Another Week on the Alternate List

Another week, another local Southern Level 3 tourney, another alternate list.  But, this time there’s a possible out – DOUBLES!

Even though my son registered for both the B16 and B18 singles for this weekend’s tournament, and even though he’s on the alternate list for both, he still has an opportunity – we hope! – to play doubles.  This tournament is one of a handful that is offering both singles and doubles to the kids, and, even if you don’t get into the singles draw, there’s a very good chance that you could get into the doubles.

There’s a hierarchy for being chosen to play in the doubles draw, though, as follows:

1. Teams with both players entered in the singles

2. Teams with one player entered in singles and one alternate

3. Teams with one player entered in singles and one player not registered for singles

4. Teams with both players not registered for singles

Since my son is currently on the alternate list, his best hope for getting into the doubles is to choose a partner currently in the singles draw (#2 on the list above).  With only 32 players in each age group and several of them already partnered up for the dubs, it becomes a numbers game.

The tournament director specifically stated on the website that it’s up to the players to find their own partners – the tournament staff will NOT randomly partner players.  So, now comes the fun part.  My son is contacting the guys he knows in the singles, one by one, to try to find a partner.  Assuming he’s successful and gets to play, then showing up as an on-site alternate for the singles becomes a no-brainer.  Wish him luck!

Wayne Bryan vs. USTA

For those of you trying to follow the extensive back-and-forth between Wayne Bryan, father of doubles champions Bob and Mike Bryan, and Patrick McEnroe, Head of Player Development for the USTA, I have included links below to all of the communications I have seen to date.  If you know of additional letters and/or emails and/or articles, please post a link to them in the Comments box below.

I would like to point out that there have been some extremely well-though-out comments made to many of the original posts, so please do take the time to read through them as well.

If you are the parent or coach of an American junior tennis player, I think it is imperative that you educate yourself on what’s happening with our governing body and the criticisms which are now being launched against it.  Agree or disagree – that’s up to you.  But, please take the time to get informed!

Original email from Wayne Bryan to a USTA Exec

Tim Mayotte’s reply

Colette Lewis’ response

Wayne Bryan’s reply to Colette Lewis

Patrick McEnroe’s response

Wayne Bryan’s reply to Patrick McEnroe

Brian Parrott’s comments on the matter

Wayne Bryan’s letter to his sons

Exchange between Wayne Bryan & an unnamed high-performance coach

A Sickening Lesson

My son and I both learned a very valuable lesson this week.  Unfortunately, it involved a nasty case of food poisoning (we think), but, hey, sometimes you have to suffer in order to grow, right?

Wednesday was the first scheduled match of my son’s high school tennis season.  He didn’t know if he would get to be in the lineup as a first-year Freshman, but he was so excited at the prospect of playing for his school.  He was coming off a great tournament win the weekend before and was working hard to be ready to compete.

The Tuesday before was Valentine’s Day.  Since my hubby was out of town, I figured I’d fix a dinner for my son and myself that wasn’t one of hubby’s favs – Shepherd’s Pie.  We had a nice dinner followed by home-made chocolate chip cookies and went about our evening.

A few hours later, my son and I both woke up deathly ill.  Either we both came down with the same nasty stomach flu or something wasn’t quite right with the shepherd’s pie.  Needless to say, there was no way my son was going to school the next day OR playing his match.  He was so disappointed, and so was I.

The next day (Thursday), after recovering to about 75%, he went back to school and to after-school drills.  He talked to his coach about how bummed he was to miss the school match.  And, that’s when he learned another invaluable lesson from his amazing coach:  Treat high school matches the same way you treat a tournament!  Go through your same rituals, eat your same pre-match meals, do what you need to do to get your mind and your body ready to compete.

If he or I had thought of that on Tuesday, all this awful stomach junk could’ve been avoided because I would’ve cooked pasta for dinner like I always do the night before a tournament, even though it was Valentine’s Day.  Okay, lesson learned.

Pardon My Gushing, But . . .

When I first decided to write this blog, I made a promise to myself that I would steer clear of self-congratulatory pieces praising my kids (and myself) for their accomplishments.  However, today I’m giving myself a “pass,” so please bear with me!

The path to success is usually pretty twisty and hilly – there are good days and not-so-good days, days where you’re on top of the world and feel indestructible and days where nothing goes your way.  When your kid is on that path, and you’re just the observer and facilitator, it’s a tough place to be.  You have to watch as your child struggles with failure, struggles with losses, struggles with injuries, struggles with self-doubt – all the while, continuing to love them and encourage them toward their goals.

This past weekend, I got to witness just the opposite.  My son played in an 18s tournament, a local one, playing up for the first time (he’s still just 15).  The weather, after having been very mild all season, decided to take a turn toward full-on winter, with temps in the low 30s (20s with the wind chill factor) and high winds with a few snow flurries tossed in for good measure.  When I tell you that these conditions have never worked in my son’s favor, I’m being very understated.  He has always HATED playing in the cold and wind and, in the past, made every excuse under the sun for why he could never win in those circumstances.  I was bracing myself for more of the same, especially since there was absolutely no pressure on him as an unseeded 15 year old in the 18s draw.

His first match was at 8am on Saturday – a brutal time in the best of weather, but in the freezing cold it’s just tortuous!  Hubby and I bundled up in our warmest ski gear and stood courtside as our son quickly won 6-0, 6-0, beating another unseeded player.  The wind was whipping and the snow flurries were blowing, but somehow my son found a way to a quick win, making 100% of his 2nd serves even in those rough conditions.

His 2nd match was at 2pm that same day.  The weather took a turn for the worse (as if that were even possible!), with the winds howling.  My son had to play the #2 seed, but quickly put him (and hubby – I was playing my own match that afternoon INDOORS) out of his misery, winning 6-1, 6-1 with just one double-fault.  Somehow, he figured out a way to play quick and effective tennis so the wind and weather were taken out of the equation.  Though I wasn’t there to witness it myself, hubby gave me a full report, saying how amazed he was that our son was able to pull out the win so fast.  My son told me the tennis wasn’t pretty but it was effective!

The Final was scheduled for the next day at noon.  My son had to play the #1 seed, a kid he had never played but who had some very good wins on his record.  It wasn’t quite as windy on Finals Sunday, but it was even colder than the previous day.  Hubby and I bundled up again and braced ourselves to watch a tough match.

The players didn’t disappoint!  They each held serve for the first 6 games of the first set, but then the other boy broke to go ahead 4-3.  My son was showing some frustration, but he found a way to break back though he wound up losing that set 7-5.  In the second set, my son pulled ahead quickly with 2 breaks of serve, going up 4-1 and serving to take a 5-1 lead.  But, his opponent found his way back into the set, breaking my son’s serve then holding then breaking my son again to tie it up at 4-4.

If this match had happened 6 months ago, I would’ve said it was over at this point.  My son would’ve checked out mentally, making all kinds of excuses for why he couldn’t win.  But, he didn’t.  He stayed tough, competing even better as the match progressed.  Both boys continued to hold from that point forward, eventually reaching 6-6 and a tiebreaker.  His opponent went up 3-0 in the breaker, and hubby and I were feeling pretty stressed out watching our son struggle.  But then he found another gear, mentally, and climbed out of the hole, winning the set 7-4 in the tiebreak.  That was a huge momentum shift.

Because of the extreme weather, the boys were told to play a 10-point Super Tiebreaker instead of a full 3rd set.  My son’s tiebreak record over the past 6 months is pretty solid – he’s only lost one 7-point breaker during that time and has won 100% of the 10-point breakers he’s played – so I’m guessing he was feeling pretty confident down there.  His opponent was looking a little shaky, stretching his quads and calves after each point, taking the pace off his serve and, basically, just pushing it in to get the point started.  At one point, maybe due to the wind, the opponent hit an underhand serve a la Michael Chang, and my son unleashed an inside-out forehand return winner which put an end to that tactic!

The boys kept trading mini-breaks then holding serve, keeping the score in the tiebreaker very close.  At 10-all, hubby and I realized this match could go either way.  Both guys were playing very solid tennis, working each point, making very few errors.  Over the next few points, each of them had a chance to close out the match, but then other would come up with a winning shot to tie things back up.  My husband, who is usually a pretty cool character, was jumping around like a jackrabbit, muttering “c’mon” under his breath, trying to keep our son motivated to fight.  Finally, at 14-14, my son pulled ahead and had the chance to serve for the match.  He hit a huge body serve to his opponent who was unable to handle it, netting the return.  My son had won 5-7, 7-6, 16-14.  His first 18s tournament and his first 18s tournament championship – wow!

I know it sounds cliche’d, but it really was a shame that one of the boys had to lose that match.  They both played high-level tennis for almost 3 hours in very tough weather.  They both continued to compete, staying mentally strong and going after every ball.  They both wanted to win and were willing to stay out there all day to do it.  In the end, it came down to a big serve and an even bigger heart.  I couldn’t be prouder!

Playing Up

Playing up is one of those controversial topics in junior tennis.  Should my child play up?  If so, when should he start playing up?  Which tournaments?  How many?  Should he keep playing his own age group as well?  Ask 5 different coaches, and you’ll get 5 different answers!

What I have learned is that, as your child gets older, it becomes more important for him to establish a good ranking early in his age group so that he can actually get into the higher-level tournaments (see Life In Limbo).  Since many of the tournaments will admit a certain number of players from the younger age group, it’s good to take advantage of that opportunity to play up and earn some ranking points, especially as your child gets closer to his official aging-up date.

Talk to your child’s coach.  As a team (remember that whole Tennis Triangle thing?), you can devise a plan in terms of which tournaments and which age group your child will play in order to maximize her chances of reaching whatever goals she may have.  Go online and look at the tournament schedule for the next 3 months or 6 months or 12 months and map out your route.  If there are multiple tournaments on the same weekend, include them all on your list and keep an eye on them as the entry deadlines get close, then talk with the coach to determine which is the best to enter.  It takes planning – as well as flexibility – but it’s worth the time and effort, believe me!

My son is still in his first year of the 16s.  But, since he has a July birthday, and since many of the national tournaments he aspires to play are shortly after his birthday, he is going to start playing in some 18s tournaments now in hopes of having a good enough ranking to play those big tournaments after officially aging up in July 2013.

My son’s playing his first 18s this coming weekend – it’s just a small local tournament, but I think it will be good for him to get a little taste of competing against the older (and, yes, probably bigger) guys.  He practices with hard-hitting guys and girls every day at drills.  He’s now playing on his high school team with boys up to 3 years older than him, so I know he can handle the pace of the Big Boys.  He’s looking forward to the challenge  of this tournament, and I’m looking forward to seeing him play the part of David to what may very well be Goliath on the other side of the net.

Doubles, Doubles, Toils, & Troubles

When I was a kid playing junior tennis, everyone I knew had a set doubles partner.  You practiced together, you played tournaments together, and, at the end of the year, you had a doubles ranking together.

One of the highlights of my junior tennis “career” was winning the state high school doubles championships as an 8th grader.  My partner and I had played together the entire season and had helped our team get to State.  In the doubles competition, we had beaten girls much older than us to take home the big prize.  I still have that trophy sitting on a shelf above my desk.  I’m still very proud of that accomplishment.

Today, it seems that doubles has become the ignored step-child of junior tennis, the afterthought.  USTA awards only 15% of the ranking points for doubles wins and only counts 3 doubles tournament results in a player’s overall ranking.  It’s a shame!

When my son plays in a tournament that also happens to offer doubles, he usually tries to find a partner so he can play.  Oftentimes, the two boys will play together for the first time in their first-round match.  They won’t have practiced together.  They won’t have taken much time to strategize or figure out each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  They pretty much just wing it.  Sometimes it works out great.  Other times, not so much.  In a recent tourney, my son and his partner won the doubles, and they were so excited.  But, just to emphasize how low on the totem pole doubles truly is, their prize was a plastic “medal” on a ribbon NOT the nice trophy that the singles winners received.  Really???

Developing doubles skills not only makes you a better singles player by giving you opportunities to try shots you don’t normally get to try- volleys, smashes, half volleys, lobs, angles, etc. – but it also prepares you for high school and college play.  If you’ve ever gone to a college tennis match, oftentimes the doubles can be the tipping point for a win or a loss.  The doubles players are highly-valued at both the high school and college level.  Why not in the juniors???

I had the opportunity to “talk” to Dan Kiernan, coach of the winning doubles team at the 2012 Australian Open Junior event who also happens to be a pretty accomplished doubles player himself.  Dan’s opinion is that “tennis is a daunting sport and being on the court on your own one against one, losing on your own, winning on your own, are all difficult emotions to deal with. In general people are well ‘people’ people! If makes sense! And sharing is a nice emotion and in turn this will keep players in the game or attract them to stay in the game for longer.”

Dan goes on to confess that he knew that he wasn’t cut out to be a top singles player the day he won his first singles professional tournament.  He says, “I felt empty that evening- no one to share with, everyone had moved onto the next tournament,” so even the winning alone can be a problem.  Plus, doubles gives pros an opportunity to make money from the game.  Some very average tennis players (relatively!) have made great livings from doubles and stayed in the game at the pro level for longer.

Since the Powers That Be are constantly touting tennis as a Game For Life, they need to take a look around the community tennis courts and see how many Lifers are playing singles vs. doubles.  As we get older, doubles becomes a more feasible game for us to play.  How great for those who grew up learning that game and the strategies involved!

I understand that it’s tough for tournament directors to include doubles due to time constraints during the school year.  But, during school vacation times, it would be great to see more doubles competition available to our kids.

So, I hereby issue a challenge to the USTA and other tennis federations:  Reinstate doubles as an equal partner for junior tennis.  Reinstate year-end doubles rankings.  Make doubles wins count the same as singles.  Encourage our juniors to develop their doubles skills AS JUNIORS so they have those skills throughout their lives.

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

My son had a rough day on the courts today.  He played a practice set against a kid he has beaten the last several times they’ve played.  Today he lost.

I could tell the moment he walked up to the car that something was wrong.  I asked if everything was okay.  He answered, “Not a great practice today, Mom.”  I didn’t bite.  I just put the car into “drive” and headed out of the parking lot.

A few seconds later, he told me that he had lost the set and had played really badly, but, that, on the bright side, he had put Super Glue on a nasty blister on his finger, and it masked the pain so he could hold his racquet.  Okay, he’s looking for something positive to salvage his afternoon – that’s a good sign.

But, the cloud of the loss quickly returned and hung over him during his fitness session, during his ride home with Dad, and all during dinner.  After he went upstairs to shower, I told my husband that, while I’m happy he’s not satisfied to lose, I really wish he could find a way to put it away and move on with his day.  A teenager is challenging on the best days.  A moody teenager who is sulking after a bad practice is to be avoided like the plague.

Thank goodness tomorrow’s another day . . .