My Story - Brent Abel
As we're siting on the bench at the Harbor Point RC in Mill Valley, CA waiting to change sides so that I can serve for the match at 6-1, 5-2 in the finals of the national USA 35s Hardcourt Doubles, my partner Rob slaps me on the knee and says ... "this is incredible, we're going to win a frickin Gold Ball!".
And my response was ... "Robby, shut up --- we haven't done squat. Stay focused and let's work like hell for this first point."
So we work the score to 40-15, double match point. And Rob is smiling back at me like ... we got this man!
I hit a good 1st serve to Dennis's body who puts up a short lob to Rob. Rob has one of the all-time great overheads. It's loud. It's accurate. And it's won tons of points for us.
And as he lines it up, I'm thinking, baby - it's over!
A nano second later, Rob buries his overhead into the middle of the net. He turns around and gives me that "whatever, no big deal look".
Hmmmm. OK, maybe a hair tight there on match point to win a national title.
It's now 40-30 and I play another tough 1st serve to Steve's body who puts up a fairly short lob --- to Rob.
And in a heartbeat, Robby nails it ten feet out.
He turns around with a look of pure horror. He's now thinking that he's possibly jinxed this with his comments during the changeover.
And I am too ;-(
I mean, we'd been unseeded and we'd been playing with house money for the entire tournament. No one expected anything from us.
We took out the #5 seeds in the first round of a full 64 team draw. In the quarters we beat the #4 seeds, and in the semis we beat the #2 seeds, and here we were in the finals against the #3 seeds.
And now we've just blown two match points ...
OK, it's deuce and I serve a slice out wide to Dennis that he doesn't return. Robby turns around and gives me a look as if to say ... thank God they didn't lob me again!
Ad in, match point again, and I hit a 1st serve to Steve who I know has one strategy in mind and that's to play every shot at Rob.
Steve's return goes right at Rob who volleys it back to Steve with what I'm sure was the tightest grip in the history of senior tennis ;-)
Steve plays another drive right at Rob who volleys it back to Steve with an even tighter grip ;-)
This goes on for another two shots from Steve with Rob getting tighter and tighter with each volley ... BUT, Rob at least makes the shots and forces Steve to play another shot.
And finally, Steve hits his 5th drive into the net.
Match over. Rob's as relieved as a human can be. And we won our first Gold Ball.
And since that day in October in 1984, I've continued to play age group tournaments every year.
I've been fortunate to win another 10 national USA titles including the 2009 - 60s Hardcourt and 2018 - 70s Hardcourt singles.
Because of those wins, I've been selected to play for the USA on the four man teams that went to Perth Australia in October of 2009, and then to Umag, Croatia as the playing captain in 2018 & 2019 to play in the international World Cup team competition.
My wife Mai and I have won 6 national Husband-Wife titles --- one hardcourt, two grass, and three clay court titles.
Yeah, she's a solid lefty 5.0 player who competes like crazy ;-)
It's been a great run since that first title in 1984, but before then, I was the definition of a true hacker.
No clue about stroke technique, singles or doubles strategies, and frankly, I had the one commodity most younger players have --- speed. I could run around all day long pushing balls back but couldn't break an egg and force play.
In 1980 I had the opportunity and privilege to get coached by legendary northern California teaching professional Tom Stow. If that name doesn't ring a bell, then the name Don Budge should.
Budge won the 1938 singles Grand Slam - all four majors - and Mr. Stow coached Don during that time.
I had 18 months with Tom as he was nearing the end of his life. He passed away in 1983.
And during those 18 months with Mr. Stow, I learned about the game of tennis in a way that I'd never thought of it before.
We all talk about fundamentals, but very very few coaches truly understand what they are and how to teach them.
Tom Stow knew them cold and demanded that you eliminate everything else so that you could build those fundamentals into a rock solid foundation.
Once you did, he then also demanded that you lay your unique personality on top of that foundation of fundamentals.
So Tom had players who preferred serve & volley, players who loved to start back on the baseline, and other players who were more all-court players.
But the ones who had success all had the Stow foundation.
I turned more towards the all out serve & volley, chip & charge style of play. It just suited my on-court personality.
And the year after Tom passed away in 1983, I won that national hardcourt doubles title in Mill Valley.
Bittersweet because the first person I wanted to call right after I walked off the court was Mr. Stow, ball like a baby boy, and thank him for everything he'd given me.
But I couldn't, and to this day, I think of that man almost every day with a sense of gratitude.
Besides helping me become a better player, Tom also helped me become an even better teaching professional.
I learned from Tom that my job as a coach is to help players pare away those things they do that get in the way of the true fundamentals having a chance to come out.
I used to think I needed at add another layer to a player's swing technique, but the more I did, the more they struggled.
Instead, yeah, it's all about simplicity. It's all about being minimalist with the stroke technique so that it's repeatable. Eliminate the unnecessary.
Get rid of that little flair on top of the swing that's an attempt to look just like Rafa, and instead, get the frick real ...
If you're still reading this --- congrats --- I'm going to assume that you LOVE to tinker with your game, and that just like me, you're constantly on the look for ways to get better with your tennis.
One of the things I got from Mr. Stow about becoming a better tennis player was to stop always measuring to see IF I'm getting better.
In his own words, he encouraged me to simply do the work every day and stop thinking about the end result.
One of my favorite writers, James Clear, details the Seinfeld strategy for improvement here.
If you're up for it, I'd love the chance to help you become a better player by building a more solid stroke technique foundation, getting a better understanding of singles and/or doubles strategies, and inspire you to put in the necessary work that will eventually take you to where you want to go and beyond.
Let's start a discussion so that you can see if we might be a good fit for making all of that happen ;-)
Go here to let me know what's on your mind - click.
And as always, come on now, get out there today and help someone else have a spectacular day ;-)
Let's connect ...
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And of course, these 3 beauts start and finish the package for me ;-)