Welcome to the second installment of Second Serve!
Click here to get acquainted or re-acquainted to the first video and article. The response to my maiden effort was nearly universal.
Every comment went something like this:
“Wow, very cool. I’m looking forward to following your progress. Also, your serve sucks.”
And that sentiment was shared by hardcore tennis fans and people who don’t even know how the scoring in tennis works. My looping, noodle-armed serve united sports fans and non-sports-fans alike!
And, hey, you’re all preaching to the choir. I had an inkling my serve was going to be a liability going into my first tournament; it absolutely was, and now I’m emboldened to make significant changes before winter is over.
Because my tennis pedigree is so limited (2018 marks my sixth year of playing) and I’ve only given myself until the end of the summer to climb as far as I can up the Tennis Canada leaderboard, I need to expedite my development.
So, I went straight to the top: The Aviva Centre in Toronto, home of Tennis Canada. As I mention in the video, I was there for a story on Tennis Canada’s “Long Term Athlete Development” plan.
And I certainly wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to get Bianca Andreescu, the 182nd-ranked woman in the world, and national coach Andre Labelle to triage my game.
To my surprise, both Bianca and Andre expressed actual interest in my joining Tennis Canada and trying to obtain a national ranking. They asked a number of questions about my game, which I demurred until after we hit the court. I wanted to go in fresh and get an honest assessment.
I was nervous stepping onto the court. Not only did I have a professional tennis player on the other side of the net, but I had a top coach on my side of the net watching my every move.
I felt like an impostor who snuck onto the Tennis Canada practice courts. I mean, I guess that’s kind of what happened. But I’m proud to say, we actually got into some decent rallies. If you squint really hard at the video, it may look like I actually belong on the court with Bianca.
Or at least 60 per cent Bianca. She asked me before we started hitting how hard should she play. I told her to give me what I could handle.
And for a few minutes at least, I was able to play well. I think both Bianca and Andre were surprised at my skills (although I’m sure the bar for broadcaster athletic talent and tennis ability is extremely low).
Bianca even complimented my game a number of times. That was too much for me to handle. I immediately crumbled and sent one to the back wall.
She was moving me side to side with relative ease while I produced grunts of exertion on every swing, but we were rallying. Then I flew too close to the sun.
“Okay, let’s see your top gear.”
Wow. I didn’t get another one in play after that. She just crushes the ball.
In my first tournament, I was playing top provincial male teenagers. And Bianca, one of the top female teenage players in the world hits significantly harder than them with a modicum of effort. She wasn’t even short of breath after our hit.
I kept forgetting she’s a teenager. She speaks beyond her years and definitely plays beyond them. But there was one moment when I was reminded that she’s 17: She teased me for needing to wear my glasses to see the ball.
After watching my ground strokes, I asked Andre for an honest assessment. He was impressed with my athleticism and my quickness, and my power. He said I looked like a 5.0 player, which is analogous to a Canadian university tennis player.
Then he asked to see my serve.
Oh boy. That didn’t go well. They both said it needs a complete overhaul, starting with my grip. I know it sounds bad, but it’s actually not.
I’m embarrassed to admit, but I actually didn’t know you were supposed to use a different grip whilst serving as opposed to your groundstrokes. I just use my forehand grip for every shot. Yes, that sounds worse, but bear with me.
They introduced me to the continental, or, hammer grip. It’s suggested that you use that grip for serves, volleys, overheads, and the two-hand backhand. And while I couldn’t replicate it on the spot, I’ve put in a lot of work since then. I’ve played a couple of times and my serve is definitely better with the new grip. Obviously, there’s still lots of room for improvement in terms of power, accuracy, and consistency, but when it does work, it feels like a normal tennis serve.
That gives me confidence. I’ve been playing tennis for five years, with success at the club level, and I’ve been holding the racquet wrong the entire time?
That’s saying, well, it’s saying something. Most likely that I’m an idiot, but I think it bodes well for my game when I can actually serve properly consistently.
And to help with the muscle memory, I’ve been spending five minutes a day holding my racquet in the continental grip and pantomiming proper shot technique. Yes, I probably look insane, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
And I’m less than three weeks away until Tournament #2.