sport Center Division III travel team (3.5 - 3.9 level players).

I have 2 wins and 1 loss playing in the #4 singles spot.

Here is a recap of the 3 matches:

I win over Dave (6-2, 6-1)  He has trouble with my serve. Seems to give up a bit in the second set.  I'm not this good.  We are playing on clay, and I think he's not experienced with clay and may have psyched himself out.

I lose to Del  (3-6, 4-5)  Wow, I was terrible.  Del hit all kinds of lobs and moon balls.  I just made way too many errors on my over-heads.  This is a clear weakness.  But I know I can get better at this.  We run out of time in the second set..

I win over Moid (6-4, 6-2)  During the warm-up, I thought this guy is good, I'm in trouble.  Hits very solid groundstrokes and seems experienced.  But in the first set he frequently goes for too much and hits the ball just long or into the top of the net. I also notice I win a lot of points hitting low to his backhand.  His serve is average pace, I find my timing and can hit my return deep to his backhand.   In the second set, I just play more solid and he continues to make mistakes.  This is a good win for me because this guy is pretty good.

 


October 2006

I'm playing better in the Fall 4.0 singles league at my club (Wheaton Sport Center).

Here are my results so far in the league (we play one set, must win 8 games):

I win over John (8-5)  This guy usually beats me. I just played steady and he made mistakes. John is tall with a big first serve.  I adjusted to the serve by loosening the grip on the racquet and blocked the ball back deep.

I win over Dan (8-6)  Good win.  This guy is a classic retriever, gets to everything.  I played steady and only went for winners when I had a clear advantage. He seemed surprised I won.

I lose to Hamid (2-8)  Wow, disappointing.  Hamid is a tough leftie, but I should have played better.  No rhythm, lots of mistakes.  Not embarrassing to lose, but embarrassing to play this bad.

I lose to Ken (3-8)  I'm thinking of giving up the game.  Total bummer.  I should beat this guy (I have before).  He just hits these looping balls deep and tries to wear you out.  I fell into his trap and tried to go for big shots and made too many errors. 

I win over Vasu (8-5)  A very good win.  Vasu is a tough, very steady baseliner.  Very happy to get a win from him.

I win over Dave (8-6)  Happy, happy.  I lost to Dave last year.  I showed more patience this time. Dave takes a lot of time between games and you have to ignore that and stay focused.  Last time we played I was looking at my watch all the time thinking we will never finish within our court time. This time I just said: "stay relaxed, don't look at the clock".  My game is getting better.

I win over John (8-6)  Big win because this guy is one of the best in the league.  A retriever that tracks down everything.  I was up 7-2, and then just held on for the win.  I have to be tougher finishing off a match.  But this was a good win.

I lose to Neil (4-8)  Neil is just too tough.  Makes almost no errors, gets to everything, good leftie serve.  I tried to be aggressive to shorten the rallies and I think that won me 4 games.  If I just played conservative, I think the score would be 0 - 8.  Neil is the best in this league.

So final result of the Fall league: 5 wins and 3 losses.  That's the best I have done in the 4.0 league.  

 


September 2006

I played in a real USTA tournament.

I played in the Men's 3.5 Midwest NTRP Midwest USTA Championship at a club in the south suburbs of Chicago.

The rules are best of 3 sets.  A judge was present.

My first match was Friday night at 7pm against Mike.  He is about 40 years old and kind of short with an awkward looking spin serve.  He was a retriever and hit a fairly flat ball.  In the rallies he looked to hit a low and short ball that made you run forward.

The indoor, hard courts are very nice but the the temps inside are in the 80's and it is humid.

I won the first set 6 - 4.  My serve is solid and I win my service games with little problem.  I broke his serve once.

The second set he started to figure out how to return my serve and he won the set (4-6).

The third set (I'm getting really tired, the legs are going) and I start making errors.  But Mike is also tired and making errors.  I have several opportunities to put it to a tiebreaker, but he wins the final set 5 - 7.

I go into the consolation bracket and have to play the next morning.

I play Rick in the consolation and he is about 25 years old.  He is also a retriever that has the quick legs to get to everything.  He has no big shots and I figure I should have a chance against him.

I don't feel tired, but my legs are not moving me as I expect.  The footwork is going and I'm not setting up properly for my groundstrokes.  I make a lot of errors. I lose 2 - 6, 0 - 6.   But the match did not feel as bad as the score.

It was a great experience.  I've never played this much tennis in 24 hours.  I thought I held up OK for a 52 year old guy.  Almost all the players were in their 20's or 30's.

I know I can compete with these guys.  I look forward to playing next year.  I need to improve on the  conditioning of my legs.  I can do that.  My cardio was fine.

These guys play a conservative, just hit it back and wear your opponent down, kind of game.  I can make some adjustments and win against these guys.  That's my goal.

 


August  2006

Playing about 3 or 4 times per week.  Played some of my best tennis.  But the consistency is not there.

My topspin backhand is still a work in progress.  But it is getting better.

I still use the slice backhand when I don't have time to setup for the topspin.

Return of serve is still a major weakness.  I just don't seem to pickup the ball very well.

 


July 2006

I took the advice of my quick poll above and hit a lot balls this summer.

I joined group tennis lessons at College of DuPage.  This group met three times per week at night and I would typically be hitting balls for 2 1/2 hours at a time.

I entered one summer tournament - a 3.5 - 3.9 singles tournament in Homewood, Illinois.  I lost in the first round, but I thought I hit the ball well and my opponent made it to the finals.   We played outside in the sun, 90 degree temps and very high-humidity.  The heat really hit me late in the match.  But overall a very good experience.  I know with better conditioning and a bit more consistency, I can win at this level.

My top-spin groundstrokes are getting better and more consistent.  My service-return is still a major weakness, but I think it is getting better.

I'm heading into the fall leagues and travel team matches, so we will see if all these summer drills helped my game.

 


June 2006

Summer 4.0 Singles League Final Results - 3 wins and 2 losses

I played OK in the league, but I need to work on my consistency.

Goal for the summer is to hit a lot of balls and work on consistency of my groundstrokes, particularly my backhand.

I'm playing 3 times per week at the College of DuPage, joining in on drills and using the ball machine to work on my game.  I'm not playing many matches right now, trying to just work on my game.

 


May 2006

Summer 4.0 Singles League Results

My current record is 3 wins and 1 loss.  My latest match was a win over Hamid -  a tough left hander. His forehand is very tough and in past matches he passes me easily when I go to the net.  This time I only came to net after a good approach shot to his backhand and I won several points with this strategy.

Hitting balls with an 11 year old girl 

A friend at the tennis club asked me to hit balls with his daughter.  She is one of the top players in her age category in the Chicago area.  I knew she was good, but until I hit with her,  I had no idea how good.  She hits everything back hard and deep.  It's like playing against a wall.  I started to get tired quickly.  But this is the kind of practice I need to improve my groundstrokes.  I told her Dad I would hit with her any time.

Travel Team Loss - time to be honest . . .

A positive attitude is important in any sport, but you also have to be honest.

My game sucks at times.

I lost a travel team match yesterday 6 - 3, 6 -1.

My opponent was quicker, a more consistent baseliner, and in better shape.

He was also a lot younger, but that's no excuse.

My foot speed is slow.   I can't sustain a rally at the baseline.   My backhand is wild.

But most important is the mental part of the game.  I lose confidence quickly against a good player and start to lose points quickly.  I stop moving my feet.  I start to double fault with serves that go long.

So these are my short-term goals:. 

  - work on foot speed and conditioning by doing more sprinting and jumping rope.

  - practice to keep the ball in play on the baseline with consistent and safe strokes.

  - continue to work on my kick serve for more consistency.

  - no fear. 

 


April 2006

Ugly Wins

Won my first two matches in the Spring 4.0 Singles League.  Both were ugly wins meaning I seldom had consistent strokes and just seemed to win by hustling around the court and hanging in there.  In the most recent match I did two things for the first time:

  - I actually threw my racquet to the ground in disgust (on a clay court so no big damage to the Babolat)

  - Came back to win a tiebreaker for the match after being down 1 - 6 in the tiebreaker.

I'm becoming a baseliner with heavy topspin, but I'm only half-way there.  Half the time I'm still a flat ball, all-court hacker.  And in a tough match, just about every other shot is the hacker type.  I just need to keep hitting a lot of balls and get more consistency in my top-spin groundstrokes.

My serve is better.  I'm getting more first serves in, and I'm winning a lot of points after a weak service return by my opponent.

Latest Match Results

Late Winter League - 4.0 Singles - Wheaton Sport Center, final results:  4 wins and 5 lossesMark Gallagher

Some disappointing losses, but overall I am pleased with my recent play.  I'm getting better placement with my top-spin forehand and my backhand has gone from a serious weakness to a less noticeable weakness and occasional weapon.

One recent highlight on the travel team,  I defeated a 30-something opponent by a score of 6-4, 6-3. A year ago I would have lost to a player of his skill level.  But now my serve has more power and spin and my overall game is more consistent.  But I have lots of room for improvement.

 


March 2006

Toughest Day of Tennis - "I'm tired."

I played on the 3.5 travel team for our club.  Only four guys showed up for our team so I was asked to play the #4 singles spot and play the #2 doubles spot - both matches within a 3 hour time limit.

My singles match was the most physically draining match of my life.  My opponent had me moving all over the court.  He never hit the ball hard but every shot was placed so you had to run.  I tried to cut his shots off at the net but he had an excellent lob.   I lost the first set 3 - 6.   In the second set I made fewer mistakes and was serving better and I won it 6 - 2.  All the points were long and we only had 15 minutes to complete the 3rd set.   We hit the time limit with the score 2 - 2 in the third set and the match was scored a tie.   Sheeeesh, I'm tired.  I immediately sat on the court and took some slow and deep breaths, trying to get my heart rate back down.

I had 10 minutes to recover for the doubles match (by not participating in the warm-up).  I thought to myself - "you can't do this.........you're too tired".  But when we got into the doubles match I started to feel OK.  I think I was more mentally drained and I played OK early but started to make more errors in the second set.  We won the first set but lost the next two.

Overall, our team won by half a point, and my tie in the singles match was important to the team victory.

During the drive home I'm thinking this was a great experience.  I know there are physical limits for a player my age (51),  but I can play 3 hours of competitive tennis and the important thing - I have to stay mentally tough and not focus on any perceived physical limitations.

Equipment Update

I'm getting more comfortable with the Babolat Aeropro Drive plus racquet (strung with Technifiber X-One Biphase 17 gage string at tension of 60 lbs).  It's taken me 3 months to adjust to the new racquet.  I'm selling my other racquets and committing to the Babolat.

My Achilles soreness is much improved since I changed shoes from New Balance 1001s to the Nike Air Resolve tennis shoes (older model on sale at Tennis Warehouse for $59).  The Nike shoes have less padding in the midsole and good padding in the heal and I think (only a theory) that the result is less pronation that stretches the tendon behind the ankle and causes the Achilles Tendonitis.

I'm playing about 4 times per week with a good mix of singles league and travel team matches, doubles and hitting balls.

 


February 2006

Current record of  2 wins and 3 losses in my 4.0 singles league.

Pain at  the back of my right ankle caused by a sore Achilles tendon is a recurring injury problem.  When I push off hard with my right leg to track down a ball, I sometimes feel a funny  stretch of the Achilles.  The next day I walk with a limp to avoid the pain.  I'm doing exercises to strengthen my calf muscles, and I have cut back on my tennis to about twice a week.

I'm brainstorming on new conditioning and training ideas for the Spring and Summer to take my game to a more consistent level. It's easy to show improvement when you start out as a weak 3.0 level player.  But when you move close to the 4.0 level game -  improvement is a much slower process and there are matches where I  think my game is moving backwards.  I have to be patient and keep working at it.  

Older guy kills me.

When I play on our club travel team, I'm usually the older guy on the court.  I'm 51 and most the guys I play are between 30 and 45 years old.

But the guy I played in my last match (Jack) looked to be in his early 60's.  I could tell during the warm-up that I might be in trouble.  Jack hit very solid, top-spin groundstrokes and he moved well.  He took the ball early with little backswing - no wasted motion in his swing.

I did not score a point in the first two games.  I lost the first set 6 -1.  He controlled the center of the court and consistently hit his groundstrokes deep into the corners.  When I went to the net he lobbed the ball over me.  In the second set I started to serve better and found one weakness during some rallies - if I hit the ball low and short to his backhand he had a bit of trouble getting to the ball.  I won a few service games and lost the second set 6 - 4.

So I was both frustrated and encouraged by this loss.  Frustrating to get killed (the first set took about 15 minutes), but I'm encouraged to see in his game that you can be very competitive into your 60's if you just hit consistent, solid groundstrokes and use your experience against a younger opponent.  Jack is a model of where I hope to take my game in the next few years.

 


January 2006

Final record - Men's  4.0 early winter singles league  = 4 wins and 4 losses

This is the best I have done in the 4.0 league at Wheaton Sport Center.  Feels good, but I'm still bummed about two of the losses.

I know I can do better.

My last win was against John - a tall guy with a big serve.  I lost the first game returning his serve.  All my service returns went long or hit the net.  I made these adjustments when receiving his big serve:

- Took a step back, standing about three feet behind the baseline.

- Told myself to relax, and just watch the ball, loosen my grip on the racquet, don't think, just react.

- Remember to skip-step as he strikes the ball.

It worked.  After losing the first game, I broke most of his service games by just relaxing and putting my racquet on the ball (with a loose grip).   I used his pace to return the ball deep to his side.  I won 8 - 2.

 


December 2005

Disappointing losses in the 4.0 league

I've lost my last three matches in the singles league.  So my record is now 2 wins and 3 losses.

My new "serve and volley" game has failed with many unforced errors on my volleys.  I'm hitting the volleys long. One pro at the club said I am gripping the racquet too tightly when at the net.  On volleys and ground strokes I continue to hit the ball too much in front of me.  I need better footwork.  I can play better than this.

Last match was against Chris - undefeated lefty in our league.  Chris is a classic retriever (hits everything back) with a lefty spin serve, so he is tough in many ways.  I've played him several times in doubles, so I feel I know his game and should play better against him.  I lost 8 - 4 playing a serve and volley attack.  Just too many mistakes.  But I was not totally disappointed.  I felt my rhythm coming back at times.

Recent game - out of rhythm

The past few weeks, I've been feeling out of rhythm at times with my serve, on volleys, and sometimes just on basic ground strokes.  

I've been experimenting with new racquets and I may have made a big mistake.  My game is a constant work in progress -  hopefully showing improvement, but it's never in a straight line.  There are regular disappointments where I  think my game has taken a step backward.  Maybe I should have just stuck with my old racquet and not added more change to my game.

These are the racquets I've been trying:

- Wilson 5.1 Surge - older model Wilson, this has been my racquet for the last two years.  It has a great feel.

- Babolat Aeropro Drive - this is a new, hot model.  I hit some big winners with this racquet but also make more mistakes - the feel of this racquet is a big change from the old Wilson.

- Fischer Pro1 FT - this racquet has an amazing feel, my backhand feels much better but I still don't have a good rhythm with this stick. 

Current thinking - I should have stuck with the Surge and just continued to work on my game.

Babolat AeroPro Drive 

 


November 2005

Two recent matches:

1. Lefties are killing me.  I'm playing Mike on Wednesdays and he hits a great lefty forehand  with lots of topspin.  He bangs it deep into the corners. I pickup the location (left corner or right corner) late, and he hits too many winners on me.  If I come to net, he bangs it down the line.  I also have trouble with his lefty serve.  It's frustrating to play him, but I need the experience withMark Gallagher lefties because I face a couple of good ones in my singles league.  I can play better against them.

2. Played the best match of my tennis career against Jerry (4.0 singles league).  He beat me easily in our last two matches.  Jerry is an older player that is very cagey.  He likes to control the center of the court and moves you around hitting slice and flat balls at odd angles.  He seldom takes chances to hit a winner and just waits for you to make a mistake.   His serve is well placed but not hit hard.

I went in with the following strategy: 1) On return of serve I stand 3 feet inside the baseline, grip the racquet two inches up from the bottom, and chop the ball back low to his backhand and run to net, 2) I hit my kick serve with plenty of spin and run to net (serve and volley).  It worked.  I was able to get many winners at the net and I kept him from controlling the middle of the court.  The score was 8 - 2   (league rules are one, 8 game set).

How much tennis per week ?

I'm playing about 4 to 5 times per week.  I have 3.5 doubles match on Monday nights, drills on Tuesday and Friday, one 4.0 singles league match each week, and I play on the travel team every other week.  Fun.

Current record playing the 4th seed - singles on the WheatonSportCenter (3.5 - 3.9) men's travel team:

3 wins,  1 loss,  1 tie

I'm playing better in matches.

 


October 2005

I purchased a new racquet from Tennis Warehouse - the Babolat AeroPro Drive.  The racquet is very light and generates a lot of power and spin.  I've used it twice and I'm getting more spin on my top-spin forehands and kick serves, but the timing of my volleys seems to be off.  The new racquet is lighter than my old Wilson Surge.

Travel Team - good results

I played in the #4 singles slot for our 3.5 travel team match and won 6-1, 6-3. So that is my best performance on the travel team.  

I also played my regular 3.5 doubles league on Monday night and I sucked - could not hit a solid volley.  

I also joined a regular early Saturday morning tennis drills for 3.5 - 4.0 level players run by Adrian at Wheaton Sport Center.  There were three guys and two woman participating in the drills and it was fun and a good workout.  The big advantage of drills is you hit a lot of balls all types (overheads, volleys, groundstrokes) and get a good workout.

Tip - Breathing - I'm thinking one of my biggest problems -  heavy breathing and fast heart rate after a long rally in a match is related to "not breathing" during the rally.  I'm making more of an effort to grunt (exhale) when I hit the ball and this seems to help me to breath.  I also take slower, deep breaths after a rally.   My "conditioning" problem seems to be improving. The real problem may have been getting nervous early in a big match and not breathing during a rally.  Breathing is important in tennis.

 


September 2005

The bad - played on the "traveling team" of Wheaton Sport CenterI played in the #4 singles slot and I lost 6-3, 6-0. The guy I played was a retriever that hit everything back, no great shots, very few mistakes, fast around the court.  A frustrating match for me.  Some long rallies early seemed to sap me of energy and confidence.  I need to work on my conditioning.  I can play better than this.

The good - walked on to an evening tennis class at College of DuPage under the lights.  The instructor recognized me from classes last year, invited me to join in, and I played two hours of fun drills.  This is tennis at its best.  Weather was perfect, everyone was having fun, and the drills kept you moving and I hit a lot of balls and worked all aspects of the game (volleys, groundstrokes, long rallies, overheads, doubles net play, etc).  The next day my legs and hips are hurting, but that's the price of having fun.

 


August 2005

My #1 tennis goal - become a competitive 4.0 singles player.  ( note: I've only played tennis for 2 years )

I'm getting closer.

Results of the summer 4.0 league - 1 victory and 8 losses, but . . .

I was competitive in all my matches, won a lot more games, and 4 matches were lost in tiebreakers.

I took a lesson from Jeff at Wheaton Sports Center.  He watched my basic ground strokes and footwork and had two great suggestions:

1. When hitting a top-spin forehand or backhand, my upper body bends forward (down)  too much, I need to hit with a more upright position.  The way I was hitting the ball bent over requires all the power to come from the arms and by standing more erect while hitting, I will get more rotation of my torso into the swing (with more power and spin).  I tried it, and it worked big time.

2. When I move from left to right, I shuffle my feet (face forward and slide my feet to right or left.  Not good.  Jeff said I need to change my footwork.  If I need to move to the right, I need to first turn in that direction (pivot right) and then run forward to the ball.  Jeff says shuffling your feet from side to side is not only slower but uses more energy.  This will take time to change, but is a killer tip.

Also, I read a great article in Tennis Magazine about common problems with your serve.

1. Most common problem with second serve (I do this), is you hit the ball like your first serve, but with a much slower swing.  Very bad.  Be decelerating your swing, you lose all spin action and the ball goes long.  You need to mentally "commit" to the second serve and hit with a fast swing to generate good spin to kick the ball into the service box.

2. Specific tips to fix an inconsistent serve - slow down your preparation (before the toss) and when you toss the ball up, maintain the reach up of the tossing hand longer (almost pointing up to the toss as if the ball is a work of art you are appreciating for as long as possible) and then turn and hit.   This reaching up longer with the tossing arm will improve the shoulder rotation you need to hit a kick serve properly. 

Final note on the serve:  I mentally associate the service motion with throwing a hard ball like a pitcher.  As I prepare for the serve, I am facing third base and as I serve I turn my body and shoulder, my arm reaching back and down for a second then my arm rotates up and falls forward and down and finishes on its own (with a natural throwing follow-through).  Just like pitching a fast ball. 

 


July  2005

I've been playing in two summer leagues.  At times I play well, but in some big matches when the pressure is on,  I lose my good service motion.  You have to stay relaxed during the  big points in a game.  If you get tense, your timing and rotation of your shoulders change.  I begin to rush my serve.  I'm hoping with more experience in big  games, I will learn to handle the pressure better.  I found this good web site with tips to relaxing during a match.

We are playing is some very hot weather this summer and I try to drink a lot of water before and during the match and wear sunscreen.  I've been playing with contact lenses and wearing sunglasses and that's working out pretty well.   Bright sunlight is one more distraction that affects your serve.


June  2005

I joined the USTA and entered an open tournament for 45 and over singles players at Cantigny tennis club.  I played the #1 ranked player in the first round and got killed.  But I thought I got my $30 entry fee worth of tennis out of the experience.  

Also playing doubles this summer on a USTA 3.5 league with a team created by our tennis club at Wheaton Sport Center.  My top spin ground strokes are getting better.  My backhand is still inconsistent, but I am trying to plant my back foot better and move forward as I swing and I am getting better results.


April / May  2005

I am taking a break from the leagues and just working on my game by scheduling informal matches with 4.0 players I met at the tennis club and once a week group drills with a tennis pro.  My top-spin swing is improving over time. I am also working on my conditioning, as I find my form holds up better when my heart is not pounding after a long rally (free weights and treadmill).   I've been working on a kick-serve by going to an outdoor court at the local park with a basket of balls and hitting nothing but serves for about 45 minutes (careful to start with easy serves to warm-up your arm).  I joined the USTA.


Feb / March  2005

Ok, final results of my first venture in the 4.0 level singles league -  won 1 match and lost 6  ....... but I thought I played my best tennis.  I did not get killed.  I could have won half my matches if I had fewer unforced errors and a bit better with my first serve percentage.    I can see how it helps to play better players.  It helps you see the exact skills you need to move up to the next level.  I need a more consistent top-spin backhand and a better motion on my serve.   It also helps to confirm the improvements in your game.  I have a top-spin forehand that is much better.  I can go down the line when my opponent comes to the net, and I can bang it back from the baseline.  I am also more relaxed walking on the court with a better player.

So, for now, I am not discouraged by the losing.

First tennis trophy - I finished second in the 3.5 winter doubles league and the club gave me a nice key chain  .... Wooohoo ! 


Jan 2005

I finish the Winter 3.5 league with a record of 7 wins and 2 losses at the Wheaton Sport Center.  So I take the big leap and sign-up for the 4.0 league.  I will be over my head but look forward to playing better players.  I also sign-up for the Monday night doubles league (3.5 players).  I find the doubles helps my volley skills in singles and its a fun, low-pressure competition.


More - Older Tennis Blog Postings: 2003 - 2004


 

Tips for Older Players

- Buy good tennis shoes and change to new shoes every 6 months (I currently use the Nike Air Resolve shoes that cost about $60 on sale) to prevent Achilles or ankle injuries.

- Exercise to strengthen your legs and hips (lunges).  Stretch your legs well after you play when your muscles are warm.  This will avoid soreness the day after you play.

- If you wear bifocal glasses (like I do), I suggest you wear contact lenses (to correct your long-distance vision only) when playing tennis.  I wear the disposable, soft contacts - Acuvue Advanced.  Obtain your contact lens prescription from you eye doctor (the prescription for contacts is different from regular glasses) and you can order the contacts from a discounter such as 1800contacts.  Don't wear the newer bifocal contact lenses, they can alter your depth perception.  I only  wear my contacts when playing tennis, and I carry a cheap pair of reading glasses in my bag if I need to read something at the tennis club. Tennis Contact Lenses

- Try interval training on a treadmill to improve cardio twice a week,  jump rope once a day for 3 minutes to improve foot work and stamina (note: when you start, 3 minute is tough, try to do a hundred jumps, take a few seconds to catch your breadth and try 100 more, work up to 3 minutes).

- Don't fear playing younger or better players. Think this way - "I am lucky to be on the court with a better player".... "I will learn a lot playing this 20-something."  Seek out younger and better opponents.

- Put a lot of practice time into your serve including the toss of the serve.  A consistent serve gives you confidence in your overall game.

- Don't try to hit the ball as hard as the younger players. Concentrate on stepping into the ball with good follow-through.

- Group lessons (with drills) are a great way to improve your game.  Also, practice with younger and older players, same skill level and better skill level and play doubles and singles.

- Watch women's professional tennis on TV and visualize the basic ground stroke.  Concentrate on how they hit the ball from low to high.  Visualize that stroke at night before you go to sleep. Why women's tennis ? -  because their strokes are a better model for the amateur to duplicate.  Most professional men now hit with extreme power strokes that are physically tough for an amateur to duplicate.

- When losing to a player with an overpowering serve, don't be afraid to change things up. Try moving up a bit and choking up on the racquet or try moving well back of the baseline.  And hang in there -  you can come back on an opponent with a big serve later in the match.

- Don't think too much.  To relax during a match, repeat simple words in your mind......"watch the ball" ..... "hang in there".

- If out of breadth after a long rally, do something to delay a bit and catch your breadth .............. example - walk over to your towel and towel-off the grip of your racquet. Make sure you are breathing when in the middle of a tough rally.  Try grunting (exhaling) when you hit the ball.

- After you develop good strokes through practice and drills, you need to play a lot of matches where you keep score (ex., join two leagues).  If you practice with the same guy or do drills or use a ball machine most of the time, you will notice you don't play as well in matches.  After you play a lot of matches, you will relax and you will notice you have the same good hits in the matches that you have with the ball machine. 


 

Why Tennis?

  • Good non-contact sport for baby boomers - you can play into your 70's
  • Inexpensive, free courts are available at many park districts and high schools and colleges
  • Social game, make new friends
  • Helps you stay mentally and physically sharp
  • New racquets allow you to hit the ball with pace without swinging hard
  • Short time commitment - only takes about 1 or 1 1/2 hours to play (compare that to golf)

Difficult Part of Tennis?

  • Not an easy game for beginners.  Can be very frustrating.  You must start with tennis lessons.  Once you develop basic skills, it is a very addictive and enjoyable game.
  • Quick stop and go movement of the game can be tough on the legs, hips and Achilles.  Good idea to incorporate exercises that strengthen your legs and hips into your workouts before playing a tough match or drills..



 

How to Start

The best way to learn tennis is to take a beginning tennis course at your community college or group tennis lesson offered by your park district or local racquet club (many private clubs allow non-members to sign-up for individual or group lessons).

Typically the community colleges offer a concurrent session of Tennis 1, 2 and 3 and you get experience with players at different levels.  Playing with better players is the quickest and best way to learn tennis.

Rules of Tennis

Good Web Site About Tennis (gotennis.com)

Hofer Tips on Tennis (excellent)



 

Buying a Racquet

If you are a total beginner, buy a racquet at Wal-Mart for about $50. You can buy a pre-strung, oversized racquet in this price range that is lightweight and is fine for a beginner. 

After you have played for a while and expect to continue, buy a good racquet ($100 to $180 range).  The Dunlop M-Fill 300 racquet is a great all around racquet ($100) for a beginner trying to move up to the intermediate skill level.


I'm currently using the Dunlop M-Fill 300 that I purchased at Tennis Warehouse strung with Technifiber X-One Biphase 16 gage string at tension of 56 lbs and I use the Yonex Super Grab Overgrip.

These are the best online sources to buy a tennis racquets and equipment:tennis balls

Tennis Warehouse

Holabird Sport

Racquet Depot

 


 

Excellent Books and Web Sites on Tennis

The Inner Game of Tennis  (book)

Winning Ugly  (book)

Tennis Exercise and Health Links (web sites)

Valentich Tips on Tennis  (excellent web site)

Hofer Tips on Tennis  (web site)

Tennis Discussion Forum  (excellent web site)


 

How to Swing with Top Spin

Once you learn the basics of tennis, you must learn to swing and hit the ball with top spin to play with intermediate players. This is not easy and requires instruction and practice. There are some good resources about top spin in the "rec.sport.tennis" discussion in the Google groups discussion forums.

Video of Top Spin Tennis Strokes (excellent for visualization of the strokes)

How to hit with top spin  (rec.sport.tennis)

Tips for beginners  (rec.sport.tennis)

But the best way to learn to groove a top spin ground stroke is to take a group tennis lesson with a ball machine and hit repeated ground strokes with a coach in the background to give you immediate feedback and once you hit it right, repeat it over and over.



Exercise for Tennis

Weight Training and Exercises for Tennis

Good Stretching Tips (note, latest research says to stretch after a workout and not before)

Exercises to Strengthen Your Achilles Tendon (important for the over 40 player)

Treatment of Achilles Tendonitis (I found the simple massage with my fingers worked well the day after I play and just before I play, but I also recommend trying different shoes - I'm getting less soreness using the Nike Air Resolve tennis shoes.  There is a theory that tennis shoes with less padding in the midsole and good padding in the heal result in less pronation when you push off hard to run to a ball.  This pronation causes the stretching of the tendon and the resulting Achilles tendonitis.)

 

Last update: 2010
Mark Gallagher

Send Feedback: mark@gallagher.com

 

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