Sunday, November 01, 2015

LEAGUE WATCH: Actually, don't watch.

It's a tennis player's dream to move to a place where the weather allows you to play as often as you can. You think: "What could be better? I can play all day!"

So one of the first things I did in Florida was to join a USTA mixed doubles team, and I was underwhelmed by the competition. The 8.0 matches felt like Allegheny 7.0-level skill, so naturally I wasn't very worried about anyone. But you know who else is underwhelming? Me.

I joined the women's 7.5 fall team and thought once again that it should be a cakewalk. These players have nothing I've never seen before, right? You should try telling that to my game, because all of a sudden, league tennis is like uncharted waters.

Take my last match. Now back in the day, I was used to playing my way into form during a match and improving as I went along. I'd shank balls all over the place in the first set and if I was playing with a new partner, I'd just tell them to give me a minute. Lately, though, I've been stuck in first gear.

Last night, while I laid awake thinking about how I should have gotten into lacrosse as a child, it occurred to me what the problem is. I've lost my swagger. See, back in the day, I had more swagger than game. I'd walk up to the service line late in a set and get real focused. The other night, I walked up to serve at 4-5 in the second set and I was so nervous that I briefly considered just throwing down the racquet and having a good Zvonareva-esque cry on the baseline. It was really that serious -- I just could not deal.

My game's not perfect, but I used to feel like I knew it and could trust it. I would get into a weird place during matches where I would rely heavily on instinct and the game just flowed for me. I never got rattled at losing the first set because I always thought I'd get stronger. Even after a loss in the old days, I always felt like I at least finished the match stronger than I had started. Now everything feels forced. I'm never fully relaxed anymore. I'm thinking about the mechanics of almost every shot I hit, especially the weaker shots in my game. I want my swagger back.

Probably the only way to get it back is to play a lot. That's much easier said than done, especially when you have to hand off 45-plus hours to the man every week. Maybe my game just needs to get adjusted to a different climate? Or my brain does? I have no idea. All I know is that I'm tired of playing poorly and I want to stop. Like I've always said, tennis is 99.4503827 percent mental, so whatever is happening concerns the hamster cage in my head. I mean, I can hit a thousand forehands in practice, but what's the point if I can't make myself hit them with authority while under pressure?

If you have any ideas about getting my head on straight again, I'm not too proud to beg. I'll take 'em. But make it quick, because I have another league match this week. #gulp