Monday, January 21, 2008


Although we spend the winter in the climate-controlled environment of the tennis house, spring’s arrival means outdoor tennis and dealing with the joys and frustrations the elements present. In case you’ve forgotten, let’s recall a typical day playing tennis in the springtime. Glimpses of sunshine keep the temperature comfortable. You are seeing the ball well and just feeling great to be running outside and playing your favorite sport. On a particular point you are setting up to hit a sweet put-away when the ball turns as if by magic right at you. You reflex - miraculously hitting the ball. Your shot seems headed in play when mysteriously it is whisked inches out. “Argh!” A stiff breeze disrupts the calm revealing the ethereal presence behind your misfortune - the wind! Perhaps it will stop. No. Exactly the opposite. The wind surges to gale force. Your service toss is all over the place and as for your lob - ha! Opponent’s shots you could have sworn were going nowhere near the court always blow in. “How can life be so unfair?” “What have I done to be so unjustly tortured in this accursed wind tunnel?” You are near the breaking point. You miss the indoors. You are just thankful any mosquitoes that would be biting you right now have been swept out to sea by this cyclone you are condemned to. You are cursing at the top of your lungs but no one can hear you above the wind’s roar. Moments later you can no longer even shout as a wind-borne dust devil drives sand into your open mouth. Eyes tearing from dust, the last remaining vestige of concentration you possessed withers away. Nature has shown you it is your better and you have been reduced to a quivering wreck.

Sound uncomfortably familiar? Of all the factors of the outdoor game, the wind can create the most frustration. But it needn’t be so. Along with swallowing my share of airborne sand, I have witnessed winds so strong that a lob hit over the opposite back fence curved back until it landed on my own side of the court. While I admit practicing strokes in turbulence is not my favorite pastime, I was fortunate to learn an extremely vital lesson at an early age. Master professional Gilbert Rincon explained, “you must treat the wind as your friend.” He was right. I never forgot his advice and was able to thrive in conditions that devastated my opponents. You must accept the fact that the wind is there to stay and treat it like any other factor in the game (i.e. the net height, court size, etc.) You are wondering though, “how can anything as unpredictable as the wind, be accounted for like those other things you mentioned?” The answer lies in your ability to observe and think.

Once you have acknowledged the wind’s presence, determining its direction is essential. In order to keep your own shots in the court you must aim with the wind in mind. This requires creating a mental image of the court shifted in accordance with the wind’s direction and speed. Perhaps you will have to aim far wide on one side and close to the middle on the other to put the ball in play. You launch balls as hard and high as you are able from one end (into the wind), while on the opposite, you must use heavy topspin or soft shots. Attention to the wind also allows you better understanding of your opponent’s shots. No longer will the wind-altered paths of incoming balls surprise you. You will find yourself exercising your mind in keeping track of these variables and engineering solutions to the challenges the wind dishes out.

The title “great equalizer” is bestowed upon the wind as a stronger player can be defeated by one of lesser ability who uses the wind wisely. I find this statement misleading. One who is able to remain patient and think through the wind can master it. This in no way excludes skilled players. It only bars those who refuse to accept their environment. I have found that the challenge of playing in the wind has allowed me to absolve my mind of distractions and focus solely on the ball in flight. My concentration reaches a new peak on such days. Seeing the wind as an aspect of one’s sport to use advantageously, rather than as an irritation, can be a fascinating mental challenge. If you can maintain this outlook, tennis in the wind ceases to be frustrating. Instead, the wind adds new dimensions of thinking and creativity that continually keep the game fresh. - Nick Sousanis (1998)

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