Later this month, pretty much every outdoor tennis club across the country will be open for business and, for me, it’s not a moment too soon.
I’ve been limited to just 60-minute sessions once a week, but once I get back on court at North Toronto Tennis Club, I’m taking off the restrictor plate. I’ll be playing 3-5 times a week, each and every week throughout the spring, summer and early fall.
I think I’ve made it clear in previous episodes that I need the work. In fact, this is what I said last time:
I’m going to take the next six weeks to continue to dial in my form on all shots, especially my serve, and push a little bit harder in the gym with an eye toward playing my third tournament at the end of April or early in May.
And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing, evidenced by my Rocky-inspired montage in the video above. I needed to get in better shape for tennis, working my leg muscles in different planes and directions, and also, doing a lot of core work to protect my ab muscles from the constant rotation and torque in a 90-plus-minute tennis match.
The end of March was a good litmus test for both my fitness and my game as I travelled to Hilton Head, S.C., for a little bit of rest, some family time and a lot of tennis.
I played eight hours over four days and did not feel any adverse effects physically (it helped that I was playing on clay).
I have a love/hate relationship with clay. As someone who prides himself on his cardio and playing in long rallies to wear down opponents, clay should be my preferred surface. But I like hard courts so much more. On clay, there is a premium on spin, angles, and deception. It’s a thinking man’s surface.
On a hard court, more often than not, you sit back at the baseline and just bang groundstrokes at each other. You don’t have to think as much, you just react. And I’ve never been much of a thinker on the tennis court.
SECOND SERVE: Starting from the bottom
But I know that has to change as I play better opponents. My mind and body have to work in concert to have any chance of winning matches in OTA tournaments.
So, four days on clay were invaluable to my continuing development. Last February I visited Hilton Head as well and I played tennis twice. The first was a doubles match that I only won because of my playing partner, Barry. Barry and I then played a singles pro set (first to win eight games) the next day and he destroyed me 8-2.
Even though he’s 20 years older than me, he was a much better player, a much smarter player and in possession of an actual tennis pedigree. He played Division III tennis in college. But last year was last year. It was also before I really buckled down to focus on my tennis game and started Second Serve.
SECOND SERVE: A visit to Tennis Canada
How did I fare this year?
I passed the test with, I’d argue, flying colours. We played two sets on the Monday and then three more sets on the Thursday. Barry won the first set handily 6-3. He was moving me around at will and I couldn’t handle his spin or the angles he created.
I made adjustments, trusted all of the work I’ve put in over the last year, and turned the tables for the remainder of our sets. I won set #2 in a tiebreak and then won two of out three sets on Thursday.
SECOND SERVE: Progress in tournament #2
Barry mentions in the video what he saw from me in terms of improvement since we played the first time and, surprise, surprise, he said I still need to work on my serve.
I was also extremely lucky weather-wise this year. In between my tennis sessions, we dealt with chilly temps, strong winds and the worst hailstorm I’ve ever experienced.
And I have been working on my serve since returning from Hilton Head. I’ve been spending time on an asphalt court along the waterfront in Toronto serving 100 times a session to try to find a service motion that both works and is consistent. I also watched the Indian Wells tournament and the Miami Open religiously, studying players’ serves, trying to pick up some techniques for myself.
Right now, I’m working a serve hybrid of Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov. I like how Milos takes his racket back to the hitting position and, well, Denis is a lefty, so he’s a good guy to study.
I will have an update on my serve form in the next instalment plus the results from the third tournament which will begin on May 4 in Markham. I wonder if I can actually make it past day 1 this time.