Have Some Sympathy?

Fred Stolle
Fred Stolle
Most of us play tennis for fun; so when we are beating an opponent badly, it is easy to start feeling guilty … and “take your foot off the gas.” And we all know happens then!

I was playing a practice singles match against Bill Simonton up in New Hampshire. He had driven about an hour to get to the court I play on; so he was probably a little stiff to start out the match.

While I perceive we are roughly equal, the last couple of times I played him in tournaments, I won fairly easily. So when I started off breaking him at love and then holding serve, I thought to myself, “Gee, he just drove an hour to get here and it won’t be much fun for him if I beat him really badly.”

You Know What Happened…

Bill actually saw and commented on the change in my game: from beating him with driving ground strokes to going for stupid drop shots. The momentum quickly switched and he got into The Zone. It became laughable as he made winner after winner and easily cruised to a 6-3, 6-2 victory.

Fred Stolle Says…

“When you are beating your opponent, just remember that you can find ‘sympathy’ in the dictionary right in between ‘sh*t and ‘suicide’!”

So remember that next time you are winning.

P.S. To all you anal types out there… yes, I know Sympathy would not technically be between those two words in the dictionary; but it is still a great message!

If you are not on my “new posting alert email list” and want to be (I promise, no other uses of your email address!), just drop me a note at George@seniortennisandfitness.com

9 thoughts on “Have Some Sympathy?

  1. George- I am guilty of feeling guilty about winning. Again that is why tennis is 99.9% mental!

    Eric – And how guilty did you feel the last two times you beat me?! see you saturday morning. tks, george.

  2. Hmmm. . . Hitting droppers is an interesting means of showing sympathy. 🙂 Wait, I think I understand now. You wanted him to feel equally as bad emotionally as well as physically. How thoughtful. 🙂

    One of my nemeses told me that a coach of his told him that when he has an opponent down that he should step on his neck and *push off*! 🙂

    Kevin – Yup. And if you are playing dubs, don’t say, “Don’t let up now,” but put it in the positive, “Let’s stay focused and crush them!” thanks, george.

  3. You better be good enough to turn it back on when you take your foot off the pedal, it is also insulting to the other guy when it is blatantly done.

    Bill – That is the danger. And i was not obviously good enough! tks, george.

  4. Sympathy? Perhaps, but I’ve never felt I was better enough than anyone to feel sorry for anyone I’m competing against.

    To me the more accurate matter when leading has to do with nerves. At any level, it is never easy to close out a match — and perversely easy to fight back when losing.

    Ain’t this funny:
    + Give someone a 4-1 lead and he sees outcome — that precious victory.
    + Put someone down 1-4 and all he sees is process — the need to hit one good ball, play one good point, toothpick by toothpick.
    + And yet, lead or deficit might be vivid, but the ball has no idea what the score is, so let’s just keep playing the way we know we each can
    + A corollary to this: Ever notice how much freedom one swings when returning a fault serve? Here’s the serve, three inches long — and wow, I just whip through it, unconcerned with outcome. But then, here comes a good serve, and concerned with outcome, I get tight.

    Back to sympathy. A friend told me about how he felt sorry for an opponent and thought he might give the guy a few points or a game. I read my friend the riot act, telling him that to do that was incredibly patronizing. I added: Don’t ever do that to me. The highest form of respect you can pay to your opponent, the game and the moment is to kick his butt, shake his hand and live for the next battle.

    Joel – As good as you are, i am sure you have been in blatantly over-matched situations. so did you pummel your weaker opponent love and love? Years ago, i played a guy who was better than me and met a mutual friend… i said “Yea, he beats me 3 and 2 usually.” The other guy said, “Yea, he beats EVERYONE 3 and 2.” george

  5. I think Joel has hit it right on the head about process. Case in point, in my last tournament finals about 2 weeks ago I was down 6-3, 2-6, 1-5 (Love-40) on my opponent’s serve — in other words, triple match point against me. Suddenly, with the reality of the moment staring at me right in the face, I stopped thinking about my leg that I had partially injured early in the second set or the fact that I was about to lose after blowing a one set lead. No more excuses or reasons to hand my opponent the match. What I REALLY wanted was to just show the tournament director and the 30 odd people who were watching that I am a fighter. That I won’t give up. That I knew for sure I was going to lose but I was going to make my opponent beat me, instead of handing him any more freebie points. So, it all became a matter of process. Focus on the ball. Take it one point at a time. Talk to yourself between points. Tell yourself to play this forehand return up the line and attack the net. Tell yourself to hit a topspin lob the next shot when your opponent attacks the net. MOSTLY, TELL YOURSELF YOU HAVE THE FREEDOM TO HIT OUT ON THE BALL BECAUSE EVERYBODY ALREADY KNOWS YOU PLAYED A GOOD MATCH AND ARE GOING TO LOSE ANYWAY SO, WHY THE HELL NOT? And little by little, I worked my way back into the match and eventually won. All told, I wound up saving 7 match points and won the third set 7-6 (9-7). Now, if I could just capture that process feeling in EVERY match that I play, which is damned hard to do, I might actually accomplish something in this game.

    Marty – as someone who has faced you across the net, I have seen that dogged determination first hand! Remember our match two years ago that nearly wiped us both out for the rest of the week? George

  6. George — if you really need to accommodate the anal types AND preserve Fiery Fred’s wisdom, try “sucker” and “suicide”. Much closer in the dictionary and even more illuminating.

    Marc – another good choice of words! (But also not surrounding “sympathy”). P.S. Fred wrote me off line to say that “all my smart friends will now think him a dumb shit… But it made a good story.” I wrote back… “All of us who know him know he carries The a Wisdom of the Ages with him! 🙂

  7. I’m not good enough to give someone points or games — and I have enough respect for the game, my opponent and the competitive process to bring my all as much as possible. So I can report that in a genuine competitive situation — from practice matches to league and tournament play — that I’ve never done this. Again, I find anyone who does it in bonafide competition rather patronizing rather than genuine.
    – When I’m pummeled, I don’t need the bogus aspect of someone tossing me a bone or lying about the score to make me feel good.

    – and let’s remember, George: there come moments during our Fantasy Week when the match comes down to games won.

    So yes, all business. Needn’t be rude about it, just focused. And please pummel me accordingly too.

    Joel – And i will be playing someone of the same philosophy on Sunday… Mr. Jimmy Parker. george

  8. Interesting post and question, George.

    Great replies too.

    Other than being beaten by John Lehman 6-0, 6-0 in my very first year at Tennis Fantasies (to add insult to injury, he’d had no sleep, having just returned from an all-nighter in the bars of San Antonio!) the heaviest defeat I experienced at Camp was in the 2 matches I played against Joel, even though I won a few games.

    But it was as he states above; play the points, finish the match, shake hands.

    Lost 2 excellent matches to other participants in this thread. Marty beat me in a 3rd set TB (03) and Marc beat me back in my very first match at Camp (92). Marty never lets up and I know Marc didn’t but as well as trying to beat me, he was equally concerned about keeping that 12′ ‘baby preventer’ on his head which winners of one of the daily awards were presented with back then.

    Great blog, George.

    Mark – Great history. Thanks! george

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