Dec/18

16

In the Federer Zone

 

By Scoop Malinowski

It rarely happens but occasionally it does happen that a tennis player can have a near perfect day on the court where they far exceed their own and their opponents expectations.

Today I had that day. It happened at the Longboat Key Club Resort against one of the toughest competitors in the area, a six-foot seven Czech who has big weapons and can grind out long points. We played five sets recently (all on Har Tru) the last month and every one was a dogfight battle, over an hour each, scores of 46 63, then 63 63, then 63 03. In five of those sets, I remember each of us only missed about three bad shots total. Every point was a war of ten to twenty shots, no errors, just patient smart deep tennis and going for the winner when the opening appeared.

Today I expected the same on our same Har Tru battlefield in southern Longboat Key. Marek elected to receive serve, so I served and hit the sideline on the very first point. He got the return back, I went cross court and then he hit a backhand that hit the back of the line. The very first point, we both hit lines. I thought to myself, here we go again, it’s going to be another epic battle. Do I really feel like playing super hard competitive tennis for three more hours?

I ended up winning the game despite blowing a 40-15 lead, after one or two deuces.

In his first service game I also had two break points at 15-40 and then a third but he battled back and won the game for a 1-1 deadlock. I thought to myself again, here we go again. This is going to be another typical war, with both of us working extremely hard for every point, every ball. His forehand is huge, with his long arms and legs he can get out wide and reply with an offensive winner from the alley or beyond on the full run. He can also hit a running slice winner up the line. His backhand is a slice and topspin and he can get every ball back anytine, or throw up a desperate slice lob that drops on the baseline. How many times he’s done that I can’t even count. That’s how tight and tough every point is. It’s the kind of tennis that after it’s over you feel everybody else you play is much easier to deal with. Nobody else raises my level and confidence like playing Marek. Once somebody next to us saw how hard we both were fighting and asked, “Are you guys playing for a million dollars?”

As hard as we compete, we have a good connection and friendship and respect each other and never do anything to provoke or annoy each other.

I held for 2-1. I remember feeling really good in this game despite feeling pressure. I was able to crank the inside in forehand up the line and go deep to his backhand. I was able to get him on the run and off balance. I made an overhead and a drop shot off a short ball.

I started to feel very good but not overconfident because he’s fought back from 0-3 down and even larger deficits. He doesn’t give up despite expressing frustrations by yelling and throwing his racquet on occasion. Two things helped me going into this week. I hit with Mi Lan for two straight weeks during Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl where she made the 14s quarterfinal and third round. She’s one of the best 14 year olds in the world and playing with her every day sharpened my game. I felt more time today, not as rushed. And I have new shoes, the New Balance clay shoes which feel perfect, soft, good grip and I really like looking down and seeing these red runners.

The magic started to happen. Everything I tried worked. I felt smooth like Federer with my new serve motion, very cohesive and my serve percentage and accuracy was excellent. I could pull Marek wide on each side and then work the point. Deuce court, wide to his forehand, then wide to his backhand, then a forehand cross court winner right on the sideline. He just said, “Yep.” This was on game point at 40-30.

He cracked a few inside out forehand winners, his big weapon, but I was able to neutralize that shot with deeper balls. His running forehand is a rocket and he can go up the line or cross court with it. He got one or two but I was able to neutralize that weapon too. He didn’t manage to hit any of his lethal backhand slices down the line. I guess he was too off balance to get to use it. Or maybe he was off from only playing once since out last hit over a week ago.

I made every overhead and volley. I think I made everything and served it out at 30 for 6-1.

In the second set I expected him to regroup and get revenge, as he has done many times. He won that first point with a forehand winner but I won the game.

Then more magic happened. A drop volley winner. A volley winner behind him. And a shot I never hit before…he hit a short ball inside the service line, and I ran straight forward and somehow scooped it up about two inches from the ground with a forehand like side slice squash shot cross court that hit the side line. He just said, “Unbelievable.”

Feeling like Federer at this point, there was another crazy shot from the same side of the court. He hit a forehand that hit the service line and popped high up very fast, over my head. I managed to react in time and hit like a serve from the baseline but it was a shank off my Volkl Tour 10 frame and it actually went over the net by about two feet, which Marek didn’t even try to get. It was the luckiest shot I ever hit.

By this point in the match, Marek was talking to himself and constantly repeating the same words: Unbelievable…Unreal…Unbelievable…Unreal…Nothing is working…Forget about it…I can’t do anything…Unbelievable…Unreal…This is the worst I’ve ever played in my life.

But between you and me, it was the near perfection of my game today and the accuracy and ball control and courage to go for my targets that threw his game off. Everything I hit was good, was where I wanted it to go. I can’t remember one error. And even his best serves I got back with good returns. And even his best shots I could get to and either regain control of the point or go on offense.

Being a bigger guy at 6-7, I realized shorter slower balls at times get him off balance. Strong to his forehand, then rip a forehand up the line to his backhand. Then same pattern but then a slower shorter forehand to his running backhand. I had him constantly off balance and not knowing what was coming. When I went hard to his forehand I never missed one of those, and with good depth. Just a perfect day in the office.

The final score was 61 60, a scoreline that I never managed against him before in about 50 matches in the last three years. Will it ever happen again? I don’t think so.

Today was my zone day. No double faults, one ace, three overhead winners, and by his count, nine or ten line strikes. And believe it or not, I did not yell one single come on or utilize any emotional adrenaline. I did not need to.

Maybe it was the inspiration of watching a week of incredible Orange Bowl girls 14s matches and hitting daily with one of them. Maybe it was the inspiration of one of the girl players (who my girl beat) from Canada asking me for my contact information because she was looking for a new coach? Maybe it was eating an apple and then a Gatorade protein bar 30 minutes before the match and an orange after the first set? Maybe it was hitting for a few minutes with a legend Hans Gildemeister last week? Maybe it was wearing my new Manchester United white Nike shorts for the first time?

I don’t know what it was but today I was in the zone, not the Twilight Zone but the ultimate tennis zone where you actually feel like Roger Federer for about an hour.

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9 comments

  • catherine · December 17, 2018 at 2:12 am

    Scoop – I’d ditch those Man U shorts if I were you – lost 1-3 to Liverpool last night. Down down down they go πŸ™‚

  • catherine · December 17, 2018 at 3:08 am

    But seriously – good to hear of your experience in the zone. May you have more in 1919.

    Awards season – BJK wins BBC Lifetime Achievement Award at BBC and Kerber gets all glammed up for the German Sportwoman of the Year. Last time that happened Angie followed it with her worst year ever.

    But maybe this time it’ll work out – Adidas did a promotion with her and she had this to say : ‘ Before the big break things weren’t going my way for a while and it made me really question my career. Now I know tennis is bigger than winning or losing. I want to be a role model for that state of mind.’

    Not quite sure what she means by that last bit other than she might be a better loser – or that just playing is reward enough ? Good points > good games > good sets.

    Forget about the match.

  • catherine · December 17, 2018 at 3:10 am

    I mean 2019 obviously – pretty sure you weren’t around in 1919 πŸ™‚

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 17, 2018 at 8:13 am

    Catherine, I’m still keeping the shorts, if they lost 12-1, still keeping. Played my best tennis in them πŸ™‚

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 17, 2018 at 8:16 am

    Think Kerber’s message is keep believing through thick and thin, dark and light, ups and downs. Tennis is a system of life to keep persevering through adversity. Playing again this afternoon, will see if I still stay in the Federer zone.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 17, 2018 at 8:17 am

    What I know about 1919 is Jack Johnson was the heavyweight champion of the world back then πŸ™‚

  • Dan Markowitz · December 17, 2018 at 8:20 am

    Well done. I know how fun/enjoyable it is to win even these practice matches against a tough opponent. I find it hard to believe that you can hit every day for two weeks with a top 14’s player, especially if it was on hard courts, as the toll on your body must be significant. But you are in great shape.

    Callum won his first 16’s tournament last night, coming back from being down 0-5 in the second set to notching it at 5-5 and then in the breaker, being down 2-6, and winning it 8-6. HIs opponent was a boy who had a really high level net game, knifing volleys as he sprinted to net, and creaming every single overhead he hit. But Callum is very steady and is getting much better at moving his opponents around mostly with sharp-angled backhands and cross-court forehands and even against boys three years older than he, who are top players, he wears them down or induces errors.

    I find it interesting that a top 14’s player asked about you coaching her. That to me is really impressive. Your strokes are certainly not picture-perfect at least to my eyes, but you’re a very good practice partner and just because your strokes aren’t great, neither are Oren MOtevassel’s and at 51, that guy is sick, doesn’t miss.

    After all these years of watching Callum take lessons with top pros in the New York-area, I think the biggest keys for a great pro are: technique master, knowing and running the drills to best utilize and correct/improve technique, positive mind-set and a real interest in student which includes watching him/her play tournament matches.

  • catherine · December 19, 2018 at 8:01 am

    Scoop – bit late with this – but keep wearing those Man United shorts – Maurinho’s been sacked so the sun’s shining again πŸ™‚

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 19, 2018 at 8:39 am

    Catherine, Will follow your orders. Have about 8 white shorts for tennis but those ManU’s are at the top of the rotation.

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