I started playing tennis with the PML Racquet Club a few years ago, and my game was pretty bad at that point. Helpful members offered free lessons and advice, which was a great way to get started. My game continues to get better and I attribute it mostly to observations that I have made while playing with some of the better players in the weekly Thursday Men’s Tennis Group. Here are some lessons that I have learned from these players:
1) The patience of Dr Rick Gratian – I am personally not a patient player; and perhaps part of it is an insecure feeling that if I just keep hitting ground-strokes back and forth, I will likely be beat by the other player. So, I am always trying to force points by doing something different. I challenge the net man, hit lobs, try drops shots, and many other “junk shots”. And it is OK to mix it up like that, but I do that too much and make too many mistakes in the process.
Rick is patient, and rather than forcing shots he just keeps hitting ground-strokes at his opponents, waiting patiently for the opponent to make a mistake. Let’s face it; if you continually get the ball back in the court, the opponent is going to make a mistake sooner or later. Lately I have tried this approach more often with quite a bit of success and I am often outplaying some of those “back and forth” players that have previously intimidated me much more than I would have expected. I have even won a couple of points against Rick!
2) The Gerald DeHart “Foot Massage” – For most people, the most difficult shot to return is one that bounces near your feet, and Gerry is truly the master of what I have termed “The Gerald Dehart Foot Massage”. He is particularly effective with this technique on serve returns, immediately putting the server on the defensive on many returns.
If his shots are not on your feet, they are usually hit relatively low and hard, and they typically bounce towards the back of the court, creating frequent mistakes from his opponents. So watch out for Gerry and his foot fetish, but you should definitely try to emulate this technique.
3) Don Looney, master of the low shot – Don, now 81 years young, is a better player than me, and I am 54. His strength is that he is such a consistent low ground-stroke player, with most of them clearing within a foot above the net tape. These beautifully low shots will eventually force his opponent to either return a shot into the net or to return a shot too high, the high shot either going out of the court or creating opportunity for a “kill”.
I am presently working hard to get my ground-strokes lower, in the “Looney zone”, and am pleased to have a lot less balls being hit out of the court.
4) Joe “Junk” Sousa. I usually call him “Super Joe Sousa” and he always brings an interesting and unpredictable game; just when you think he is playing straight tennis, he will throw in a cut shot or some funky lob shot. He is unpredictable and always keeps you guessing. This is also the case with his serves, with Joe having a mix of hard flat serves and cut spin serves that just cross the net. It is difficult to be in a serve return position that would work for both of these serve styles, especially if you are not fast on your feet. And this is something that I have stolen from Joe for my own game.
Joe is also very in tune on court position for players, whether it be during serve, when you are served too, or for particular situations during a point. He is very strategic on finding vulnerability in the court positioning of his opponents, and is deadly at finding unprotected alleys and openings in the center of the court. I think he has made me more aware of the importance of this than any other player, and I am now constantly on the move during every point, striving to be in the best court position for every return.
5) Dennis Hoagland, soft shot specialist – Dennis is at my level and we are both striving to catch up with all of the other “masters” mentioned in this article. He will probably be surprised to here me credit him for superior play, but there is one thing about Dennis’s game that does really impress (and fool) me. Dennis is very good at hitting short, underpowered shots. I can hit a very hard serve or shot at him and he will often “soft hand” the return that just goes over the net and then dies. Meanwhile, I am waiting at the back of the court with no chance of running up and returning Dennis’s soft shot. His play at the net is particularly impressive, in which he will hit these soft shots at an angle towards one side of the court, making any possibility of a return shot impossible.
6) Bruce Burman, “Yo-Yo Master” – Bruce does not like cussing on the tennis court and it is pretty tough not too when you are playing against him. He is known for “hitting the ball where you aren’t”, and that is how he wins points.
Bruce does not hit the ball hard, but he keeps it in the court and he is very accurate. His arsenal of shots includes a wicked forehand cut shot (that goes dramatically sideways after the bounce) and some great lobs, some that are low and some that are incredibly high, yet almost always find the back corner of the court. Most importantly, he hits the ball where he wants it to go. He is so in tune with his game that he typically knows on the rare occasion that he has miss-hit a ball. We will here him say “Oh…, too short!” or “Oh…, too far” the moment after he hits the ball if he has erred, but that is pretty rare.
It is difficult to get a ball past Bruce. He excels at returning those shots at the feet that so many of us struggle with. When we do fool Bruce, there is usually a celebration.
But what impresses me most about Bruce is how he can make an opponent run, and it is often what I refer to as “Yo-Yo-ing”. He will hit a drop shot near the net to draw the opponent in, and if the opponent is lucky enough to return his drop shot, a perfectly placed shot by Bruce, at a back of the tennis court is the unwelcome reward for the opponent. If the opponent is lucky enough to get the lob back; another cut shot near the net is typically delivered, hence the “Yo-Yo effect”. Yes, we definitely get our exercise playing against Bruce. He is truly a “technician” on the court.
This article is dedicated to the PML tennis players that have been most influential to me, but I have really learned something from everyone that I have played with here.
The Racquet Club is typical of many other great organizations in PML with their efforts to reach out to new members. They now have a great “Drop-in Mixed Doubles” event every Saturday Morning starting at 9 am which is very well attended and if you like (or think you will like) tennis, we encourage you to attend. You can just drop in and check it out, meet some friendly folks, and enjoy some breakfast treats if you prefer. But we encourage you to bring your tennis racquet and play. This is not a competitive event; it is more about having fun and making new tennis friends. We typically have players of all levels, beginners to advanced, involved. So, don’t be intimidated, come and enjoy, and I am sure you will learn, as I have, from the many “tennis masters” of PML Racquet Club.
If you are new to tennis or need a refresher course, we have free lessons available, with instructors including the patient Dr Rick Gratian. You can arrange lessons with Rick by calling 209-499-1001. We hope to see you at Drop-in Doubles on Saturday!
PML Racquet Club Member