Thursday, December 18, 2014

How to finish strong and win in tennis

Dallas Aleman & Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Contributors

Many a times you find yourself ahead in a match only to see it squandered away after thinking you had it in the bag. If this is a pattern or an entirely new challenge you're facing, you're not alone! Even the best pros on tour find themselves in total control of a match only to be bewildered moments later when they realize it's slipping from their grasp. Finishing strong means playing smart, and these following lessons will show you how to do just that! 
Lesson #1 - Never make assumptions. We hear it all the time, "He's under-rated," "I've beat her before," or "They have a bad match record." Statistics and past matches say very little on what's happening in the moment.  
Losing a match you thought you'd win can be 
incredibly discouraging.
"After losing to players I've beaten in the past or when struggling against an opponent others write off as beatable, I used to get angry and upset at myself at how 'crappy' I played. The lesson I eventually learned is to pay attention to what your opponent is doing different, instead of what you're NOT doing."
Lesson #2 - Stay focused! It can be incredibly discouraging when you're big lead becomes a neck and neck battle, but the most important part of being a good competitor is to stay focused in the moment. Even if you're up a set and 5 games, play each point as a new point and one that has to be contested. You must win that one, because taking a breather and relaxing just a bit could be the nail in the coffin.   
"I had a saying when playing a tough match and having problems. I would call out, “climb the mountain,” and remind myself to take one step, or in this case point at a time." 
Lesson #3 - Be a good sport and be prepared for the next match. We often take matches for granted, especially when we're not taking our opponents seriously. If you don't finish strong the first time around, make sure you're prepared to give it your all the next time out. Also, whether you win or lose give your opponent some credit. After all, they were able to finish strong against a tough player like you!
“Commenting on the opposite end of the stick, I once played a match where my team was in last place and my partner was under-rated (a 'sure win' for any opponent), but that day we were on fire and battled to a victorious win! Unfortunately, our opponents didn't see us as comparable competitors (and made sure to make note of it), and stormed off the court embarrassed and unjustified. That kind of unsportsmanlike behavior had taken a hit on my self-esteem, but I keep reminding myself that we played great tennis and finished incredibly strong whereas for our opponents--sore losers!"
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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to create a winning tennis team

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee

It's been a few weeks since our last post, but all for good reason. With a busy fall USTA season winding down as well as one of our own, Natalie Aleman, recently getting married, we want to take a moment to congratulate our 6.0 Mixed 40 & Over tennis team, who just returned from a valiant effort at this past weekend's USTA National Championships in Surprise, AZ! We applaud each and every member on this team because we know it's not easy to get to the National stage given all the blood, sweat and tears involved in the road to victory (even if those tears were from laughter), it's still a huge feat. This isn't the first time a Towpath team has made it to Nationals and hopefully not the last, so we were inspired to share with you our recipe to creating a winning tennis team.

The Towpath 40+ Mixed 6.0 team with (back row) Tom and Amy Haught, Angie Remen, 
Bill Fox, Kip Kuebler, Susan O'Connell, Adam and Cathy Stopka, (front row) Tracy 
Campbell, Ron Novak and captain Michelle Fox. 
  1.  Be committed - The first step to victory is simply committing to your team. You might not realize it but a winning team is formed at the start of each season. When you have reliable teammates who show up whenever the lineup dictates, then you're already ahead of the game. What's also great about readily available teammates is you don't need a lot of them, which means you can strengthen partnerships and experiment with winning lineups. Lastly, commit to believing you will make it to post-season. Don't waste your efforts during the season only to be short players when the team is truly put to the test.
  2. Have a common goal - What do you want to accomplish with this team? Was this team created with playoffs in mind? Are you just getting some quality playtime in? Or do you just want to have fun with your buddies? Get your team on the same page from the beginning and communicate with them along the way. Who knows a team that you created just for fun may find themselves on the path to playoffs, so goals may change. But just because your goals change doesn't mean your strategy should change. If 'playing for fun' is working for you, then by all means stick with it!
  3. Play fair - It's tempting to always play your favorite lineup, but to avoid disgruntled teammates it's best to share playtime among the entire team. This is the time when you need to trust your teammates to do their best and not get disgruntled with them. It's a lot more fun to win as a team than to win thanks to a few token players.
  4. Build camaraderie - Team practices, post-match get-togethers, carpooling to matches, team dinners-these are all perfect opportunities to bond with your teammates. You don't all have to be the best of friends, but the support and confidence some teammates have for one another is uncanny. Plus, there's nothing better than winning with people you care about! 
  5. Have fun, have fun, have fun! - Is that sinking in yet? The pressure to win can take its toll on team morale, which could easily dismantle all your hard-playing work. Getting to playoffs and beyond is a thrill when teammates aren't bickering about losses or bad-mouthing the captain's lineup choice. Stay positive (even if you have to fake it) and celebrate each success, however big or small. If you've made it this far we know you're competitive and here to win, but it's most important to enjoy yourselves along the way!
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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Top 5 stretches for tennis

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Online Store Manager

How many times do you get off the court only to realize you forgot to stretch? Stretching is absolutely key to preventing an injury, encouraging elasticity and flexibility and most important, helping you become a better tennis player. We know it's unrealistic to ask you to stretch every little muscle we use while hitting, so here are the top 5 stretches you can't play without. 

For every stretch, hold for at least 30 seconds.

Forearm - This stretch doesn't prevent tennis elbow, but it certainly helps minimize any pain associated with it by loosening up the surrounding tendons and ligaments. Simply stand up straight and keep your arm perpendicular to your body while pushing your hand towards your chest. You should feel stretching along the top of your forearm. You can reverse the stretch, with your fingers toward the sky and your palm facing out. 

Shoulder - We exert tremendous pressure on our shoulders when playing tennis, so this is a very important stretch that will help prevent a strained muscle or tear. Stand straight and cross your arm over while maintaining a straight line. Push your arm toward your chest. You should feel stretching on the topside of your shoulder. Next grab your racquet and with the same grip you swing with, pull the head with your other hand. This will stretch along the underside of your shoulder as well as your bicep. After you finish with one arm, make sure you stretch the other in the same fashion.

Back - I know when I get off the court, the next day my back is reeling if I forget to stretch. Your back is the glue that holds everything together, so stretching is a must! Cross your right leg over your left and slowly reach for your toes while looking at your knees--not the floor. You will feel stretching from your lower back all the way to your neck muscles. Reverse by crossing your left leg over your right. If you have time, stand with both feet side by side and reach down. 

Ankle - Did you know the ankle is one of the most common tennis injuries? This is because it can occur in just one mis-step. You can have the right shoes and a brace, but you shouldn't ignore the fact that a good stretch is the best preventative to an ankle roll. Stretch along a fence or court post to help loosen your achilles tendon, as well as stretch your calf muscle. Also, try slowly rolling your ankle onto its side.

Quad - Our knees take a lot of pressure when sprinting side to side on the court, not to mention constantly stopping short and changing direction. But how exactly do you stretch a knee? Focus on the quad! This stretch targets the thigh muscles, knee and hip joints. Hold your foot behind you and use opposite arm out in front to keep your balance or use the net for support. You'll feel stretching mainly along your quadriceps but by leaning slightly forward/backward, it'll extend to your hip and knee.

Stretching is ideal when your muscles are warm so try moving around a little by doing a short jog, run in place, or wave your arms in circles. If you're really pressed for time and running in late for a match (you know who you are), then the least you can do is stretch these muscles in between games or after the match. The next time you walk off the court without stretching remind yourself, 'This will make me a better tennis player', and drop your bag and stretch! 

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why do tennis players grunt?

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Online Store Manager

One of the most common complaints about tennis, especially during featured tournaments like this past US Open is, “What’s with all the grunting?", "Why must they grunt so loud?”, and for non-tennis players (like my husband) who say the real reason they don’t like tennis is because, “the grunting is so incredibly distracting.”

Maria Sharapova is one of the game's most notorious
We get it, many a times we're complaining right alongside you. But believe it or not, tennis players don’t grunt to be annoying to their opponents or to us spectators, they grunt because they were most likely taught to. I know what you’re thinking, you mean people were taught to grunt that obnoxiously? Obviously, tennis pros like Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka take it to another level, but the primary reason why players grunt is to force them to breathe and exhale through their shot.

Imagine it’s post-season, the playoffs, the finals, whatever—this is the big match. Everyone’s eyes are on your court while you’re serving for a critical match-deciding point. Feeling a little tense? When nerves get the best of us, we instinctively hold our breath. It’s an annoying little habit that causes this chain reaction where all the sudden we’re afraid to move our feet in the fear that we might actually run into the ball, and instead of rallying with our opponent like the experienced player we all claim to be, we begin ‘patty-caking’ the ball over the net. So what does this have to do with grunting? Grunting can kick those nerves from the start! 

Instead of pleading you don’t make an error, grunting will force you to breathe (when you’re not remembering too), which calms those nerves that are inhibiting you from moving. It's just that simple! Okay it's not that simple, but it can be if it comes naturally to you. And on top of being a breathing aid, grunting can also exert maximum force in your swing. Yes it's true, look at Serena Williams! You can actually increase your core stability and strength. That should give you some confidence.

So while we recommend you give grunting a try to see if it comes naturally, the focus should be on breathing, not screaming. Grunting takes energy, so you don't want to wear yourself out by wildly shrieking during every point. And while it may be annoying to others, we commend those that do grunt because it's not easy to draw attention to yourself, and unbeknownst to everyone else you are giving yourself a big advantage.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Towpath review of Jimmy Connors' "The Outsider: A Memoir"

Barbara Youel | Towpath Member Contributor

The Outsider: A Memoir 
by Jimmy Connors (HarperCollins, 2013)
Book rating: 

A reader may wonder if behind Connors’ bad-boy outsider persona is the underpinning for the tiresome and sometimes gratuitous expletives that frequent these pages. Having said that however, how can you not like a guy who loves his family, fierce competition and yes, loves, really loves dogs? It is no secret that Jimmy Connors came to tennis on the public courts of East St. Louis, IL in the early sixties, a place and time which apparently shaped his dogged (pun intended) determination to beat the odds of breaking into the professional tennis world as an “outsider.”
Connors at the 1978 ABN Tennis Tournament holding his
Wilson T2000 steel racket.

The Outsider Image is Not New
Ancient Greek myths and other world literature give us numerous examples of the plight of an outsider, one who is excluded or detached from a particular group or community. This sense of exclusion (whether real or perceived) can have mixed effects on not only the outsider, but on those around him (yes, males tend to dominate this archetype). Think of Ponyboy in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (1967) or Jay Gatsby from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby (1925) to name just two. This outsider attitude seems to be a life-long impetus for Connors, as he endures tragedies and disappointments, yet prevails in the end.

Mom and Two-Mom
Much of his ability to prevail both on and off the court he credits to his mother Gloria, arguably the driving force behind Jimmy’s game, and his grandmother, called Two-Mom.  

“All my life she taught me - made me a world champion,” Connors said upon his mother’s death at age 82 in 2007. (

Gloria, a tennis pro in her own right, not only played the game, but coached Hollywood celebrities Mickey Rooney and Errol Flynn. She also taught regular youngsters from the East St. Louis neighborhoods. Pictures of Mom, Two-Mom, other family members, coaches, competitors, and yes, those dogs Connors’ calls his “shrinks,” considerably enhance this read.

Gambling, OCD, and other Dark Days
Connors spares no details and relates (amazingly so) conversations held years ago surrounding his compulsive gambling, his obsessive compulsive disorder (such as checking multiple times if the house is locked for the night) and his admitted womanizing while married to former Playboy Playmate Patti McGuire and the near-loss of his family. To mixed reviews, Connors seems to be forthright about both the happy and sad times with Chrissie Evert “America’s Sweetheart.” Their brief engagement in 1974 was called off, and details too personal and private should simply stay that way and are therefore my choice not to fuel a painful matter.

“The Bad Boys of Tennis” et al.
What this memoir does fuel are his memories of battles with the likes of John McEnroe, Arthur Ashe, Ivan Lendl, and Rod Laver, tennis giants all, plus some entertaining experiences with “irrepressible co-conspirators” Ilie Nastase and Vitas Gerulaitis. Connors relives many of these classic encounters with characteristic passion and humor. Readers who enjoy the details of these famous matches will not be disappointed. The reader feels the young Connors’ utter drive to entertain and excel on court, yet sympathizes with his current longings to be part of the game in some way. What’s a man in his sixties to do?

Words to Play By
Who would argue with Connors, a former Number One in the world, winner of 10 Grand Slams and 109 men’s singles titles? These are words we have heard before, but reinforced by one of tennis’ best. Sound familiar?
1. The two key ingredients to tennis are preparation and footwork.
2. “Confidence, aggression, strategy.” (from Mom and Pancho Segura)
3. “Always expect the ball to come back, Jimmy,” said his mom.
4. Practice like you play, play like you practice.
5. Keep your eyes on the ball.

Another early influence, Pop (Jimmy’s grandfather) conveyed an important lesson: 

“…no matter how prepared you are, there will always be something going on, either on or off the court, that will take your mind off your game. How I deal with that is down to me.” 

These were surely words to live by as Connors intersperses the drama of his matches with the drama of his off-court life.


My sense is that most of us have been on the “outside” of something from time to time. We may have experienced real or perceived feelings of not quite belonging to a group whose recognition and approval we dearly craved. This may be an unintended consequence of Connors’ memoir, to look inside ourselves for our own “outsider” and how we manage those shifting boundaries. I’m not sure how much of an outsider Connors really is, but for this memoir, the metaphor works.

The Outsider: A Memoir is available at local bookstores, public libraries, and online.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

5 Best ways to reuse a can of tennis balls

Kristianne Bontempo & Lily McMillan | Towpath Tennis Employees  | Contributors

Are you overwhelmed with cans of tennis balls stashed in the back of your closet, the trunk of your car, or milling around the floor of your garage? We understand you're not a tennis ball hoarder, you just don't want to toss it yet when it's still in decent condition. If you're wondering what to do with those old tennis cans and balls, here are 5 fun and practical ways to reuse them for the whole family.
Pic from
  1. Storage - Store snacks for the kitchen, crafts for the kids, or organize nuts and bolts in the garage. 
  2. Plant container - Grow veggies, flowers or use as centerpieces for a tennis themed party!
  3. Make a pencil/marker holder - Great for the office and school. Decorate with colorful labels and funny faces.  
  4. Donate - Give old tennis balls to animal shelters for dogs, to local schools (teachers love to put them on the bottom of students' chairs) or retirement homes for walkers and canes. 
  5. Bird feeder - Try sticking wooden spoons through the can so the food spills onto the flatter end. 
You're not just recycling a can of tennis balls, you're creating a fun project for the kids and getting yourself organized with your favorite themed sport!

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer tennis and signs of heat exhaustion

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee  | Online Store Manager

'Tis the season of the Akron Open Championships, the largest adult USTA-sanctioned tournament in Northeast Ohio! This year we celebrate 10 years of competitive tennis with over 180 players competing this weekend at Towpath Tennis Center and Hyre Park in Ellet. We applaud those that brave the unpredictable summer conditions that affect us every year indoors and out. We may have flood water up to our knees, tornados ripping through our backyards, or pulling out our fall gear a couple months too soon, so it's not a surprise that we jump for the chance to play during those 80+ degree days. And though there's nothing wrong with playing tennis in hot weather, we want you to do it smartly because the threat of heat exhaustion is dangerously real.  

Checking the temperature is one thing, but you need to also take into account the humidity. In the following chart by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, we need to be aware of the heat index and how unsafe conditions can be on certain days. A relative 60% humidity or more can hinder the body's ability to cool itself, and just because you head indoors to get out of the sun doesn't mean you're necessarily safe. Even the best ventilated facilities can get a little stuffy so you'll want to look out for signs of heat exhaustion and how best to treat it. 

Most common signs of heat exhaustion:
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling faint
  • Fatigue 
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Pale/clammy skin
  • Profuse sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
Treatment options:
  • Drink plenty of water (avoid soda drinks)
  • Cool yourself with a fan, ice towel, or a cool shower
  • Remove any layers or tight clothing
  • Avoid any hot weather activity for at least a week to fully recover
If you don't feel any improvement within 30 minutes or if symptoms get worse, seek immediate help or call 911 because you may be suffering from heat stroke, a severe heat-related injury that can cause major organ damage. 

 The best treatment for heat exhaustion is always prevention. We encourage everyone to get out and play as much tennis as humanly possible on those beautiful summer days (because we know how rare they can be), but next time you head out for a game of tennis, be smart, check the heat index and plan accordingly.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Title IX

Barbara Kraley Youel | Towpath Member Contributor

Barbara Kraley, Class of 1966 
Independence High School
It’s 1966 – The Independence High School (Ohio) yearbook presents its senior class numbering 138, 66 males and 72 females.  Let’s look at some of the activities listed under graduating senior Barbara Kraley’s name: Latin Club, National Honor Society, school newspaper, concert choir, GAA (Girls’ Athletic Association), and modern dance. See anything missing? No girls’ tennis? basketball? baseball? track? Maybe Barb was just a singing and dancing bookish writer who loved a dead language and shunned sports. Or, maybe there just weren’t any competitive sports to join.  (cross out the “maybe”)

It’s 1972 – Just 6 short years later, public schools such as Independence High would have to open sports to females. Inspired by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, various legal and legislative efforts would culminate in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
It states that:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Enacted by the 92nd United States Congress, effective on June 23, 1972, this act prohibited sex discrimination in any institution or school receiving federal monies, which included the Independence Public Schools, as well as thousands of other institutions nationwide. Come to be known simply as Title IX, this act forbade sex discrimination in many areas of society, but germane to this discussion is that in effect, it opened the door to full and equal participation for girls in high school and collegiate athletics.

It’s 1973 – As if a spectacular imprimatur were needed to thrust Title IX into public consciousness, on September 20 the most hyped “Battle of the Sexes” tennis exhibition match was played between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. It is “often credited with sparking a boom in women’s sports.” ( Some 30,000 fans in Houston’s Astrodome plus an estimated 90 million TV viewers, watched the 29-year-old King “eviscerate” the 55-year-old former Wimbledon champion, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.  Following this 1973 win, King’s superstar status in the US skyrocketed with endorsements and opportunities to found a women’s players union, sports magazine, advocacy group, team tennis league, win multiple major titles, and of course the crowning achievement, the opening of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York. (2006)

It’s 2014 – While most of us will not encounter such male/female public drama or fabulous tennis fame, we all have the opportunity to play the game we love. Many of the young women I now meet on the tennis courts have come through high school and college as bona-fide beneficiaries of Title IX. They have played competitive tennis as well as other sports. Some have heard about Title IX; others don’t know it at all, having taken the student/athlete role as a given, (was life ever any different?) and why not?  Would they ever believe that high school girls of some 50 years ago accepted the Pep Club and cheerleading as “what the girls did” and thought little of the boys’ potential fame and fortune (think athletic scholarships) as they played football, basketball, golf, baseball, and wrestled and ran. 

I ponder these memories not in resentment, but in quiet satisfaction that equal access is here to stay, and the world of women’s sports is based largely on talent, determination, ability, and family support, not de facto exclusion by gender.

As an older tennis player, having been introduced to this incredible sport in 2001, I can only guess where I would be today had competitive sports such as tennis or track been open to me fifty years ago. In the last 2 years I have also started running in area 5K’s, making some inroads in this sport as I occasionally place in my age group. This running, by the way, has helped me move a little better on the court, especially when playing those challenging singles’ matches against my 18-year-old opponents. I tell everyone that “I’m having my Title IX now” and I'm thankful for it!

Carpe Diem!

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Towpath review of Novak Djokovic's "Serve to Win"

Barbara Youel | Towpath Member Contributor

Serve to Win: The 14 Day Gluten-Free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence 
by Novak Djokovic (Zinc Ink, 2013)
Forward by William Davis, M.D. 
Book rating: 

“…I have a very simple diet: vegetables, beans, white meat, fish, and fruit. Most of the food is natural and hasn’t been processed.”  This pretty much sums up tennis superstar Novak Djokovic’s way of eating since he made drastic changes to his diet in 2010. This very readable memoir takes the reader back to his upbringing in Serbia, his family’s struggles during the NATO bombings of his native Belgrade, his unlikely path to professional tennis, and his climb to ATP’s No. 1 in the tennis world after he changed what he ate.

Too Much, Too Little, Too Wrong
The tie that binds all of these is food…too much, too little, or too wrong. Djokovic remembers eating lots of bread and dairy, and especially pizza (wheat crusts, cheese, tomatoes) with abandon at his parents’ pizza parlor, The Red Bull.  He also reports having to live on simple fare during the bombings, and then eating as he wished as wealth and fame came through professional tennis.  When his persistent health issues showed up time and again during matches despite his excellent physical condition and training regime, neither he nor his doctors could determine what was wrong.

Enter the Right Doctor
As recently as 2010, Dr. Igor Cetojevic, while watching Djokovic play at the Australian Open from his home in Cyprus, (8,700 miles away) knew what was wrong with this distressed player…his digestive system was causing breathing problems. The two men quickly connected and devised a new plan for his eating which according to Djokovic, led to his record season in 2011. (In all fairness, Djokovic was already competing and winning at the highest levels before his diagnosis of gluten sensitivity – his natural abilities and superior conditioning however, surely contributed to his success)

Gluten-Free at Last
 Djokovic admits that a gluten-free existence, while perfect for him, is not for everybody, and encourages readers to find “what’s slowing you down?” His humble and friendly approach in this memoir avoids a “preachy” tone, which from his world-class athletic status would be easy to assume and even forgivable. Djokovic reminds the reader that he is no doctor nor nutritionist, but shares what works for him in a weekly menu plan, plus easy–to-make recipes from “The Champion’s Plate” that include breakfasts, smoothies, lunches, snacks, and dinners. 

A Realistic Invitation to Try
Novak Djokovic invites the reader to try his plan for just two weeks. There are no magic pills, potions, or promises here. In our current culture, laden with fad diets and ‘easy’ fixes, two weeks seem to be reasonable enough. I admit that my view of this tennis superstar changed after reading Serve to Win.  I see now a more serious, committed, and aware person, grateful for his life, his loves, his heritage. While he didn’t achieve his goal at the 2014 French Open, he is walking the talk. “All you have to do is try. And to me the worst kind of defeat is not failure pre se. It’s the decision not to try.” Well spoken, Nole!

Special note: After reading Serve to Win, as well as The Wheat Belly Diet by Dr. William Davis (father of Cleveland local and junior tennis prodigy Lauren Davis), Towpath owners Dallas and Nancy Aleman have since made the commitment to a gluten free diet and have already lost 10lbs! 

(Serve to Win is available at local bookstores, public libraries, and online.)

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

How to beat junior tennis players

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Online Store Manager

These days we're all too often finding ourselves across the net of opponents who are fresh out of high school or college. And if your first thought is 'oh crap', then you're already falling into their hands. Nobody's jumping for the chance to play some kid doing high kicks at the baseline, but you should not have to overcompensate or dumb down your game just because you're playing somebody in a different age bracket. So here are some tips on the most common mind games you might face when playing a junior tennis player in regular league play.

Not all junior tennis players have an attitude.
Whats up with the 'tude? - Not all junior players are as immature on the court as you might assume. Many are actually quite courteous and show more sportsmanship than those twice their age, however that doesn't discount the few that can't remember their manners. Whether they feel it was provoked, junior players tend to deal with adversities on the court by defending themselves with their words and actions instead of through their game, so try not to take it personally. Instead of stooping to that level, kill them with kindness (real kindness, not the overly fake stuff), because you'll find yourself in a much more positive mental state-win or lose. 

The temper tantrum - It's embarrassing for somebody at any age to throw their racquet or shout out angrily, but we can almost expect it with a youthful player who tends to be less experienced in controlling their emotions. Depending on the severity, avoid getting rattled by your opponent's self-wallowing by continuing to play your game in a quiet, mature manner. Even after making a few errors, if your opponent sees that you're unfazed, they'll most likely fixate on wondering why they're still in a funk and further self-destruct. If their temper becomes so intense where you fear for your safety (ie. your opponent smashes balls at you or punches a hole in the wall-hey, it's happened!), then stop play and seek out a captain or umpire to officiate the rest of the match. 
Let inconsistency shine through - Even if they have a strong game, you won't typically see a lot of seasoned junior players in regular league play. More often than not, the secret to winning is keeping the ball in play! Younger players have a difficult time staying patient and want to rush the point while forcing their own error. So gear up for the long haul and be ready for some rallying. Think of the match as a game where you count how many times the ball crosses over the net, and then try to beat that record. If you feel in control, try taking the ball for a spin by moving it side to side and back and forth. Your opponent may be young, but can they outlast the Energizer bunny?

The feather/cannon game - You will most likely face two types of games when playing a younger opponent, the 'let's hit as hard as we can' game, and the 'nothing's working so I'll just tap everything over' game. You might even experience both in one match! The junior player thrives on hitting a hard ball, so simply take the pace off. You may hate having to adjust your game but your junior opponent will hate it even more. So when the balls are flying out, younger players will sometimes back off the pace completely by pushing the ball with a feather-light touch. When playing against a pusher, you can try adding topspin and move those feet so that you can 'punch' the ball back.

Cheater, cheater - Too many times we see junior players get chastised for cheating -or- we're accused of cheating ourselves. The thing about cheating is a lot of the time nobody is actually cheating! Adults are to believe that junior players cheat because it's the easy way to beat an adult, and juniors are to believe that adults cheat because they're sore losers and have bad eyesight-neither one being true. Always give the benefit of the doubt after a questionable call. Question them after a second call (without the 'tude), then ask your captain/umpire to officiate the match after any subsequent calls. Request the later if you're being continually accused of cheating, otherwise aim well inside the line. 

Intentional or not, junior players will play head games with you, but it's up to you to keep your emotions in check. Stop hoping to at least win a game or two, or swear you'll quit if you lose to some kid. What many junior players have in power and imperial confidence, they are lacking in consistency and experience in tough match situations. It's not the end of the world if you lose to a player who could easily be your own child. If they're a good sport, be a good sport in return. Ultimately, we're happy to see a larger younger generation of tennis players emerging. No matter the outcome remember this, the majority of junior players are just as grateful for the opportunity to play with the big kids.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How to treat common tennis injuries

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Online Shop Manager
Have you ever walked off the court with that familiar twinge in your back, knee, shoulder or elbow?
Strains and sprains can be a huge pain, but they're just as common as finding a dead ball. They're just apart of the game, but the worst thing a player can do with a tennis injury (or any injury for that matter) is continue to play with one! Duh right? Believe it or not, it's more common to see players continuing to play with an injury. And we get it, there's a big match coming up; the team needs you; you don't want to sit any part of the season out. They sound like legitimate reasons, however, all injuries need time to heal, even a minor muscle strain. Returning to the court too soon or continuing to play with an injury for too long will not only jeopardize your recovery time, but it will eventually affect your game as well. 
So how treatable is a tennis injury? If its a strain, which is caused mainly from overuse, you'll simply need to rest the injured tendon/ligament until it feels better. If its a sprain, which is an actual tear of a ligament, It really would depend on the severity. Obviously, a rolled ankle is going to have a longer recovery time than a pulled muscle, but the good news is most of these injuries can be easily treated if you follow these helpful tips.  

1) Assess the injury - If you feel a strain while on the court, STOP playing! Assess the severity of the injury. If you think it might be a sprain, you'll want to get a second opinion from your doctor, but regardless you'll need to break out the ice.

2) Ice - The muscle will be inflamed so in order to reduce the swelling, you need to apply ice not heat. Ice the area for 20 minutes with a thin layer of cloth in between to protect your skin. (Once the worst is over, then you can apply heat but that's not until the swelling is gone.)

3) Compress - Wrapping the affected area is especially important unless you want an injury like a rolled ankle to blow up like a balloon. It will help reduce swelling and add support to the injury. If you don't have an ace bandage, try using saran wrap!

4) Elevate - The reason you want to elevate a muscle sprain is to prevent or help reduce swelling.

5) Rest, rest, and rest! We cannot stress that enough.

6) Muscle strengthening - Whether it be a short recovery or long recovery, an injury will weaken a muscle so you'll need to work on it everyday AFTER the initial pain and swelling dissipate. Start with stretches, light weights, or do holds such as planks to help strengthen the muscle.

7) Back in the game - It probably isn't the best idea to return to the court on a match day. Take a friend or hit against a backboard to feel it out. If there's any hint of a twinge at the injury site, take a step back, ice again and rest a little longer. 

The reality is, you may miss out on a couple matches or dreadfully the entire season. But a little time off will be worth it compared to dealing with months of chronic pain, a problematic tennis game, extensive physical therapy, or having to take off up to a year after a surgery. Whether the injury is major or minor, the way you go about treating the injury will determine how quickly you'll return to the court--which we know is what really matters at the end of the day.
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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Believing you can win

Dallas Aleman | Towpath Tennis Owner | Tennis Guru

History was made this last week. A Japanese player Kei Nishikori won the Barcelona Clay Court Championships! Nadal, Ferrer and all the other clay court specialist were out. That is the equivalent to having a Japanese basketball team come to the US and win the NBA Championships!  

It just goes to show that no one ever has a lock on winning just because they're seeded. One of the biggest misnomers in tennis is the seeding process. This is especially true for players who are new to the tournament circuit.

The inexperienced player is going to be either intimidated or in awe playing against a top tournament seed, and more often than not, will cave and accept a loss without exploiting all their strengths. The first seed will win on reputation and history alone, which to many players may seem like a cushiony spot in the draw. However, it's the first seed that has the most pressure than anyone else in the tournament since they have a lot to live up to. 

So everyone is asking, "What is wrong with Nadal?" I argue that nothing is wrong with Nadal. He may be ranked #1 in the world, but it's the rest of the field that now believes that they can beat him. This makes holding that slight edge so much harder for him. 

Tennis is all about believing. If you have the belief, heart, and you back it up with practice and play, it will go a long way. 

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Your tennis grip guide

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Online Shop Manager

It's great to see players experimenting with new grip positions, since it shows us your dedication in wanting to raise your game to the next level. However, too many times we've seen players pick up their racquet, re-position their hand after Googling how to do so, and then expect to hit a topspin forehand exactly like Rafael Nadal's--if only it was that easy! Along with having little to no instruction in how to utilize a new grip, many players are simply not experienced enough to execute them properly. So what is the right grip for us based on our level of play? We have compiled a guide of common grip positions and what it takes to master the shot.

Beginner-Intermediate Level

Eastern - The eastern forehand is one of the easiest grips to master as it is universally taught among beginners. Simply shake hands with your racquet and you've got an eastern forehand grip! This grip is great for generating power and is easy to transition to a backhand. Con: It tends to give a flatter shot performance, which is why it is not ideal for advanced players who want more topspin to outlast longer rallies. 

Two-handed backhand - The most popular backhand grip, this is ideal for players who don't have the strength for a one-handed backhand. It creates awesome topspin and is great for reaching lower balls that you can power through with double the strength. Con: It can be restricting on how far you can reach. 

Intermediate-Advanced Level

Continental - This is the most versatile grip since it can be used on all tennis shots, but it's commonly used for serves, volleys, overheads and slices. The continental grip is slightly harder to learn but is easier to master overtime. It's best for players who are committed to hitting at least 2-3x/week to get used to the feel of the 'V' shaped grip. Con: Despite being a model position for the two-handed backhand, it is rarely used for the forehand as it is restricting on the backswing. 
One-handed backhand - A very versatile option for the backhand, this grip is an easy transition to volley with and can be used to create a fantastic kick serve. However, to master a one-handed backhand you need the strength to hit through any kind of ball coming at you--low, high, spin and slice! Con: Generating topspin is more difficult to master, but can be done!  

Advanced-Pro Tour Level

Semi-western - Used by many of the pros on tour, this grip not only will generate more topspin, but it'll also allow you to flatten and power through any shot. This grip, however, is very difficult to learn so it's not recommended unless you are willing to put the time and effort into working on it. We're talking about those training 5-7x/week! Con: It's all about muscle memory with this grip, because it will take some time to get over the unnatural feel.  

Western -You want topspin? You got it! Talk about a safety net, this grip will give you tremendous control over your shot selection, and force your opponent to deal with a difficult high bounce. This is a grip you don't want to mess around with, unless you know what you're doing. Con: Not many pros play with this grip because it's limited to baseline players and is difficult to transition to and from a service and volley grip.  

We encourage players to step out of their comfort zone by experimenting with a new grip position, but as a club player you shouldn't get over-anxious and go all willy-nilly with a new grip every time you play-that will just mess you up! The grip position should only be used as a fine-tuner of the stroke, so if you're not trained properly you can easily injure your arm. If you're serious about improving or modifying your game, set up a lesson with a pro to see what grip is best for you and continue to work with them until you're ready to rip balls down the line with it!

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