Competing on Clay
Sorry to be flooding you with posts all of a sudden. The internet hasn’t been great since I got to Chile and so I’ve been trying to catch up the last couple days…..
Feb 19, 2012
Well I got my first lesson in clay court tennis today. I lost to an Argentine 6-2 7-5 in the second round of qualifying. I had thought that I would feel better out there today because I actually played well yesterday, beating Nick in the first round 6-3 6-3—yeah it is crazy that we came all the way to Chile together, are rooming together, and played each
other in the first round of qualifying. Today was a different story though. It was a frustrating match. Frankly, he was not that good. I really think I could have beaten him routinely, even on clay. It was too bad though because I came out pretty intimidated and nervous. I was keyed up to play a solid Argentinian clay courter and came out expecting him to be something special, which he definitely was not. But going into the match like that unsettled me, and for the first four games I couldn’t hardly put a ball in play and was really struggling with my footing. In a way, I went into the match labeling myself as the American hard court player who isn’t comfortable on clay, which was exactly how I played. To be fair, I am an American hard court player and I’m not that comfortable on clay. But I don’t think it had to be as big a deal as it seemed at the time. After the first four games I settled down, once I realized that he was not going to do much to hurt me and that I didn’t have to be afraid. But by then the set was over.
The second set was better at least. I decided quickly that I was not comfortable staying in rallies from the baseline because of all the crazy bounces the ball was taking on the dry clay–running and sliding around create huge divots in the clay that get hard when they dry out, often making the ball bounce unpredictably. In retrospect this was an alright decision. I just took it a little too far to the extreme. My kick serve wide to both courts was effective so I served and volleyed a lot, using it to open up the court so had a lot of space to work with. I also tried to take as many forehands early as I could and come in behind them in order to not give him a chance to get even in the point. This style seemed to throw him off but looking back I could definitely have played a little more consistent, working points a little more before attacking. I got a little desperate too quick and although it might not have been the wrong plan, I was a little too kamikaze-like than I needed. I just got overly focused on the fact that I was struggling with the bounces, especially off the backhand side. So I thought the only way I could stay in the match was to not play points with him at all.
The funny thing is that my strategy worked well in the second set. I broke him and actually got up 5-2, serving and volleying and being overly aggressive. I played a loose game though when I served for the set and then I let him back into it. I’ve seen this happen in the past when I rely heavily on the serve and volley. I enjoy playing like that and am pretty good at it. But it is not really my game, so a lot of times I’ve struggled to come through in the big moments continuing to play like that, as if I can get to 4- all or 5-4 but just cant get over that hump when it counts the most. It is just such a dangerous play and game style that a tight volley here or there or a couple loose points in a row can make the difference when you are gambling and putting it all on the line. Live by the sword and die by it is how I’ve come to think of it when I rely on the serve and volley too much. Especially with my 85 mph kick serve—ok, fine…78 mph. It is a much more effective play for me to mix it in sporadically on big points to catch guys off guard and keep them guessing a bit. But in this instance, I felt very pressured to stay away from rallying from the baseline, so I didn’t leave myself much of a choice.
The Argentine—whose name is Hernan Cassanova, which I think is awesome—ended up beating me 7-5, which was disappointing after being up in the set. I would have really liked to play a third and see what happened but unfortunately I ran out of time. All in all I’m a little disappointed because I think this was actually a winnable match against a player ranked 1200, but I was happy that at least I was able to improve and make progress after getting off to such a shaky start. Its still hard to enter these matches free of expectations. Especially when you are playing someone who is ranked, or seeded, or you think must be good. But you really cannot let that kind of stuff distract you. The Argentine is obviously a good player but who knows how he was feeling that day, or how he picked up the points that got him ranked so high. Over the next few weeks I want to work on going into every match the same, letting my game do what it will without encumbering it with expectations. I may win easily, get beat badly, or surprise myself by beating a great player. But no matter what I want it to be my game doing the talking.
With a little more confidence and experience on clay I really do think I can beat a player like the Argentine soundly because of how much more game I have than him. He was kind of a scrappy little guy—his game and his looks—with no serve and not much power. He was fast as hell, but besides being pretty good at defense and throwing up ridiculous lobs, I wasn’t that impressed. Even getting off to an awful start and feeling like a fish out of water for most of the match I still had and blew ample opportunities that could have changed the outcome. A couple missed volleys and overheads cost me being even in the match, which shows I was right there with him. Next time he won’t be so lucky.
It’s too bad to be out of the tournament but I’m going to train hard this week and really get a feel for moving and finding stability on the clay so I can play a little more even with these South Americans. It will be interesting to see how I do once I get my bearings. For now though Nick and I need to get some food and do laundry. I tried to include a couple videos of points but for some reason I can’t get them to upload. I’ll try to figure it out and add them in later so you can see some not so French Open-like clay court tennis.