3.5 to 4.0 Action Plan?

Discussion in 'Adult League & Tournament Talk' started by asked_answered, Sep 7, 2011.

  1. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    I think the part that looks unusual is the takeback and early serving motion. It reminds me of a baseball pitcher. That's not a bad thing, of course, considering how a hard pitcher can throw a ball with that motion. I'm not surprised you're hitting triple digits. :)
     
  2. Fuji

    Fuji Legend

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    Haha that makes sense! It actually throws quite a few guys off that I play with, since they normally expect a bit more time to react. I lock and load pretty quickly.

    How's your serve coming along bud???

    -Fuji
     
  3. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    It's about the same: reasonably strong for my level on the first serve, pretty darn spinny on the second. I don't get a lot of time to practice now with my current job, so I haven't been able to do a lot to increase my consistency. If I can keep myself from getting frustrated and tense during a match, my serving is pretty effective. Thanks for asking!
     
  4. Winning Ugly

    Winning Ugly New User

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    Hey OP -- good luck in your quest! Perhaps a little history will convince you to never, ever give up....

    I have been a mid to high 3.5 player for over 30 years. But, I never quit trying to improve -- although sometimes my "improvement efforts" have had 2-year haituses due to other priorities (or rehab from the 5 knee operations I have earned along the way!) Needless to say, at this point in my life I play 90% doubles (100% in league play)

    2 years ago I got "early start" rated to 4.0 after a very good 3.5 season (senior and adult) and boy was I excited -- after all that time! But, poor play at senior sectionals must have convinced the computer to knock me down, and so it goes.

    It is common knowledge that playing up does wonders for your level (not to mention your game) so I talked my way onto a couple 4.0 teams, playing 3.5 only at the senior level (one of my best friends is the captain and we thought we had a shot at Nationals). Long story short, last year was another very strong 3.5 season, and I did OK at Sectionals although our team fell a bit short. Plus, playing 4.0 (doubles only), while I had way more losses than wins, most of the losses were competitive (except against a couple court 1 teams) and I felt I belonged. So, the early start ratings came out -- and again, 4.0. At 60 years old!

    Perhaps this time it will stick -- folks in the know tell me the sectional results and decent 4.0 matches make it very likely to.

    If I can stress 2 things, it is smarts and fitness.

    Smarts means playing true to your style and always maximizing your chance to win points AND induce your opponent to lose points. My style can be maddening -- it is basically at all times to hit the shot that I believe best gives me the chance to ULTIMATELY win the point. Given my skill set, that means always get the ball back -- depth and direction are far more useful than pace at our level. When finally presented with a weak shot, I rarely go for the winner -- I just try to hit a 90%-likely-to-go-in shot that my opponent will have no good answer for -- either they make the error or they hit one back to me or my partner for an easy putaway. If I am in trouble, that is when the lob or blast works well -- I can no longer set up the point, so the shot I can make maybe 40%-50% of the time, which I would never use if the point is neutral or I am in control of it, becomes the only logical choice -- otherwise my opponent wins the point 80% of the time!

    Smarts also means developing shots that 4.0's cannot pick on. One of the best is a dependable deep second serve with some spin -- whether a medium slice or something with more topspin. I found playing against 4.0's, where I felt no pressure to win, let me really go for a more solid second serve -- which I then translated to using against the toughest 3.5's. (I still wimped in the second serve against weaker 3.5's -- why take any chance on a double fault when I knew there was a better than 50% chance I'd win the point regardless of my serve's pace?) Similar logic with my service returns. I developed a pacier return to break out when playing against 4.0's who could comfortably poach and destroy my usual "just get it in" returns. While I made more errors, and did not need this return against weaker 3.5's, it increased my likelihood of winning points at 4.0 -- and against the top 3.5 players who were between me and a 4.0 rating.

    Fitness is even more important. I started a regular workout regimen, and the benefit is less on the stamina to play longer points, but more on the strength to maintain proper technique under pressure. This probably helped my game MUCH more than any lessons or clinics. After playing this many years -- I KNOW what I should be doing, and can usually self-diagnose (not needing the precision which 5.0 and above players require). Unfortunately, I have let myself go a bit since the outdoor season ended, and so I am avoiding clinics until I get back on the fitness train -- you simply cannot sustain good technique if you are flabby, so why bother?

    So, I hope you do not have to wait until your 7th decade to become a 4.0! But, if it takes you a bit longer than you would like, do not give up -- eventually your efforts will be rewarded.
     
  5. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thanks for sharing your experiences and thanks for the tips, Winning Ugly! It's definitely good to know that improvement can come over a long period of time. I am trying not be impatient with myself, at present. :)
     
  6. Fuji

    Fuji Legend

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    That's awesome! When I was hitting with an ATP Pro yesterday he gave me a good tip. "If you can, practice 30 minutes of just hitting a single serve once a week. I do it and it keeps my 2nd serves unattackable since I have the confidence in it." It makes sense that 30 minutes of hitting just one serve would help a lot in the long run!

    My forehand abandoned me today haha. I lost 6-4 to a 5.0 woman who plays mixed doubles and destroys net players. She was able to return my serves that weren't aces so cleanly and hit within 1 foot of the baseline every time. Her passing shots are the best I've ever seen before. It was a super fun hit.

    -Fuji
     
  7. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    I completely agree that practicing a serve on a weekly basis is a huge help. That's how my second serve got the point it's at now. It (and my first serve, of course) needs many more weeks of practice time that I don't have at present. :)

    That sounds like a really good hitting experience! I hit with a 4.5 guy a couple of weeks ago because he wanted a live target for a forty minute session, instead of hitting against the ball machine, and that was great fun and very educational for me. He ran me ragged, of course. :)
     
  8. Fuji

    Fuji Legend

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    Haha! You literally have all the time in the world to practice throughout your life. There's definitely no rush! :razz:

    It was a good experience. I have no doubts I'll beat her next time we play. I just can't get drawn into the net to face the wrath of her passing shots LOL! It's awesome when you play against really good players that can put you through your paces. I love it. I'm pretty out of shape (as you can probably tell from the videos) so I love getting a good sweat on!

    -Fuji
     
  9. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    I'm 42, so I don't have quite as long as you do. :)

    Good luck the next time you play her! Good exercise is definitely a great side effect of a strong singles tennis match. :)
     
  10. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    So, since my last bad loss, I played at line 1 doubles a couple of weeks ago against the number one team in our league and played well in the first set, then had consistency issues in the second set, garnering a 5-7, 0-6 score. I also played at line 1 singles today against a moderate 3.5 player and won 7-5, 6-3, after falling behind 0-4 in the first set. (I was hitting everything long and wide, until I calmed myself down and focused.) Once those first four games were behind me, I felt like I hit the ball well and placed it well, particularly on my forehand side (at least for my mid-3.5 level).

    One amusing part of the day was that the other team jokingly asked to see my birth certificate, after the match was done. (I'm in my early 40s, and my opponent was definitely a lot older.) I guess that means I moved well while I played. :)
     
  11. Fuji

    Fuji Legend

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    That's awesome!!! Great job bud!

    -Fuji
     
  12. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thanks, Fuji! I'm just glad I didn't self-destruct like I did in my last singles match. :)
     
  13. Winning Ugly

    Winning Ugly New User

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    Hi "Asked" -- I posted the lengthy bits of advice a few weeks back.

    Just wanted to let you know the 4.0 stuck in year-end ratings. Now comes the big challenge. I will play on a >40 team and a >55 team at the 4.0 level this year.

    I know that, if I do not get back to working hard on fitness, I will not stick at 4.0. I need to lose about 20 lbs. and increase strength 10%. Nice to have a goal.

    Good luck to you -- I am convinced you will make it with your dedicated efforts. Just remember, your strokes are probably already good enough. It is your mental and physical preparation that will make the difference...
     
  14. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    His strokes are waaaay too weak to be competitive in 4.0, although it would work to just play at that level.
    He can tell you the same thing.
    Now if he adopted a pusher mentality, his strokes would be strong enough, but his strokes don't work with a pusher mentality because he's working on normal strokes, not just bunting the ball over and over.
     
  15. Winning Ugly

    Winning Ugly New User

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    Pushers don't win at 4.0 doubles and rarely at 3.5 doubles. Nor do players who blast from the baseline with beautiful form and no plan.

    Since I have won a lot at 3.5, and enough at 4.0 that the computer put me there, I think I can speak from relevant experience. There is a difference between the pusher mentality and percentage tennis. There is a difference between a defensive stroke and the "chip and charge." Not to put myself anywhere near that level, but I suppose you would put Borg and Gilbert in the "pusher" catgory. Big mistake IMHO.

    Anyway, if after all these years the OP's strokes are really that weak, then something else is going on. I've not seen his strokes, but my guess is he is changing too many things rather than getting good enough, and then getting consistent, strong and smart. It reminds me of golfers who tweak all their lives, barely break 90, then get old and die. They'll never be scratch golfers and it is a fool's errand to go about life trying to do so.

    The time to get perfect is when you are 7-15. After that, you are just kidding yourself -- a great athlete can get very good, but innately great strokes are patterned early.

    Now if the OP wants to attain beautiful strokes, then have at it. If he wants to move from 3.5 to 4.0 (thread title) at the age of 42 with presumably a full-time job, then he might just benefit from what I have to say. He is 6'1" and 180 so he might have the tools to develop bigger strokes than I could win with. But he does not have forever to do so.

    I will be following this thread.

    Good luck OP!
     
  16. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    Not that everything you say is invalid, but lots are based on ASSUMPTIONS.
    I've seen the strokes. Good form, very slow rackethead speed, very conservative movement, just novice stuff if we consider tennis goes from 3.0 all the way to 7.0.
    Operative words, YOU have not seen his strokes.
     
  17. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Congratulations on the end-of-season 4.0 rating! I hope your seasons go well!

    And thanks! I'll keep working on my game. I don't think I'm hitting at a 4.0 level, and I'm definitely not playing at the 4.0 level yet. My mental game is getting better, though, and that's given me two solid singles matches in a row (the last win I posted about and a respectable loss today). Onward!
     
  18. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    So, I played a very strong 3.5 player today in singles (likely the last match of the season for me), and I played solid tennis, losing 3-6, 3-6. He's 7-1 (now 8-1) this season and hits strong, consistent shots. I was hitting well when I was in position (served well, too), but my feet felt gluey for some reason. (I tried bouncing around between points, but it didn't work.) So, I worked hard to keep hitting solid shots (to his backhand when I could) and keep my mental attitude focused and positive. We had several long rallies where the ball was going back and forth with pace or spin. (Both of us changed up the pace and shot types during our points.) He was just more consistent than I was. On another day, my slower-than-normal feet and the consequent occasional erratic shots would have really frustrated me and led to a bad loss, so my tough mental play was a victory in itself. :)

    During the off-season, my three priorities will be 1) balancing power and consistency on my groundies, 2) better footwork all around, and 3) a more consistent return of serve.
     
  19. Winning Ugly

    Winning Ugly New User

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    Fair enough -- but I have read much of this thread and I have a feeling...but, you are right, it's just a feeling...

    And, to be fair, a solid 3.5 is hardly a "novice" given that 5.0 to 7.0 are many standard deviations above the mean, representing levels which very few competitive players ever see. 4.5 is probably somewhere better than 1 standard deviation above the mean, and 4.0 is well above the mean AND median of competitive players (do a search on this site and you'll see the supporting statistics).

    Give the OP credit -- once you are a "strong" 3.5 you are probably already at the median of competitive USTA league players. If that is a novice, I would not want you grading my papers!!!!!
     
  20. Winning Ugly

    Winning Ugly New User

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    I went back and watched OP's strokes videos. I have to admit I see your point so I stand "somewhat" corrected. Reason I do not concede fully was reinforced tonight -- I was playing on a court next to a 4.5 woman with really unorthodox self-taught strokes, but she always puts the ball exactly where she wants to. She exemplifies the smart, fit, persistent approach I recommend. Not a pusher, either -- just an all court game where spin, accuracy and "hitting 'em where they ain't" is the key. Of course, she is in her university's hall of fame as a basketball player, so there is some off-the-charts athleticism there, though she's now in her late 50's.

    Why do I say unorthodox? I sensed a sort of disconnect between OP's arms and body through the swing, which might be leading to a loss of consistency and control, particularly under pressure. I wonder if that's just me guessing or would a pro see something like what I am seeing. If I am correct, you have to be a superb athlete with great timing to overcome that.

    Anyway, I've beaten better looking strokes, and lost to worse, so I still stress all the other stuff, especially the three most important things -- fitness, fitness, fitness (I include core strength in that description).

    Good luck A&A!!!!!
     
  21. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    ha ha, good one.
    Comparing a 4.5 woman to AA is totally fair. Exactly where his game is, about 3-3.5 men's, but a weak hitter.
    A weak hitter can win even in 5.0, but with deception, low skidded slices, great lobbing deep, and of course, fantastic fitness, and a decade of experience.
    You said you've read lots of the posts on this thread. Does the above sound like AA? I think not.
    It's not only the soft shots, it's the lack of ability to turn a strong opponent's shot into his favor, to handle the weird spins and placements, and NOT just bunt them back softly.
     
  22. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thanks! :)
     
  23. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    I played a line 3 doubles match today as a sub for my team against the number two team in our 3.5 league (we're second to last out of 11 teams), and my partner and I won 7-6 (7-5), 6-4. My partner is in his late 70s and hits solid groundies and volleys but is extremely limited in his movement due to bad knees. So, I focused on playing aggressively at the net (lots of movement--fake poaches, some real poaches) and running down anything within range. I managed to do a decent job at both, for a non-doubles player. I also got a lot of free points on my serve (lefty slice first serves and kick second serves), which helped a lot. My groundies and return of serve were pretty solid, especially when I alternated two-handed backhands with low slice backhands. My partner served solidly and hit well when the ball was in his movement range. Although we lost 2-3 as a team, it was a good way to end my personal season (3-4 overall--2-3 in singles 1-1 in doubles--this fall versus 0 wins last spring). As I've noted before, I'm nowhere near 4.0 level at present, but I'm definitely playing at a solid 3.5 level. Onward!
     
  24. CFreeborn

    CFreeborn New User

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    Bravo! Well done.
     
  25. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thank you!
     
  26. maverick1981

    maverick1981 New User

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    late to the party..but, playing without oversight/instruction from another pair of eyes will kill ya. A good way to advance fast is incorporate playing players both above you and below you -you need to consistently beat those you should beat, and be pushed by those that should push you.

    Also, mental prep is a large part - incorporating analysis and having a plan on the court - and more importantly, being able to actually do it.

    Im a firm believer in instuction - we can be confident in our game, but things could be all wrong. Never want to reinforce bad technique, style, or errors. They might not be an issue now, but when you are challenged by a better player who sees, for example, a significant weakness in stroke style (bad racket prep, you cant hit a backhand volley in a certain area, grip is wrong etc) and plays at a pace where you cannot adjust, you are toast.

    I'd recommend instruction at least 1x a month if possible - beating people in matches can happen numerous ways, many of which might not have anything to do with your skill level or improvement.

    one things you dont need any help on is fitness. If you can make your fitness level a significant non-issue, you can then move on to focus on everything tennis.
     
  27. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thanks for the tips, Maverick! I get a lot of individual instruction on a biweekly basis from an excellent pro at my club during his clinics, which helps me a lot. The clinic is for 4.0+ level players, so I get to hit with strong guys. As far as mental preparation goes, I'm working on improving that aspect of my game. Fitness-wise, I'm doing pretty well. (I'm 6'1 and 175 pounds now, which helps with match stamina.)
     
  28. maverick1981

    maverick1981 New User

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    np - im sure alot of that has been mentioned in this thread, so, sorry for the repitition as well. Good luck, sounds like you got everything going.

    The biggest step up for my game was the mental aspect. Playing every point, 100% effort, and having mental fitness from point to point. Ending one, and moving onto the next.
     
  29. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thank you! :)
     
  30. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    It's been a while since I posted to this thread, so here's an update:

    I'm playing on my old 3.5 team and on a 4.0 team this season. I've played line 1 singles three times on the 3.5 team, losing 1-6, 2-6; 5-7, 4-6; and 6-7, 4-6. I've played line 3 doubles for the 4.0 team once (each doubles team had a 4.0 and a 3.5 playing) and won 6-2, 6-7, 1-0. Other than my first match, I've felt pretty good about my playing. Everything in my game still needs lots of work, of course. :)
     
  31. beernutz

    beernutz Hall of Fame

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    I am lazy a_a (see I won't even type your entire nick out :) ) so could you summarize what changes to your training, diet, or lifestyle etc. you've made and stuck with in pursuit of the illusive 4.0 rating? Which ones do you think are the most effective?
     
  32. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    That's not a lazy request at all. :)

    Here's a summary of some of what's helped me go from 2.5 to high 3.5:

    1. Dropping 27 pounds (down to 175 lbs. now for the past year) by eating about 1/3 less food at meals and hitting with partners or off the ball machine twice a week;

    2. Developing a strong, lefty spin serve for my first serve and a high, consistent kicker for my second serve;

    3. Calming my body during groundstrokes (fewer jumps, less shoulder leaning);

    4. Developing proper volleys and associated footwork;

    5. Learning to forgive myself for mistakes during a match and after the match (I'm my own worst critic.);

    6. Learning to better maintain my concentration over the period of a match;

    7. Attending a weekly clinic with higher level players that is run by a great pro with years and years of experience (and taking occasional lessons with the same pro);

    8. Practicing as often as my work and family commitments permit (not often at present);

    9. Seeking out and implementing advice from other players and coaches (here on TT or in my area); and

    10. Never settling for my present ability level.
     
  33. asimple

    asimple Semi-Pro

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    Other than luxilon strings, the biggest improvement I got in tennis was after reading a book called "The Inner Game of Tennis". Learning to focus on the match and ignore external and internal events makes a huge difference in play. I am not sure if it is as relevant at a 3.5 level, but it is definitely worth reading. It should do far more for your game than an equivalent amount of time on the court.
     
  34. colowhisper

    colowhisper Semi-Pro

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    Two teams?

    How are you playing on two different teams two different levels for the same season? I thought that was not allowed by USTA?
     
  35. goober

    goober Legend

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    It is allowed if the other team is above your rating. You just can't play below your rating.
     
  36. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thanks! I have read _The Inner Game of Tennis_, which I found useful. I've also read and enjoyed Allen Fox's _Winning the Mental Match_ and Brad Gilbert's _Winning Ugly_.
     
  37. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Exactly. I can only play up a half point in my section (Texas), though: no 4.5 league tennis permitted for me (not that I could even remotely compete at that level). However, I did start out as a 2.5 in a 3.5 league before the rule change and was bumped mid-season to 3.0, then to 3.5 at year-end.
     
  38. storypeddler

    storypeddler Semi-Pro

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    There are lots of things you can do, but there are two hard and fast ways to nudge yourself up the ladder---work on consistency and improve fitness. In all my years playing league and tournament tennis, the single greatest difference I have seen in 3.5 and 4.0 players is consistency. A 3.5 player may hit a ball three times before making an error. The 4.0 player, with no bigger game, will hit it 5, 6, 7 times without making an unforced error. The more difficult the shot, the harder it becomes to hit it over and over, but the players who can will always win a lot more matches than those who can't. Once you are hitting average balls with increasing consistency, start going for a little more and work that until you are hitting a 20% better shot just as consistently as you were the lesser shot. Stay at the process. So many people make tennis sound like this unbelievably complex thing to master, and it doesn't have to be. Within the limits of talent level, the winners are those who can hit their best shot one more time than their opponent can. In basketball, the teams that win are the ones who consistently shoot a very high percentage. Look at tennis pros and see how few win when their serving percentage is low or they have huge numbers of unforced errors. Talent can be the difference, but between players of relatively similar skills, consistency almost always tells the tale. And, as a footnote to that, the player who is fitter is usually more consistent because he is not losing his edge due to weariness or muscle fatigue. Get fit and get consistent.
     
  39. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thanks for the advice, storypeddler!

    Along with everything else, I am trying to work on hitting my shots with more consistency. I've become much more consistent over the past year, which has contributed to my improved match scores. That said, I need a lot more consistency to move up a level in play. That involves practice, and though I had a decent amount of time for practice when I worked for myself seven or so months ago, I'm not so flexible now with my new job. I'm hoping to work more practice time into my schedule in another month. So, once my consistency does eventually improve to a high enough level, I'll work on increasing controlled pace and further consistency, etc., etc.

    As for fitness, it's pretty good right now. I can play a tough (for a 3.5), two-hour match without flagging. It could definitely be better, though, so that's also on my list of things to work on when I have more time.

    Thanks again!
     
  40. Fuji

    Fuji Legend

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    Glad to hear all is well with you!

    Fitness always needs work. I dropped 13lbs, and even though it has helped my stamina quite a bit, I still need way more work haha!

    Consistency is tough to work on, but at least you have a steady stroke base to build off of. It always kills me when guys want to work on consistency, but their strokes are so erratic that consistency is the farthest thing from the truth. :razz:

    -Fuji
     
  41. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    I agree with you, Fuji, regarding fitness!

    Yeah, my strokes definitely lacked a foundation with which to build consistency not too long ago. It's nice to have something to work with going forward. :)
     
  42. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    I played my first league match since mid-March today at line 1 3.5 singles and won 6-2, 6-1. My opponent had nice-looking, strong strokes (his topspin forehand was particularly heavy and often well-placed), a good serve, and excellent wheels, but he was erratic. (I'm guessing he played in high school years ago and is getting back into tennis.) My serve was really on (first and second), and he, like most 3.5s I play, had a tough time with it. So, I won a lot of points on my serve (some aces helped with that), and he gave me a lot of points on his. I focused on hitting relaxed, quality shots when we had rallies, and it paid off when he eventually missed. I was even hitting some rip-like forehands (for me) and missing only rarely. It was nice to play well (for my level) and get the win.
     
  43. yonexpurestorm

    yonexpurestorm Rookie

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    nice to hear improvements are coming along.
     
  44. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thank you! :)
     
  45. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    Dec 28, 2008
    Messages:
    37,238
    Location:
    East side of San Francisco Bay
    Be wary, don't celebrate too early, or at least not until you rise out of 3.5 and make 4.0.
    One match, or even several, doesn't mean you've passed yourself off as a 3.5. At that level, you face all sorts of weirdo styles, and some good direct tennis too. It's a question of matchups, and a big hitter who's erratic doesn't represent the baseline 3.5 level. Wait until you play a pusher who goes to quarter's in every 3.5 tourney, then you think of yourself as having improved to the point of solid 3.5 level play.
    And watch your back, there are plenty of 3.0's using YOU as their benchmark for success.
     
  46. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

    Joined:
    Dec 17, 2009
    Messages:
    332
    I won't, Lee. I'm quite aware that I'm still a 3.5. :)
     
  47. heninfan99

    heninfan99 Legend

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,857
    HGH :) How about practice with a ball machine.
     
  48. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

    Joined:
    Dec 17, 2009
    Messages:
    332
    Yes, definitely helpful. :)
     

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