Getting out of your comfort zone—Ti #38

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Hello and welcome to the 38th issue of Tennis inbox. Since you’re probably getting your tennis fix by watching all the tennis that’s on offer this week at the Australian Open, this issue will be a little shorter than usual. We’ve got: pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and trying new things, a couple of players I’ve written about competing in the Australian Open, and how Hawk-Eye Live is changing the game and officiating (according to Gilles Simon).

Getting out of your comfort zone

It seems you can’t go a day or two without some self-development guru or wannabe Simon Sinek character telling you that “you have to get out of your comfort zone to improve!” It’s a tried and tested truism in the space of self-improvement. But how does this idea work when it comes to playing tennis matches and competing?

Here’s what it means for me: my game style used to rely on movement and court coverage. This often meant fairly long, grueling matches where I either snuck out a win or was blasted off the court by a more aggressive player. The plan was simple: put in a kick serve to the backhand and grind! But obviously, that kind of play can only take someone so far—so for the past few months, I’ve really been trying to push myself to do more. To put my opponent under pressure and dictate the point from the get-go as opposed to being passive. (That’s one of the reasons I switched to more powerful frames.) I have no illusions that I’m going to be the next Andrey Rublev and start smacking the crap out of the ball, but it’s a nice challenge to give myself during training and matches.

Have you tried to “get out of your comfort zone” on the court lately? Maybe you’re normally stuck to the baseline like someone has superglued you there and you’re forcing yourself to approach the net when appropriate. Or maybe you’re used to relying on your trustworthy slice backhand but you’re now forcing yourself to hit over the ball. Let me or the Tennis inbox community know!

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Chris O’ Connell and Li Tu

I want to highlight the stories of two players I’ve written about before who played in this year’s Australian Open.

For UTR, I profiled Li Tu. The South Australian was an elite junior but found that he was too hard on himself after his losses so he gave up pursuing the game professionally at 16. Though he stayed in touch through coaching and playing in a league occasionally, he pursued a “normal” life. But when the UTR Pro Tennis Tour started events in Australia, and Li found out that he was eligible based upon his UTR, he started training and getting ready to compete. Through a new mindset he learned by guiding young juniors in his coaching business, Li went on a winning streak on the UTR Pro Tennis Tour, defeating players like Marc Polmans (ATP #125) in the process.

His results caught the eye of Australian national coaches and he was awarded a wildcard into an ATP 250 lead-up event and also… the Australian Open.

Next is Chris O’ Connell. If you’ve been a Tennis inbox subscriber for a while you’ve probably come across me sharing his story multiple times… but since Chris is still in the maindraw at the moment after defeating Jan Lennard-Struff in the first round, I couldn’t pass up on this opportunity to boost his story again.

Chris battled through multiple injuries and challenges, worked at Lululemon, and cleaned boats to save up enough money to travel to Europe to play in ITF Futures events. Once he had enough funds, he based himself in Turkey and raised his ranking from around 1200 in the world to 100ish… in the space of about one year. Insane! He plays an aggressive brand of tennis which is fun to watch. His next opponent: Moldovan Radu Albot.

How is Hawk-Eye Live impacting the game?

According to tour veteran Gilles Simon, it’s having quite a few adverse impacts. His first point is that he’s not even sure that the system is accurate. The second point that the Frenchman makes is that challenging calls was a nice part of the professional game, where players could question the calls of linespeople. On this, Simon says:

“I think we miss the challenges. I think people and the players actually like the challenges—it was a nice mix to be able to resort to the video three times….”

Simon also talks about how he believes the level of officiating is going down and that how umpires now are obsessed with managing the serve clock. He says:

“I have the impression that they only have one mission—to give you a warning the second you get to the 25th second.”

Below are Simon’s full comments. They were delivered after his loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the first round. He raises some interesting questions.

Image credit: Mark Caraveo