In January, I wrote about a singles match that was, according to my brother, “like watching a root canal.” That is because my opponent was someone who wouldn’t let me play my game.
Just such a player is my good friend and fellow Newk Camper, famous tennis writer Joel Drucker. Author of the book “Jimmy Connors Saved My Life,” Joel lives in Oakland.
I asked him to write a piece about life “from The Disruptor’s side of the net” and here is his very enlightening explanation of his style of play…
Though there is no scientific proof for this, my belief is that every tennis player is issued one genetic gift. Some have innate foot speed. Others are naturally smooth. Others are powerful.
My gift: disruption. Win or lose, my opponents rarely feel they have played particularly well.
Favorite shots of mine include the chip-charge, the lob over the net man, the sneak attack, the carved angle volley hit behind the opponent, joy in taking pace off the ball, the cheese doodle slice approach and groundstrokes of various height, spin and pace. And yes, I’m a southpaw. Call my game a vast left wing conspiracy.
Offense or Defense?
Dare call this style “defensive” at your own peril. Mine is a West Coast offense: dink-and-dunk, persistent probing for soft spots and delicate but diligent forward movement. Once upon a time there was a TV show called “Columbo,” featuring a disheveled detective who pinpricked the arrogant villain with one question after another. It was delightful to see how at the end the villain would attest to his guilt with nary a trace of violence. I’m screwed. It’s over. Take me to jail.
My tennis model is John McEnroe, the man Arthur Ashe called a “stiletto” rather than a sledgehammer. Death by paper cut.
There Are Lessons For All of You
You might be tempted after reading my riff that there is little in it for you. Like many ambitious players, you seek to strike the ball with sustained force. You have repeatedly hit against ball machines, taken lessons and watched many videos.
From your vantage point, my playing style is a foreign planet populated by ghastly creatures you disdain with such lefthanded (sic) terms as “junk,” “off-pace” and “spinny.”
But why not learn to alter speeds yourself? Is it truly so hard to hit a moonball approach shot, take pace off a backhand and carve a slice, roll a crosscourt forehand angle or occasionally decide to crack one hard down-the-line?
Consistency vs. Variety
While I’m at it, let’s also take a crack at the narcissism of students and instructors who learn in a vacuum, who place a premium on striking every ball the same way. Call me when you see the instructional video that suggests you hit three straight balls with different speeds and paces.
The result of this self-focused bludgeoning is a failure to acknowledge that there is someone else across the net. Tennis is a not an individual sport. It is a relationship sport. The two opponents are bound together in a dance, a dance where your mission is to trip the other dude in the same way a baseball pitcher mixes up his pitches and a basketball player makes a guy who shoots better from the left side move to the right. As ten-time Grand Slam champion Bill Tilden wrote many years ago, “Never give your opponent a chance to hit a shot he likes. . . . the primary object of tennis is to break up your opponent’s game.”
Researching an article informally titled “Winning Ugly, Revisited,” I interviewed the man who coined that phrase, Brad Gilbert. I asked Gilbert for his thoughts on a certain tour player who enjoyed slicing his backhand short, occasionally chipped his forehand and served darn well but not quite as fast as many rivals. “I know who you’re talking about,” said Gilbert. “It’s Roger Federer.” Fancy that: winning ugly pretty. Federer – a supreme disruptor.
Thanks to Joel. Are you a Disruptor or have you been a victim (like me)?
Know someone who should read this? Send them a link and 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
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