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A lesson learned from tennis

September 29th, 2009 by Darrin Schenck

Today in the sports headlines you may have noticed there was a new record for the number of aces during one tennis match. Ivo Karlovic of Croatia bombed an amazing 78 aces in a Davis Cup match lasting a whopping 4 hours and 59 minutes and LOST THE MATCH!!!!  Seventy-eight aces is the equivalent of 13 games worth of points and yet he lost the match…staggering. But what can be gleaned from this?

(***by the way…do you know the two players involved in the longest Davis Cup match in history? Hint: one of them was from the USA)

Radek Stepanek fought his way through a blizzard of aces from his opponent, but he never gave up.  He battled for the pride and respect of his country, and of course for himself.  This match featured two men who are not household names in this country, or in most of the tennis world unless you are a dedicated tennis fan (which I am).  However, in this glorious moment, they each made history.   They were as prepared as they could possibly be, and seized the opportunity to shine.  My question is…How ready are you for your big time?

When you face a player with a huge serve, what can you do?   One of my first suggestions is…don’t panic!  A lot of players that have a huge strength such as a strong drive serve also have a complimentary weakness that can be exploited.  In the case of Ivo Karlovic, he is about 6′ 8″ and is known for not being very fleet of foot.  That was a nice way of saying he is really slow.   So, on the returns that did go back into play, Stepanek did have the advantage.

If you can manage to get a serve back into play, you might have a good chance of winning some rallies.  When facing a big serve, do your best to disrupt the server’s rhythm.  Most players who have a big serve want to get into a groove, and that typically is a fast pace of play.  By using the 10 seconds between rallies to your advantage, you can slow a player down and still be within the rules.  By making them wait before each and every serve, you greatly increase your chances of them making errors on their serve.  Disrupting a players’ service rhythm can be the difference between taking a beating and having a shot at winning.

Again, as I have stated in my book over and over, and also in previous blog posts, be conservative on the return of serve.  When you do get a look at a return, the last thing you want to do is to dump it into the floor going for too much.  Hit passes on your return when given a chance for an offensive return, and go to the ceiling whenever you are not completely set up.  Hitting a ceiling ball as a return is a good strategy against almost everyone you play, but especially against someone who is drive serving.  The reason is that they have a lot of ground to cover after hitting that serve to retrieve your ceiling ball return.

Most big servers are also people who are aggressive shooters, and therefore prone to mistakes.  By getting them deep into the court, and making them run to cover every ball you put in play, you greatly improve your chances of winning that match.  Because a drive serve leaves you so far forward in the court when you follow through, the server will usually arrive late to the ceiling ball return.  This increases the odds of an error from them, and also makes them expend a lot of energy.

After 5 hours of Davis Cup tennis, Radek Stepanek was able to win by grinding out rallies and never giving up hope.  You can do the same thing on the racquetball court as well.  Neutralize the big serve by making the server wait and disrupting their rhythm, then be conservative on your returns.  Make the server earn every rally by covering the most court on every rally.  Drain their energy by making them work hard to win rallies, and this will increase the chances of them making some service errors and giving you a shot at winning the match.

You can buy the full book versions of my return of serve strategy and more in Racquetball 101 and Percentage Racquetball from the Racquetball Warehouse website.

***The longest Davis Cup Tennis match in history was between John McEnroe and Mats Wilander, and it lasted 6 hours and 22 minutes.

by Darrin Schenck

ASU Racquetball Head Coach

Posted in Racquetball Tips | 166 Comments »

166 Responses

  1. Jill Scott Says:

    Darrin, you’re my favorite coach because you approach the game from a unique perspective: one that keeps a player’s strengths and weaknesses in mind, while simultaneously looking for a way around your opponent’s strengths to recognize and exploit their weaknesses. Thanks for your invaluable advice and positive energy! -Jill

  2. Darrin Schenck Says:


    Thank you very much! I have been fortunate to have learned lots of things from lots of sources and do my best to combine them and “translate them” into racquetball terms.

    I appreciate the comments. :-)

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