Overhitting: What I learned from watching the pros at the US Open

Discussion in 'Tennis Tips/Instruction' started by TimeToPlaySets, Sep 1, 2012.

  1. TimeToPlaySets

    TimeToPlaySets Rookie

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    I just got back into tennis a few weeks ago. 3.5
    When I am "on", I have a strong forehand and backhand.
    I can look impressive.

    The first week, I played a 25 year old and lost. 6-4 6-2
    Why? B/c I was trying to kill it and made tons of unforced errors.
    I was trying to crush winners all the time. One speed. 100%.
    Like when you only rally for years on end, and never play sets.
    Blasting return of serves sometimes into the fence!

    He kept it in play, and let me make all the mistakes. Noted.

    This week, I watched the pros.
    They know when to NOT go for it.
    I also forgot how useful the slice is.
    This is another reason rallying ruins your game.
    You never slice when rallying.
    You will never win if you keep smashing the ball out, no matter how "pro" you look.

    So, I dialed it back in a huge way today.
    I popped the serves back. Or sliced them back.
    I reduced my unforced errors by a factor of "****load".
    I sliced back many groundstrokes that were not in the sweet spot.
    I waited to unload when the ball was in my sweet spot.

    Result?
    This time, I won.
    6-1 6-4
    He was pissed.

    This was a huge step forward in my game.
    There is a balance in playing too aggressively and playing like a ******.
    Today, I erred on the latter, and will find the right balance.
    But, if you are keeping score and want to win, you need to keep it in play,
    and not try to hit winners on low percentage shots.
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2012
    #1
  2. Metalica

    Metalica New User

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    That sounds exactly like me so perhaps I should do as you say. I'm under the impression that if you play too timidly in sets, you would never improve. I suppose I'll still go for it in practice but be more patient in matches.
     
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  3. chrisberchris

    chrisberchris Rookie

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    Just be careful not to form habits that could harm you in the future.
     
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  4. TimeToPlaySets

    TimeToPlaySets Rookie

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    As a teen, I used to play too timidly.
    Hit hard during warm up, then once we kept score, I backed off big time.
    I'd start tapping it back, not wanting to make an error.

    However, years later, I was on the other extreme. All I did was rally, so I learned to go for it all the time. I was also trying NOT to be too timid, b/c I wanted to get BETTER.

    However, the moral here is, do not be on either extreme. Pros don't hit like wimps, yet they do not smash the crap out of the ball on every shot either. There is a middle road that will maximize your points.

    Like I said, today I backed down, and I killed him.
    The score speaks for itself.
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2012
    #4
  5. Xizel

    Xizel Professional

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    There are also certain shots that needs to be hit with conviction to be effective. Examples include a topspin response to a low slice, kick serves, and short CC groundstrokes. You have to have the will to swing at maximum RHS and generate sufficient topspin.
     
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  6. TimeToPlaySets

    TimeToPlaySets Rookie

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    When rallying, I can hit hard with conviction but need to build up to a place I can do it consistently during play. The other big difference is that the ball is hit to you during rallying, and you're on the run while playing. This is another situation where I deferred to defensive shots today, and greatly reduced my unforced errors.
     
    #6
  7. user92626

    user92626 Legend

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    Let me try to understand this:

    YOu need to watch pros to learn that you need to keep the ball in play in order to get some decent tennis? Learn that hitting out or making errors is no good tennis?

    And you forgot that slice can be used/useful?

    That's some revelation! :)
     
    #7
  8. Long Face

    Long Face Rookie

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    The coin has two sides. The fine balance is controlled agression with fearless shots. But it takes a lot of practice and some lost matches to find that balance.
     
    #8
  9. 5263

    5263 G.O.A.T.

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    It's a subtle point you guys are covering here and likely one of the biggest things
    holding pack players in their games.

    Many and likely most newer players think in terms of being aggressive or careful.
    Really neither of these extremes is going to help your game early on.
    Their games are not developed enough to do both of these at the same time
    or even conceive of how that can work.

    The key is to work on current, executable shots in the early going. Win or lose,
    work these shots that include reasonable form, where you can learn to repeat the
    performances consistently. Once you have something learned as a base level,
    (may take a week or 2 months) then you can learn to be consistent while you
    are aggressive. I recommend an aggressive swing, BUT with more conservative targets.
    IMO most players are way too aggressive with targets (and a bit aggressive with swings)
    too near the lines due to the illusion that is critical to earning winners and forcing errors.
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2012
    #9
  10. Bhagi Katbamna

    Bhagi Katbamna Hall of Fame

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    At our level being able to consistently hit the ball beyond the service line will win you matches.
     
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  11. Cervantes

    Cervantes New User

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    Sampras coach at the time, I forget who it was, was pissed when Pete's old coach Robert Landsdorp call him to say that Pete's shots were sailing because he wasn't finishing high around his neck.
     
    #11
  12. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    Pushing wins, up to 4.0.
     
    #12
  13. TimeToPlaySets

    TimeToPlaySets Rookie

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    FunkyMonkey says:
    I played doubles last night. Worthy of a short post-mortem.

    It was a textbook 3.0 level “Island of misfit toys”.

    Everyone had some sort of killer shot potential, but it was offset by huge unforced error rate and often a gaping Achilles' ...hole ...in their games. (incomplete game)
    Recall the brilliant “Major League” (1989).
    One guy crushes fastballs out of the park. But, he whiffs on a change up.
    One guy can steal bases like the wind, but can only hit pop flys.
    One guy can pitch 100mph fastballs, but has zero control.

    It’s up to you to find that glaring undeveloped aspect of their game.
    Last night, one guy could not toss the ball right. 50% of serves had a re-toss. But, then you’d frame the few serves that actually went in.
    Most guys trying to KILL the serve. (Result = only 20% go in, but when it does goes in, guaranteed service winner)
    Wild 2nd serves almost hitting the baseline. TONS of double faults. (Tennis: “You’re only as good as your 2nd serve”)
    One guy had the wackiest serve I have ever seen. Remember the trick shot where you put so much slice on the ball that you can make it bounce back to your side of the net? One guy was serving like that.
    I think I started laughing. First serve % was like 20%. Sometimes, the ball would not even reach HIS side of the net. It was comical. Yet, when it went in, it was difficult to hit.

    Like in golf, this fleeting glimmer of perfection is what keeps them coming back.
    This all is a great metaphor for the human condition. People anchor on the remote outlier possibility (homerun), not what is most likely (strikeout). Lottery ticket mentality vs. Gov’t worker mentality? Tortoise vs. Hare?
    If you do not embrace and respect basic probability, or you will lose 19 out of 20 matches (and the 20th is merely Taleb’s randomness, not skill)
    This is why golf and tennis are thinking mens’ games. The impulsive always lose, over the long haul.

    Mindful of the above, I’ve made big steps forward in the last few weeks.
    In contrast, my serves were kept at 75% pace, and therefore, were mostly going in.
    With merely that pace, and inherent lefty spin, I had plenty of service winner, and even had an ace or two.
    I really held back on the groundstrokes until the ball was in the sweet spot = Lower unforced errors.
    Otherwise, slice or block back. Just wait to hit the winner. But, that “pusher” mindset won lots of unforced points anyway.

    3.0 is fun. No one is a beginner, and people can hit hard, but it’s a circus of randomness. Anyone can get hot or cold. Pro caliber shots buttressed by tragic miscues.
    By 3.5, I think skills and games start to become more stable, homogenized, and complete. I will be there soon.
    Harking back to Tolstoy’s opening line in Anna Karenina, “Happy 4.0’s are all alike, but mediocre 3.0s are all mediocre in their own way” Ha.

    In conclusion, FunkyMonkey's quote above is spot on 100%.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2012
    #13
  14. 5263

    5263 G.O.A.T.

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    Be careful or you will find yourself climbing the ranks, while they mutter how
    you only win because you rarely miss!
     
    #14
  15. RF20Lennon

    RF20Lennon Legend

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    I think you need to have a bit of both and understand which to use on which days and against whom
     
    #15
  16. TimeToPlaySets

    TimeToPlaySets Rookie

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    I still unload on plenty of shots. Just not every single one!
     
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  17. thejackal

    thejackal Hall of Fame

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    paul annacone
     
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  18. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    That depends on what you mean by pushing.
     
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  19. 5263

    5263 G.O.A.T.

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    I was being sarcastic. You sound like you are the beginning of the path I traveled in ways.
    Many matches I hit twice as many winners and unload quite often. But to a basher,
    all they feel is the frustration of your moving them around and using variety to
    disrupt THEIR rhythm. They forget when you hit hard and the winners that go
    by in the end as they they to make sense of what happened to them.

    Stay the course!
     
    #19
  20. xFullCourtTenniSx

    xFullCourtTenniSx Hall of Fame

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    Watch Murray play when he's not wailing on the ball. He never looks like he's pushing himself to crush the ball, even on "kill shots". He just puts it away with control.

    "control"
     
    #20
  21. KenC

    KenC Professional

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    Exactly. If there's one thing I have learned from playing against the 5.0 crowd, it's all about control, not power. It's not about creating winners, it's about making your opponent hit outside of his/her comfort zone as much as possible. Good pace certainly does this as it robs the opponent of time, but it has to be hit consistently or, in effect, you are just going for winners at the wrong time. High loopy topspin shots that go very deep pose more problems to me than a killer forehand that bounces on the service line and rises right into my preferred strike zone, as does deep low skidding slice shots. Being able to consistently get the ball deep into the various corners is much more devastating that driving killer forehands right into their BH or FH. In effect, we need to combine pace with placement and various strike zone heights to keep pressure on our opponents.

    I think a major problem with lower level players is they are enamored with the killer winner. How many times do we see people drive their opponent wide and thus creating a wide open court, and then they crush the next ball as hard as they can and it goes long AND wide?
     
    #21
  22. vil

    vil Semi-Pro

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    That's very typical of players being over-anxious rather than staying cool and go for a placement winner.
     
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  23. xFullCourtTenniSx

    xFullCourtTenniSx Hall of Fame

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    Part of the problem is also that even if you have open court, it doesn't mean you should hit to it (if it's down the line obviously, crosscourt just go for the placement kill like the guy above me said). Sometimes you will hit a good shot, wide and your opponent responds with a hard, deep shot that, by the time you get to it, will be hit from outside the sidelines, meaning you have to hit back into the court. Even if you get that shot in, it gives your opponent a better chance to get to it and allow them to hit an EASY shot into the open court (any sort of deep crosscourt shot) which will likely force errors, become a winner, or set up an easy finish.

    People need to think more about playing within themselves, hitting shots they know they can make at least 9/10 times.

    If the ball lands short or more towards the middle, feel free to go down the line. Even if you don't hit a winner, if you focus on hitting it deep (and keeping it low), you can follow it to the net and likely either bait out an error or get an easy volley.
     
    #23
  24. gsuede

    gsuede Rookie

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    How can you look impressive at 3.5? When you hit 4.5 to 5.0 maybe but you are a beginner right now
     
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  25. KenC

    KenC Professional

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    That should be engraved on every tennis court.

    I think it all comes down to understanding high percentage tennis. Shot selection should not be about hitting winners but choosing shots that are fairly easy to execute yet also keep up the pressure on the opponent. Over time the player who puts more pressure on the other's game will start to dominate. In effect, tennis is not often won with winners, it is won by applying consistent pressure that forces the opponent's entire game to break down.
     
    #25
  26. mightyrick

    mightyrick Hall of Fame

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    I have to disagree with this statement. There is a balance.

    In anything you do, the only way to improve is to increase the level of difficulty -- until failure. Not unlike lifting weights. If you want to get stronger, you have to lift more weight until you fail. People should feel comfortable over-reaching at times in order to learn or further develop their skills. And you can't do this just in practice. You have to do it in match situations, as well.

    I'm not saying that people should ridiculously go for everything. But when you are far ahead (or far behind), I think players should use that as an opportunity to try new things.
     
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  27. 5263

    5263 G.O.A.T.

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    I think that balance can be struck between his statement "that players should
    think MORE about playing within their abilities" and yours above.

    He is very right that most players should think of that more than they do and you are right that there ARE times to push things harder and expand
    what you can do.
     
    #27
  28. floide

    floide Rookie

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    One of my practicing partners (3.5, while I'm 4.0) is facing the same problem: he's always looking for a winner, always trying to put his balls onto the corners of the court. In my 2nd serve, per example, for every winner he gets, there are about 4 or 5 bizarre unforced errors.

    I'm constantly winning effortlessy (6x2, 6x1, even 6x0). All I have to do is keep the ball in play. That's awful for me too, because since he's either hitting winners (30%) or making unforced errors (70%), I almost never have the chance to hit my own winners, neither developing my groundies.

    I tell him: "Dude, you gotta chose if you want to play 'winner game' or tennis", but he's not getting the message yet. Too bad for both of us.
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2012
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  29. TimeToPlaySets

    TimeToPlaySets Rookie

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    A 3.0 can crush an ace past you.
    A 3.0 can crush a baseline winner past you.
    A 3.0 can slam a volley away.

    He just will hit the other 4 shots out.
    And he will have some glaring hole in his game (Never goes to net, no 2nd serve)

    But, in isolated moments, a 3.0 can look just as imposing as any 4.5.

    Just like a 20 handicapper can crush a 350 yard drive (And then 4 putt)
     
    #29
  30. Sreeram

    Sreeram Professional

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    That is an awesome example. Many here hate him and call him pusher. But he is the highest ranked High percentage game player in Pro Tour today. Federer, Nadal and Djkoer depend on hitting winners for their game. But Murray is the only one who plays high percentage game and can win a match with fewer winners.
     
    #30
  31. user92626

    user92626 Legend

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    Dude, people generally do not change. They might get savvy and slightly better through experience and repetition but they are what they are. They either get it right a way or they don't. Now, those that change in a short time in front of your eyes are exceptional. Those few are usually very very good.

    If you have a choice, keep moving and finding the right partner. Dont' waste your time. That's what I did.
     
    #31
  32. floide

    floide Rookie

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    Maybe you're right. But if he is aware of the problem and acknowledges how to work around it (he agreed with me when I told him that), what stops him from changing?
     
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  33. InspectorRacquet

    InspectorRacquet Semi-Pro

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    That sounds like a very elitist attitude.

    2.5 is pretty much the beginner (who knows the basics of tennis as well). From my experience, a 3.5 can look very good. Like others have said, it's the isolated moments and points where a 3.5 can have a backhand/forehand/serve working perfectly, but then break apart in the next set or in specific situations. They are by no means great at tennis, but they have their moments.

    On topic: there is only one problem with the phrase "placement over power" that really bugs me. It's that placement is useless without any sort of power, and vice versa. Having gone through the power struggle myself, I reverted to pure placement. That got my butt kicked. You don't necessarily need power with placement, per se, but spin to give that illusion of power. It is very hard to control a ball with a lot of spin. That is why Nadal's game is such a success as compared to the other pros. However, if the spin lands at the service line and not no man's land, it is useless.

    Moral of the story: deep with spin beats all. Not power. Spin creates the illusion of power without having you wear yourself out swinging 100% on every ball.
     
    #33
  34. martini1

    martini1 Hall of Fame

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    Yes, wanting to crush the ball at 100% is very tempting. But this kind of play has gone low percentage for me from time to time. One reason being the lack of good old practice. The pro crush on shots that they have hit thousands of time during practice and they know if they are making that shot or not.

    Playing with control is very important, meaning with the right mix of power and placement. Sometimes I back off too much just to place the ball in then I gave the initiative away.
     
    #34
  35. Red Sunset

    Red Sunset Rookie

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    I reckon Ferrer is a better example of playing to the best of your ability than Murray. Murray has the physical capabilities to be a BIG hitter if he wanted to be. IE, he's tall and physically imposing. I reckon this is why some people tend to see him as "pushing" sometimes.
    However, Ferrer plays the percentages so well, but he is not an "unagressive" sort of player. He hits all out, but not at the lines, he runs down everything, and is capable of bringing some heat to put the ball away.
    I know his game is somewhat dictated by his stature, but his balance between attack and "playing within yourself" is a good example to follow if you're a 4.0ish player I reckon.
     
    #35
  36. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    A 4.0 player who likes to run down an average of 15 shots for each point.
    Always a balance between weak hitting, strong hitting, and your physical and mental state of mind.
     
    #36
  37. xFullCourtTenniSx

    xFullCourtTenniSx Hall of Fame

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    The fact that Murray CAN hit very big and chooses not to hit big a majority of the time makes him a better example.

    You don't have to hit big to hit a winner. You don't have to hit godly shots to make your opponent uncomfortable (though as you get better, obviously the quality of shot required to do so gets more demanding), you just have to understand what you CAN do and pick the most effective option. Humans have a physical limit. No matter what, you cannot cover the entire court in 1 second. No matter what, you cannot react to the ball instantly (0s).

    Why go for a 100 mph forehand winner on the lines when you can get a winner going 50-60 mph a foot or two inside the lines? Highlight reel? Having more highlight reel points doesn't win you sets or matches. They just make you feel like an underachiever because you will look at that and say "that's what I should be doing every point" when you miss 4/5 of those shots.

    A 3.5 "big hitter" will be looked at by other 3.5s and their response will be, "oh, he hits big. I should prepare my game for that." A 4.0 looks at the same player and says, "oh, he makes a lot of stupid errors. I should prepare my game for that."

    As long as people have the motivation to get better, they will never stop aiming for more. However, people need to realize that in a situation to win, that should be your primary goal unless your goal is to win in 6-12 months, in which case losing is perfectly fine if you're focusing on something in your game you need to improve which puts you in a high risk situation in a match. HOWEVER, going for a flat running down the line forehand everytime you are placed in that situation could NEVER EVER be considered good in any way. Sure, if you do it once or twice in a match and it goes in on a critical point, it can be a blow to your opponent's mentality. And if you feel like you're on and can crush running forehand after running forehand (Delpo US Open 09), then that PROBABLY means someone upstairs is telling you to keep doing it for the rest of the day.

    Players should and will always look for small things to improve in their gameplay (control, spin, court coverage, pace). If you're up 0-30 or 0-40, then sure you can go for a big return to try and throw your opponent off, but this if not for the sake of developing your skills, because it won't do that. It's a calculated risk where if you succeed, you win an easy point and if it fails, it still gives your opponent something to think about while they are still behind and looking to find a way to overtake you, which might lead them to make a decision or mistake that they normally wouldn't (double faulting or going for less on the first serve to make sure they get it in).

    Going for highlight reel shots can't every really be advocated. Going for something that you normally would be uncomfortable with can be a good choice based on the reasons behind them. Hitting mostly backhands (or slices, or volleys, or heavy topspin) because you are bad with them and want to get better is a good reason. Hitting them because you want to look good or make a highlight reel isn't. And there will almost never be a good reason to go for 100% on the lines from behind the baseline in a rally unless you truly believe you are THAT outmatched or the point is more or less over anyway.
     
    #37
  38. 5263

    5263 G.O.A.T.

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    Mostly true above, but Nadal is the one who may often have less UEs than even Murray, even
    though his play may often be more aggressive in ways.
    DJ has also changed to greatly reduce his UEs and thats a big part of what put him on top
    last year.
     
    #38
  39. Red Sunset

    Red Sunset Rookie

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    I disagree. The fact that Murray so often choses to play too far within his limits is what makes Ferrer a better example, if we're talking purely about getting the balance right between aggression and consistency. Surely you agree that Murray's biggest downfall (to date) has been that he sometimes goes into his shell. In my opinion, Murray plays much better when he's a little more aggressive than seems to come naturally to him. It was this increased risk taking that finally got him a slam, in my opinion.
     
    #39
  40. Cervantes

    Cervantes New User

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    Points come in streaks. Gamblers understand this. When betting, a good gamer will bet small, hit, bet a little bigger, hit big, bet big. Also true in sports. When points begin to be scored in streaks, this is the player's cue to pour it on...
     
    #40
  41. Red Sunset

    Red Sunset Rookie

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    Hmm, I think tennis is a little more calculated than gambling. I guess you take calculated risks, but I'd like to think I have more control over the outcome than when I place a bet!
     
    #41
  42. Cervantes

    Cervantes New User

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    Think again, and try to comprehend the analogy. Gaming isn't pure luck. And tennis isn't all calculation.
     
    #42
  43. Red Sunset

    Red Sunset Rookie

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    I see what you mean, and I don't know much about gambling. But I don't see the same amount of luck being involved. I think 99% of the time the player with the greater skill wins, not because they "got on a roll" or got lucky with a few shots. What do other people think. Are tennis and gambling analogous?
     
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