I was thinking about all of you who follow this column and have been extremely loyal after all these years. I was thinking about your tennis … your wins, your losses, while looking ahead to see what is next. It came to me to ask you …
Are you improving? Do you feel that all of this time on the court practicing has translated to being a better tennis player under pressure when it counts in matches?
I see myself in my journey as a lifelong learner. I am constantly asking questions and writing things down to strengthen my approach to everything including my tennis. My life these days is one long road trip. I tour the world conducting tennis clinics and exhibitions. I recently finished a “16 Cities in 16 Days” road trip where I picked up so many new approaches to both my playing and teaching of tennis.
When I go to a club, I like to sit down with the club’s pros and ask them what is working for them. I ask them about the state of tennis in their backyards and where do they see tennis in the next 20 years. These countless tennis directors, tennis pros and club staff have so much insight because they are living the game at so many levels each day. I ask them about their new approaches to building a better tennis player and the tennis community.
Now not all of the answers click with me right away. Because I am at their club for just one day, I do not experience the daily grind that they go through, but I listen and take notes.
What I have found is that, overall, the game of tennis is constantly evolving and improving. Mistakes are made from time to time, and then there is a quick correction to keep the ball moving.
I was in one tennis community that had more than 2,000 kids in their junior performance program. Another area had roughly 1,500 kids. Both programs talked about the many things they have tried and never got off the ground, while lessons learned from those setbacks inspired new thoughts and successes!
Some programs had more success with adults, while some were very successful with high school teams. In each case, there was a constant focus on evaluating the product, finding what is and what is not working. In each case, these tennis leaders were not afraid to try new directions and strategies to be successful!
So all of these experiences made me think of all of you out there … where are you with your tennis? Where are you with your mindset? I know personally that I am more enthusiastic about this game than ever before. In every capacity, as long as I am near a tennis court, playing or coaching, I am one happy camper! Tennis has become my passion and my calling because I am constantly learning more each day about our wonderful game.
So take a few moments and see where you are in your relationship with the game. Is it a healthy one, or does it seem like your progress has stalled? My advice would be to jumpstart your game by going back to basics. Ask yourself why you began playing in the first place. What drove you to hit those extra serves and spend all that extra time on the practice court?
If I’ve learned anything from Roger Federer these days, it is that old dogs can learn new tricks! Fed’s backhand has improved from a liability to a weapon. Tune into your inner Fed and improve your game! It’s easy … just constantly listen to the message the ball is telling you and make the adjustments where necessary. For example, if your forehand shot goes into the net, the outcome is telling you to hit up on the ball on the next forehand to clear the net. Sure, it seems simple but always remember what my brother Murphy says ... “Tennis is a very simple game played by very complicated individuals,” and Murphy is always right!
I want to finish this edition on a very sad note. Tennis lost a great champion not too long ago and lost someone way too young. If you followed big time tennis in the 1980’s and 1990’s, you followed one of America’s doubles greats, Ken Flach (pictured right), who was part of a doubles team with Robert Seguso that dominated the tennis world right after John McEnroe & Peter Fleming. Robert “Goose” Seguso was a big power player in the deuce court, while Ken “The Flash” Flach was in the ad court, a tennis version of a massive black hole where all Flash did was rip returns back for winners! Flash was a return machine and a competitive Tomcat. Flach & Seguso competed and won Grand Slams at every level they played, from Davis Cup to the Olympics. They were feared because of their tennis intelligence as a team, while being ruthless competitors. Flash absolutely hated to lose more than anyone I ever knew. He hated to lose in anything. In the players’ lounges, there would be various video games set up for the players to play during down times. I remember Ken constantly kicking the video game machine after messing up on some level of play.
As a young American pro moving up through the ranks, most veteran players saw me as a threat. Ken did not. He was extremely helpful to me, providing advice on all levels, from tactics and work ethic to my playing schedule. He was always available if I needed some assistance. Ken, with his George Clooney movie star smile, was always contributing and making everything better around him. If you competed against him, you hated him. If you watched him compete, you admired him, and if you were around him, he always made you laugh. See you on the next tour Flash … all of your tour buddies will miss you …
Raised in Ludington, Mich., Luke Jensen’s resume includes 10 ATP Tour doubles titles. He was also a member of the U.S. Davis Cup teams that reached the finals in 1991 and won in 1992. His ambidextrous play, including his ability to serve the ball with either hand at 130 mph, earned him the nickname “Dual Hand Luke.” Luke is currently director of racket sports at West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, N.Y. He may be reached by phone at (315) 403-0752 or e-mail LukeJensen84@yahoo.com.