Play Like You’re Losing

Matt, Michael, Chuck, me

We have all seen it on TV or in our own matches … one player/team gets way behind in the match and, all of a sudden, they relax and start hitting out on the ball.  And then what happens?  They start to win points and games.

Why not play that way ALL the time?

This thought was triggered by a posted comment by friend and nationally-known tennis writer Joel Drucker, talking about when to be aggressive and when to be conservative.  He wrote, “One highly significant factor in all of these choices: the score. As an example, I will aim my first serve quite differently at 2-2, 40-love than I would even at 4-4, 40-love. Along with this, no matter what the set score, 15-30 is a whole lot different than 40-love.”

I do agree with Joel that we do (and should) play differently depending on the score.  But I think what we want to avoid is playing TOO CONSERVATIVELY, no matter the score.

If we were to err, I would suggest doing on the side of playing TOO LOOSE.  A lot changed for me and my tennis game after surviving prostate cancer nearly 15 years ago.  Before that, I really cared about winning or losing – and played that way.  Now, I really care just about playing as well (and as long) as I can and, hopefully, I will play that way.

How do YOU play?

Battle of the Ages

On Saturday, I participated in the annual Huntington Lakes exhibition match.  This year, it was “The Battle of the Ages,” with me teaming with my frequent 75s partner Chuck Kinyon vs. the “ageless wonders” of 80+ year old Matt Davie and Michael Fenster.

With a friendly audience of 25-30 watching, we split the first two sets 6-4, 3-6 and moved to a deciding Match Tiebreaker.  That was equally close and came down to the last point, which Chuck and I won, 10-8.

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

My Book: if you’d like to get a copy of “Senior Tennis”, just click on the link on the upper right of this web page to go to, look at the list of places under “My Book” on the bar above, or ask me what clubs are carrying it!

7 thoughts on “Play Like You’re Losing

  1. I think it came down to which team had better matching outfits!! Sorry I couldn’t be there.

    Steve, your commentary was missed! george

  2. ex-clemson coach chuck kriese wrote a great book (a long time ago)called “total tennis training” where he talks about why players play “looser” when behind, and “tighter” when ahead. it really is fascinating. the best book i ever read about tennis.

    Joe, i will look for it. thanks, george

  3. It was great fun and a great match yesterday. Couldn’t find a nicer group of tennis players with whom to play (notice, word doctor, that I didn’t end the sentence with a preposition).

    Dear Real Doctor, so noted! and i agree. george

  4. Appreciate you citing me here, George. Indeed, the score tells much when it comes to shot selection and the choices we wish to make on those points. This much like a baseball pitcher managing the count. On the stroke production side, though, I’ve been taught again and again that it’s not about being conservative or adventurous. It’s about taking the best possible swing and letting it go. Not letting it rip, not going for it, not hitting big, nor hitting small. Make your shot selection quickly and just strike the ball the way you know you can strike it.

    Joel, yes, “letting it go” is the key phrase. I know you don’t like the “fearless tennis” phrase, but the same concept. thanks, george

  5. George,

    I think the decision for me to play more aggressively depends on knowing my own game, my opponents game, and what is happening in the match. For example, several years ago at Newks, I tried to to play aggressively against my opponent. I lost the first set 4-6, and was down 0-5 in the second when I changed strategy and started hitting moon balls, no pace, slices, etc. My opponent did not adjust, and I won the second set 7-5, and the super tiebreaker (yes, lucky). Last year, during warmups, I believed that my opponent was stronger than I was on both sides of the ball and that I couldn’t trade ground strokes from the baseline. I played my “normal” game of drop shot, lobs and moving the ball around during rallies, but was aggressive in attacking his serve, playing a combination of conservative, and aggressive play, and was fortunate to win that match. This year I was matched against a player that beat me last year in another match. That year I played my “normal” game of moving the ball around, hitting drop shots, lobs, and relied on my ability to still move. I lost pretty decisively. This year I decided to play aggressively from the start, attacking his serve and coming to the net more, which is not my normal game. I won the first set 6-2, but unfortunately had to retire in the second set with health issues. So for me, I play best by adjusting to match conditions. I agree with you that the key is to just enjoy still being able to play the game.

    Dave, great history! and yes, “Variety is the spice of life”. thanks, george

  6. I’m mostly sorry that I missed those matching outfits!!….and I tend to play, and serve, a lot better when I’m way ahead…40-0 etc. My serve in a tie-break can be problematic. Scoot

    Scoot, funny, most play better when behind! thanks, george

  7. The match can dictate how aggressive one plays. And being aggressive in key points can be a winning formula. And sorry I missed the show, always enjoy the play and tenacity of each of you!

    Howie, my philosophy is the team that has the offense at the end of the match wins! thanks, george

Comments are closed.