September 29, 2018 7:22 pm

Second Serve: A Hit with a Canadian Legend

Nearing the end of his first year of open-level tennis, Global’s Mike Arsenault enlists a Canadian tennis legend to help him with his game.

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I’ve spent the last nine months immersing myself within Tennis Canada and open-level tournaments against high-quality competition. And also constantly refreshing the national rankings on a weekly basis.

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I’ve learned a few things about how the rankings operate. First, things don’t always appear as they seem. I’ve mentioned this before, but only your top three tournament results count towards your national ranking and the numbers operate on a 12-month rolling basis.

What does that second part mean? Basically, your results only count for one year from the date of each tournament, so it’s really a case of “what have you done for me lately.”

It doesn’t matter how you well played in 2017. You need to stay active and continue playing as well as you did previously to maintain your points total and national rank or you will tumble down the leaderboard.

But you can also be strategic in how you accrue tournaments and subsequent points. For example, the first tournament that I played back in December still represents my biggest point total (more on that in a minute) with 46.7. If I don’t play in another tournament before the end of the year, I will lose those 46.7 points and my ranking will tumble as one of my lower point totals will now be included in my top three results.

SECOND SERVE: Winner winner chicken dinner

As I mentioned at the start of this month’s video, I am planning on returning to the Burlington tournament in December, as I think it will provide a nice litmus test for my year of tennis. Can I do better than my first-round loss from last time?

Plus, I am pretty much guaranteed to get those 46.7 points back for appearing in the first round and potentially a lot more if I can win a round (or two).

However, doesn’t it seem weird that my highest points total comes from a tournament where I lost first round? Even in the tournament where I won a match, I still received fewer points than I did in my first tournament. And that has everything to do with the strength of the tournament.

Here’s where appearances get deceiving. Every open-level tournament is listed as either a 100-, 200-, 350- or 1000-level event. Those numbers take into account the rankings of the players who entered the tournament in previous years. The event is weighted thusly and the points are distributed from those calculations (full disclosure: that’s a Cole’s Notes version of what happens, I’m not good enough at math to fully explain the process).

SECOND SERVE: All about that grass

For example, the guy I beat in my tournament in Thornhill is currently ranked in the top 250 in the country. And the three tournaments that count toward his ranking are all first-round losses.

What gives?

Well, those first-round losses all took place in 1000-level events. More points are awarded in every round of 1000-level tournaments (my first tourney was 1000-level) because the calibre of play is higher. This makes sense as you should be rewarded playing against better players.

However, the calculus gets a little weird in the first round as you get points for a first-round loss and that makes the national rankings somewhat inaccurate for players ranked 150 and higher.

To be in the top 150 (and especially in the top 100) you have to be a really good player. You can’t fake your way to that level. But there is some wiggle room around my level. You can a win a match in a 350-level tournament, but still receive fewer points for a 1000-level first-round loss.

SECOND SERVE: A tournament final (unofficially)

It’s a bit of a glitch in the system. So, for this reason, I can guarantee there are much better players than me ranked outside of the top 300, just like there are players in the 150-250 range that I can beat.

Honestly, it doesn’t really matter because if you’re good, you’re good. Wins will take care of the math and if you deserve to be in the top 150 in the country, then you will be.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t be strategic with my tournament lineup. Especially since every tournament — except my first two — I lost to a player ranked in the top 100 in the country. And those tournaments were 350-level or below.

So, if I’m getting my ass kicked by great players in lower-level tournaments, I might as well get my ass kicked by great players in 1000-level tournaments and pick up some more points. Right?

Obviously, schedule-wise, it may not always work out, but the key is to be selective when I play tournaments in the future, taking into account the tournament level and the 12-month ranking system.

I guess I’ve kind of buried the lede. I will be replaying my on-court session with Daniel Nestor on a loop until my next tournament.

Nestor and I had the opportunity to sit down for a retrospective on his career a couple of weeks after his final match at the Davis Cup match in Toronto. And after our interview, he was gracious enough to take the court with me for a hit.

SECOND SERVE: Canadian Doubles Great

I could tell right away that he’s a tennis junkie at heart. It took him exactly three minutes until he started trying to fix my piss-poor technique. What he told me about setting up early, taking the ball early and hitting through it really resonated with me.

I do notice that I have a tendency to get into a proper hitting position much later than I should. It’s something I’ve tried to work on more over the past couple of weeks. What I have noticed is that when I focus on taking the ball early and hitting through it, I think less about the outcome of the ball.

And when I think less about where the ball is going to end up, I am able to stop tightness and tentativeness from creeping into my game. Admittedly, this is a very small sample size, but I’m enthused about the progress so far.

In terms of my serve, Daniel (sure, we’re on a first-name basis now) was able to immediately recognize the immobility in my shoulder during my swing. Twenty years of pitching from a three-quarter delivery has made it very difficult to retrain my arm to go straight over the top in a tennis serve.

He also noticed that I was much too tight swinging the racket through the hitting zone. I was losing a tremendous amount of power by not allowing my arm to swing free and easy when making contact. I think you can see some improvement in my serve by the end of the video.

And since our time on court, I’ve been working on Daniel’s groundstroke advice and also on really trying to be more free and easy in my service motion and trying to attack the ball. It does work at times, but still very inconsistently.

Many thanks to Daniel for being a terrific sport and spending time on court with me trying to triage my game.

Maybe there’s some other Canadian tennis stars I can coerce on court before December? The more the merrier.

mike.arsenault@globalnews.ca

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