I have been playing tennis for about seven years. In the past four years, I have been playing recreational tennis three to four times a week, and every year I challenge myself by adding another dimension to my tennis game to increase my skill level. My original thought was that tennis would supplement cycling as a cross-training sport, so that I could remain in a “fit readiness posture” throughout the year.
About three years ago, I decided to join United States Tennis Association (USTA) to play in the women doubles league in addition to playing recreational tennis three to four times a week. The doubles league format consisted of three lines of doubles, with the winter season running from January through March and the summer season from June through August. Playing doubles requires teamwork, so I have had the opportunity to play with different partners, and I’m known as the “runner” when it comes to running down shots that my partner cannot or won’t retrieve. Thank goodness for the Fit-to-Fight (F2F) program! The F2F program gave me an edge while playing tennis because the sport requires an abundance of running and increased core strength.
Another aspect of tennis that was surprising to me was playing doubles, especially playing with different partners. This requires different playing styles and strategies, so I have learned how to quickly assess our opponents and change tactics. Learning the different playing combinations depends on your partner and your opponent, and requires not only physical and mental endurance, but also strategic and tactical play in order to win.
Since joining the doubles league, I also found that playing recreational tennis was much different than playing competitive tennis, in that recreational players have less of a tendency to be concerned about line calls, foot faults, or wrong game scores. In playing competitive tennis, line calls, foot faults and game scores are obviously scrutinized. The strategy session begins immediately when you first meet your opponents and before the first ball is served. Tactical adjustments are continually activated as each team “sizes up” their opponent’s weaknesses throughout the match.
Tennis requires patience, which I am still learning, because as a competitor my wish is to have immediate success by winning every match. For example, getting your first serve in is important, but, if not the first, then the second serve becomes critical. Getting the ball in the service box is the only way to start winning points, whereby double faults will only rack up unforced errors, thus providing your opponent the points needed to win.
Playing competitive tennis has increased my mental and physical stamina. To ensure that I am always “match ready”, I modified my fitness program, I’ve added TRX to increase my core strength and started using a foam roller to relax muscles before and after running. Additionally, I’ve modified my eating habits by taking in more nutritional based foods vice fatty ones, consume bananas to reduce cramping, modified my hydration requirements by drinking more water instead of sports drinks, especially during hotter weather and ensuring I get six to eight hours of sleep every night.
Last year our doubles league format expanded to three lines of doubles and two lines of singles, so I took the opportunity to play singles when requested by the captain. I didn’t win my match, but I did win a few games! Playing singles is more challenging because you don’t have your partner to rely on to run down and put away shots, you must cover the entire court. Being patient, taking your shot when you have the opportunity and minimizing unforced errors are key elements to winning in singles.
Playing competitive tennis has made staying in shape for F2F much easier. As I transition toward military retirement, tennis will remain part of my exercise regimen and the Air Force F2F elements (running, sit-ups, and pushups) will remain as my secret weapon on and off the court!