Learning Tennis for Baby-Boomers
by Mark Gallagher
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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)
by Mark Gallagher
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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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
- 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
- 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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
- 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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Summer 4.0 Singles League Final Results - 3
wins and 2 losses
I played OK in the league, but I need to work on
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
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
- no fear.
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
Latest Match Results
Late Winter League - 4.0 Singles - Wheaton Sport
Center, final results: 4 wins and 5 losses
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.
Toughest Day of Tennis - "I'm
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
with 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
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
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.
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
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
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.
The bad - played on the "traveling
team" of Wheaton Sport
Center. I 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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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 !
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
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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
Web Site About Tennis (gotennis.com)
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
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:
and Web Sites on Tennis
The Inner Game of Tennis
Exercise and Health Links (web sites)
Tips on Tennis (excellent web site)
Tips on Tennis (web site)
Discussion Forum (excellent web
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.
of Top Spin Tennis Strokes (excellent for
visualization of the strokes)
to hit with top spin (rec.sport.tennis)
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
Training and Exercises for Tennis
Stretching Tips (note, latest research
says to stretch after a workout and not before)
to Strengthen Your Achilles Tendon (important for the over 40 player)
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
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