Three good days at the end of January

Nearing the end of the month and the numbers are looking good across all areas of training. I have worked hard on anticipation, moving backwards and forwards on the court and consistency. Unforced errors have definitely been down this month. It feels like I am striking a good balance and grateful for the indoor tennis dome providing protection from the elements.

Particularly pleasing is a growing understanding about how to play different opponents, part coach input, part theory and part from actual practice.

Things to worry about. Inner elbow remains sore with what I think is called golfer’s elbow. Stretching did ease it previously, so must re-engage with that. There is also a small clicking in my right knee, apparent only at rest and moving around the house. There is  a very slight and I mean very slight uncomfortableness. I have to really focus on it to feel it and not aware of in training or on court. Awareness of these little niggles and the need to respect them, I have learnt over time. Each new one requires a new assessment and a new judgement about the best action if any to take.

I am physically tired, not I think from over training, more from lack of sleep which has accumulated over the month. I always wake early so it is the need to have head on pillow in good time that needs to happen more frequently.

Friday 28th

The day started badly when my morning coaching session was cancelled due to coach struggling with a sore foot. I was looking forward to the early morning session, but can’t be helped. A couple of messages later in the day raise my spirits. First there is the ask for a gentle hit, following injury, which we arrange for Saturday lunchtime indoors. Then unexpectedly I get a call for a late Friday evening hit, which of course I am grateful for.

This Friday evening hit confirms not just how well I am hitting the ball, it also confirms that my movement and anticipation is improving as well. This feels really positive going into the weekend’s County Closed championships, for players born or resident in Cornwall.

The picture changes somewhat when back at home I check my phone and see a new message from the tournament referee. My intended opponent has gone down with Covid and I now have a bye and will play the number two seed. I feel mixed about this situation. Disappointed to miss out on  a first round match which I had reasonable expectations that it would be a good competitive match. On the other hand I relish the chance to play the number two seed.

I am obviously by some way the underdog against a player still in his twenties and realistic expectation would be to win a game or possibly two at best.

I clearly have a choice to accept what I think everyone would say is inevitable and just go along accepting this and enjoy and learn from the experience. Or, and I hesitate, give some serious thought to how I might cause the number two seed genuine problems and take with me my best plan for a chance at winning. The game isn’t played yet, but even to harbour such thoughts feels audacious.

In reality I am likely to get hit off court without too much fuss. And perhaps that expectation is my first line of defense. Can I create is as  an opportunity? The mismatch is such that it will likely be difficult for my opponent to really get up for this match. He knows he should win easily. A second possible advantage is that the match is scheduled for early Sunday morning. I am often at my best  in the mornings. I don’t know whether the expected ease of the win plus the early Sunday morning might work in my favour. I must make sure that I am fully warmed up and ready to go from the off.

What about my tactics. I like what I am currently reading about match play. Thoughts like bring your A game and if that does not work the B game is even less likely to work. I immerse myself in possible tactics to hinder the big hitter, most of which seem to be within my skill range to execute as long as I am not totally overpowered. I have to believe them though. The other consideration is trying to keep a clear head whatever the score.  I have some 17 hours to engrain these tactics and a belief that they can work before I walk out on court.

We are after all just emerging from winter hibernation and expectation is never higher than before what you think and hope, is tested in competition.

Saturday 29th

A gentle one hour hit today. Suits me perfectly.

The period December through to now at the end of January has been kind to me and these past few weeks particularly, I have been playing some of my best tennis. In reality my best is by some distance inferior to the number two seed. Yet here on a Saturday afternoon on the day before the match I have returned from my gentle lunchtime hit with a sense of optimism. I am not sure the optimism extends as far as actually winning the match, more about wanting to play well. And yet you should never pre judge these things.

Throughout my post hit stretching routine, the what ifs continue to circulate in  my head. We all pay the same entry fee, so no reason why we can’t have the same dreams.

Today is about preparation and getting the details right. I am reminded of Andy Murray sat courtside I think at Indian Wells in the autumn and yelling at his support team, when they did not have a spare pair of shoes for him as the ones he was wearing had become totally soaked in the heat and humidity of the desert. “Details” he shouted “you have to get the details right!”

Showered and after lunch with no one else home, I settle in my chair and contemplate further the what ifs. The Australian open is nearing its conclusion and I recall reading an article discussing the different approaches of Nadal and Murray to this first Grand Slam of the year. Murray was said to be using all of his energy physical and emotional just trying to win one or two matches. Nadal on the other hand had come prepared expecting to still be around at the sharp end of the tournament and had geared his emotions to the challenge accordingly.

And so it is on a Saturday evening that I am sat with the contents of my tennis bag strewn around me. First job is to regrip one of my rackets. It’s a task taken slowly that can be really satisfying and knowing that the tools of the trade are prepared and ready to go as the tape spirals down the handle, finished with  a neat fold and held in place with a little tape, purpose made for the task.

Which kit to wear and which to take as a spare. There’s a range of shirts to choose from. I uncover  a shirt given to me by my son as a birthday present, that is the prefect shirt for tomorrow.

I repack the bag, discarding bits and pieces like extra grips and string dampeners that have been riding around in the bag for years unused. Change of kit, two pairs of tennis shoes, can of balls, water bottles, towel, bananas (Top tip, these fit perfectly into the spare pair of shoes, protects the bananas and saves space), most importantly glasses, without which everything else is irrelevant.

I place the bag complete with the needs for match day in an out of the way place. The racket bag is tatty beyond reason. It really is time to replace it.

Sunday 30th

Match day.  My mind remains in the place of bringing my A game. I am unusually calm. Though not as calm as I would like to think. For sure the morning chore of emptying the dishwasher passes without incident. The porridge comes out of the microwave looking good, just need to add the nuts and the berries left out overnight to defrost. There are two bowls and I tip the first onto the porridge and begin to stair, stare, stur ah yes stir – mind is wandering.  Ah! No I have used the wrong berries, one bowl is only blueberries and the other, one is mixed berries. In a mild panic I pick the berries out with a teaspoon, but it is difficult to pick the berries clean without the stickiness of the porridge unsticking itself. Resort to emptying the berries into a sieve and running under the tap. Carefully with a teaspoon I manage to extract sufficient clean berries, I hope. Anyway I will be long gone to tennis even if the misdemeanor is discovered. Reminds me to turn down the volume on my phone as last thing I need mid match is a reprimand about tampering with the berries.

As I glance back at the January training and practice I have  feeling that my game has moved on another notch. We will see. I know I cannot be more ready today. This will be the best I am capable of.

Match postscript – the score was as predicted 0-6, 1-6. I was totally over powered. However within what I was able to do I was pretty pleased with my performance. I feel surprisingly encouraged.

Extra ordinary happenings at the Australian Open today as Nadal overcomes Medvedev in five long sets. To give this some perspective on the length of this match, I left home after the match had started, travelled and played two tennis matches, returning home to catch the end of the Australian Open Final and Nadal capture his 21st Grand Slam title. Awesome on so many levels!

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