Playing a ranked, but rusty, opponent

Yesterday, I played singles with Joe McAleer, a nationally ranked player who just came down from New Jersey; so as he said, I could have “the Florida advantage.” Coincidentally, I was the first guy Joe played when he started coming down to Florida to spend the winter and play the USTA tournaments a few years back. He beat me in straight sets.

Joe’s strength is his serve and his first volley – he serves you wide in the add court and then can take even a low cross-court return and volley deep into the deuce court; and he has great variety to his game.

He did start off a little rusty on his serve: I broke him three times – but he broke me back two times. So I was leading, with Joe serving at 3-5.

He was now serving and volleying on most points and winning his games easily. And he changed up his return game to use a drop shot off my serve and give me no pace on other shots. So… he held serve, broke me, held serve again; and with my game now struggling I went down 5-6, 0-30.

I paused and asked myself “What is happening here?” I decided to take away his short/soft stuff by serving and volleying the majority of the points, and come to the net and many others.  I was able to come back and win my service game and bring it to a tie breaker.

Joe took the lead and I was down, serving 3 points to 6. Thinking of the Rafa Nadal philosophy, I just tried to play each point and won my two service points. He then served for the set 6-5 and went to his strength of serving out wide to my backhand and coming in behind it. I returned cross court and immediately started “sprinting” toward the deuce corner, where his volley was going. Got there and could just loft a short lob; which surprised him enough that he blew the putaway to bring it to 6-6. Luckily, I was able to win the next two points and the one hour and fifteen minute set.

Points to remember:

  • As Joe did, change your losing game to give your opponent something else to look at.
  • As I did, react and ask yourself, “What is happening here?” to come up with your own strategy.
  • Play every point – you never know what will happen.
  • Get “one more ball back,” even if it just gives your opponent “an easy shot.”

P.S. to Joe: Thanks for the permission to post this one and I look forward to playing again soon.

P.P.S. Joe is a very talented professional artist. His website is: