Recently I had a crisis of the kind that come up only when your age reaches decadal round numbers. I graded myself on a number of parameters and came up short on several. Career-wise I was fine with what I was doing but everywhere else there was an issue. I hadn’t played a sport or done any physical activity seriously for the latter half of my life. A few games of cricket every couple of years don’t count! I had somewhat kept up with my reading but writing was a zero. This meant I had to do something so I started with yoga and this blog. Yoga, primarily because I didn’t need to find company and it would be good for my back as I have a lower back issue.
This went on for a couple of months and I was doing fine. Yoga was good for me but something was missing until a friend persuaded me to join him for tennis. Over the last few years quite a few tennis places have sprung up in the area where I live in Bangalore. This place – True Bounce Tennis Academy (TBTA) – sounds all structured and rigid but was quite informal. The coaches there were mostly young chaps and knew how to deal with corporate types like me with a good dose of humour to motivate us! They had to be more patient with us than with kids who might end up making a career of this. A few months prior to this, I had gone to enquire at a different place where the dealings were quite different: pay us X for 20 classes; we teach you stuff and test you at the end; if you pass you get to play a person of appropriate level. Makes logical sense but sounded too cold and intimidating to me to go there. I more or less did the same at TBTA! But it was a fun process.
On day 1, I was down on my haunches in 15 minutes of drills. I couldn’t run any more. This is how the drills work. The coach sets up his position at one point and feeds you balls by hand or racket. You run to the ball, hit it, run to the back of the queue, wait your turn, repeat ad infinitum! With queues of 3-5 people there was no break. When he ran out of balls it felt like heaven. They knew this so the coaches and ballboys sometimes decided they wouldn’t let the basket go empty! After a couple of months I could do 45 minutes of drills. The drills help with fitness, movement and building skill with strokes. It also builds muscle memory. You then get into practice sessions where you hit with a partner or coach. The serve has to be practiced separately. Everything is harder than it looks when you watch the Nadals and Djokers fight it out!
The game was addictive and for several months, work and tennis were all I did. No blogging, no yoga. A confession: I am a huge fan of Rafael Nadal. I believe he won the 2014 French Open final against Djokovic solely because I sat in a certain spot for the longest time before emptying my tank! So running around a clay-court was awesome for me. But having played for a year, I would say my hero-worship has reduced. Getting beaten 6-0 by the coaches here who themselves would get beaten 6-0 by a top-300 player who don’t stand a chance against the Top 30 or Top 10 is humbling. Imagine the Top 4 (yes I know Nadal is out of it now!) in such an environment. We just have to enjoy the show put over the last few years by all these greats. This doesn’t mean I’ve switched camps but at least I swear less now!
Tennis is quite hard on the body. You need to be able to sprint quickly, do turns at a moment’s notice, switch wrist and elbow actions with each stroke, strength and action on the upper body to impart both power and spin to the ball, head movements during serves and strokes and maintain all this for a couple of hours to play 3 sets. The funny thing in tennis is it takes more strength to hit a slightly slower shot with topspin than a speedy shot with no spin.
Forehand bio-mechanics is demonstrated in this cool sounding Swedish video:
If you are gifted with awesomely fluid bio-mechanics (read Roger Federer) there is nothing like it. Experts recommend that serious players train as much as they play. Interval training for stamina, lifting and rowing exercises for upper body strength, and movement exercises are all essential apart from the usual warm-up which is the only thing I did! If you have a choice, a clay-court is better for your body than the concrete hard-courts.
It finally caught up with me physically. My lower back was the weak spot but somehow it held up fine. My fitness improved. I had knee niggles at the beginning that got sorted out as I played more. I paid careful attention to my grip so that my wrists were fine (my friend got wrist injuries so this is important). I used to get niggles in my neck area and I wasn’t sure how to strengthen it so I didn’t bother. Some parts of the body strengthen by just playing more but others need specific exercises or routines. Recently I sprained the muscle going from the neck to the shoulder and this caused the whole upper back to get locked up. A month of waiting to get better and building some strength. An enforced break, hence the blogging!