Second Serve: The final countdown

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Global's Mike Arsenault plays in his final open-level tournament of the 2018 tennis season. Where does his national ranking end up after his year immersed in Tennis Canada? – Jan 4, 2019

This is the end, my only friend, the end (apologies to Jim Morrison).

This posts marks the end of my grand experiment to join Tennis Canada and play in open-level tournaments against the top amateur competition the province of Ontario has to offer. Well, it marks the end of the monthly posting of the blog, not the end of my competitive tennis career (more on that later).

I figured that, since we’re at the end, it would be appropriate to go back to the beginning. It was this past January when I posted the very first installment of this blog. Let’s revisit my thoughts and hopes from when I was just a wide-eyed rookie and not the grizzled veteran I am now (mostly just grizzled).

READ MORE: Second Serve: What it’s like to be a pro

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Now that I am five years removed from my baseball career, something is missing. I miss competing; the nerves; the sometimes razor-thin margin between winning and losing. I miss all of that. And I want to get it back.

This was a resounding success. All of the those competitive feelings returned ten-fold each time I took the court in an open-level tournament. There is a glaring difference between recreational tennis among friends and fellow club members, and matches where there is money and ranking points on the table. It was a blast and it felt great to feel like a real athlete again.

Theoretically, a player could start in these local provincial association tournaments, accrue ranking points, climb the Tennis Canada leaderboard, graduate to ITF events (minor-league international tournaments), and then claw his way onto the ATP Tour (the big show with Milos and Denis).

DISCLAIMER: In no way do I think the above scenario is remotely applicable to me. Yes, I’m curious at where my national ranking will be at the end of the year, but I don’t harbour fascinations of pro tennis glory.

READ MORE: Second Serve: A Hit with a Canadian Legend

Lloyd Christmas had a better chance of seducing Mary Swanson than me appearing at the Rogers Cup as anything other than a paying customer.

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I mean, yeah, all of this is still true. There will be no graduation to ITF events for this player. I will be stuck in, uh, summer school in perpetuity. I am a very good club-level player and a not very good open-level player and I am more than comfortable with this fact. With only six years of tennis under my belt, there’s just not enough I can do to accelerate my development and talent past a certain point unless time travel becomes a possibility.

Without fail, every really good player I faced during this journey would spend at least three hours a day on court at least four times a week. At this stage in my life, there’s just no way I can make that level of commitment. Plus, I’m pretty sure my body would fall apart if I tried.

So, I’ve had to improvise. There is a ping pong table in the Global News warehouse and there’s a group of us that plays daily. While ping pong is of zero help to my serve or two-hand backhand, I have definitely noticed an improvement in my forehand since we’ve started playing in earnest.

Oh, and the fact that I only have six years of tennis experience under my belt was an even bigger impediment than I thought. Even though I was significantly older than all of my opponents throughout this year, they had all been playing tennis and playing in tournaments for anywhere between 10 and 15 years. There is just no way for me to compete against that level of experience.

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There is a HUGE difference in the talent level of top recreation club players and teenagers/U.S. college players looking to make tennis their vocation. The power of their serves, the ferocity of their groundstrokes and the consistency in which both are achieved is something that I’ve never seen before on the court.

That was a huge adjustment for me and one that will take more than just one tournament to become comfortable.

Unfortunately, this part didn’t change. Even as my game improved, and it has, significantly, the calibre of player didn’t. This was really hammered home during my match against Dallas Ramsay in the video at the top of the page.

READ MORE: Second Serve: Cracking the Top 300!

I was hitting really good shots, a testament to all of the work I have put in over the last 12 months, and he just returned everything back. It was like playing against a wall. He would come to the net and I would hit shots that players at the club level wouldn’t even be able to get a racquet on and Dallas would just flick the ball into the open court for a point. It was extremely frustrating, but just further evidence of the separation between my game and the top talent at the provincial level.

So, where do I go from here?

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I enjoy playing and I feel it’s good for my game to play against the highest level of competition possible. So, I am going to keep playing in open-level tournaments, but just not as many as I did over the last year. I mentioned in earlier posts that only your top three tournament performances count toward your national ranking and points accrued more than 12 months before are dropped from the count.

That means I will only play in, at most, three tournaments a year to ensure my ranking will remain as high as possible. Also, I don’t think I will play in any more indoor tournaments. I think my game is at its peak during the summer when I am playing regularly. I can’t maintain the same level of play or consistency during the fall and winter.

READ MORE: Second Serve: My first win

I just won’t be documenting my performances on this blog any more. However, if I do start to achieve some serious success—maybe getting into the top 200 and 150 in the country—or have some interesting and entertaining tennis interview subjects lined up, I will return with a special one-off post here and there.

And now I have my eye toward 2025 when I can start playing in the over-40 division and hopefully be the ass kicker of guys my own age rather than the ass kickee by kids born when I was in high school.

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Thanks to everyone for the kind words, the support and the page views over the past year. Additional thanks to everyone who appeared in the blog, plus all of my opponents. And finally, a very special thank you to Susan Arsenault, Gord Arsenault, Kelly Sonnenburg and Aliya Kanani for filming the lion’s share of the content for each blog video.

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