Five tips while watching the French Open

I’ve been playing tennis since our family moved from Bacolod to Cebu when Marcos was toppled and Cory moved into power in the summer of 1986.

Since then, I’ve posed for a photo beside Federer and Sampras in Kuala Lumpur, smacked 27,856 forehands, and been operated on a shoulder injury by Dr. Tony San Juan. I’ve watched Agassi and Serena win the US Open, helped organize the four Davis Cup events in Plantation Bay Resort and Spa (a 5th one is coming this September versus New Zealand!) and helped train a young 14-year-old champion that is my daughter Jana.

Through these 27 years of tennis, what tips can I offer the regular, thrice-weekly player? Here are five clay-court tennis tips — while we’re all watching the French Open each night.

One: Practice your serve. It’s funny. We often spend hours perfecting our backhands and forehands — but spend so little time fine-tuning our serves. Lest we forget, this rule applies: the serve is the only shot in tennis that we have complete control of. Think about it. If one has an excellent serve, one will win lots of free points.

Here’s another idea to remember: If you can’t be broken, you won’t lose. True. Just hold your serve and you won’t lose. Never. I like this saying that differentiates the average club player (that’s us) versus a pro like Novak: “We serve to START the point. The pros serve to END the point.” Got it? On that first shot alone (serve), the pros try to finish the point.

Here’s a favorite saying: “Life is like a game of tennis. He who serves well seldom loses.”

Two: Employ the drop shot. Study the French Open players tonight. (If you subscribe to SkyCable HD, go to channel 702 where the free HD on Roland Garros is found.) On the red clay of Paris, the best players employ a strategy that’s wise and proven successful: When the opponent is far, they hit a feather-like drop shot. It works. The key point is the element of surprise. You can’t hit a drop shot every other point — your opponent will guess it and sprint forward. Disguise. Surprise.

Three: High topspin is best. Watch Nadal. He’s the greatest ever on the dirt surface. What does he have that nobody else has? Tremendous spin. It’s been recorded that his forehand generates 5,800+ revolutions per minute (RPMs) — the most of any pro. (Federer, at 4800+, is a distant second.) The higher the allowance over the net, the deeper the shot. Add more spin with the high-bouncing shot and you’ve got a Rafa-like chance of victory.

Four: Watch only one player. While watching tennis on TV, you really want to learn and improve? Watch only one person. Yup. That’s no joke. Instead of moving your eyeballs up and down, stick to focusing on one player. Observe Maria’s side-to-side movement (not her yellow-colored bikini shorts). Copy the best backhand down-the-line shot in today’s game (Djokovic’s). Relish the inside-out forehand of the Rolex-sponsored Swiss codenamed RF. Watch only one player. You’ll learn more.

Five: Play the game. Majority of readers who’ll read this are non-tennis players. That’s a fact. Few people have ever gripped an Eastern backhand grip and performed a slice shot. Tennis is not as easy to learn as, say, bowling or Zumba. You need a racket. You need a person at the opposite end of the court (although I spent hundreds of hours as a young junior practicing against the pelota court’s high wall — at the old Casino Español). In tennis, you need balls, tennis shoes, grips, new strings (once they break) and cash to pay for the court fees, etc, etc. It’s not as inexpensive as the most inexpensive of sports: running.

Yet tennis is fun. It’s a game you can play from six until 86. It’s a chance to group together with friends. It provides some of the best form of exercise. It enhances your competitive spirit. It offers both rigorous (singles) and recreational (doubles) options. Plus, it’s a game of contradictions, as Billie Jean King once said: “Tennis is a perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility.”

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