27 April 2020

Slicing and dicing - taking your chances on a winning strategy

Flora McMeeking

Since she joined Local Tennis Leagues four years ago, Flora has learned to slice, to combine defence and attack and above all that there is nothing wrong with wanting to win!  

I liked tennis at school but never felt I was much good at it, so stopped playing. Years later I moved to a village with a tennis club and decided to try again. Tennis is obviously brilliant for exercise and socialising but now what I love most of all is the mental side. A basic understanding of psychology can take you a long way. 

At my club, I was playing doubles almost exclusively but occasionally I tried my hand at singles and I liked the challenge. I wanted to play more. It’s a totally different game. You have your side of the net to yourself but you are far more exposed and are solely responsible for the outcome. It’s just you and your wits. I started out very much as a counterpuncher and prided myself on my defensive skills but it quickly became clear that this was only going to take me so far. Sooner or later I was going to have to go on the attack and once I did the game became much more rewarding. I began to win! Now I like to think I am becoming more of an all-court player as I have been developing more sides to my game.

Being in the league has improved my game without a doubt. You are exposed to players of all styles and abilities and I have clocked up a huge amount of experience. At first I lost a lot, but losing is the only way to learn because it forces you to try different responses and once you succeed in solving problems you are better equipped for the next match. If you stick with the league then you will be playing a lot of matches and so, over time, your confidence will grow. 

When I started out I couldn’t hit slice shots and I realised this was a weapon I needed, so I got some coaching and began to try it out in matches. This was tentative at first but I will never forget the day that I was playing, or rather being utterly overwhelmed by a far superior opponent in a match where I was praying just to get some, or even any points. In desperation I tried a slice backhand and watched as the ball skimmed the net, dropped over, and stopped dead where it landed. It was perfection. 

These days I try to meet new opponents as well-armed as I can be so I read other players' comments on them and do my research on the best way to deal with their style of play. This has generally paid off and I recently faced someone who I knew had a reputation for brilliant defence. People commented on how long rallies were, how hard he was to wear down, and how he forced errors. But from my own development I also knew that defence plus attack trumps defence on its own and that I was going to have to be patient and force him to make the errors. We ended up having an amazing, exhausting match in the dark in diabolical weather conditions which felt like a primeval struggle between life and death. 

Life without tennis is not the same and I hope I will never again take for granted the easy availability of a nearby court. At home we have a small garden but there are several neighbours’ windows in smashing distance so hitting a powerful shot is out of the question. However lockdown is proving an ideal time to practise my softer shots and I am training all my family, none of whom are tennis players, to volley. They are getting very good!

I would wholeheartedly recommend the league. It has massively improved my tennis and my fitness, it has been really fun, and I have met some lovely people. Also, in a wider way, admitting that I enjoy competition and that there is no shame in wanting to win on my own merits has been a major change for the better in me.

When tennis can start again, you can join the Oxford Tennis League here