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Are You Improving?

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Front view of tennis coach teaching young man the position of racket at forehand

By Luke Jensen, French Open Doubles Champion

I was thinking about all of you who follow this column and have been extremely loyal for all of these years. I was thinking about your tennis, and it occurred to me to ask: Are you improving?

Do you feel after all this time on the court that all the reps are translating to being a better tennis player when you’re under pressure and 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 doing tennis clinics and exhibitions. Recently, I finished a 16-city journey where I picked up so many new approaches to my playing andteaching approach to 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. What is the state of tennis in their backyards and where do they see tennis in the next 20 years? The countless tennis directors, pros and staff have so much insight because they are living the game at so many levels every day. I ask them about their new approaches to building a better tennis player and tennis community.

Not all of their answers click with me right away, because I am at their club for only one day, and 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 course correction to keep the ball moving. I was in one tennis community that had more than 2,000 kids in its junior performance program. Another area had roughly 1,500 kids. Both programs talked about the many things they tried and never got off the ground, but the 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 every case, there was a constant focus on evaluating the product. Additionally, the clubs’ leaders were not afraid to try new directions and strategies to win the day.

So, it made me think of all of you out there. Where are you with your tennis? Where are you with your mindset? Take a few moments to reflect on where you are with 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 the beginning. Ask yourself why you began playing in the first place. What drove you to hit those extra serves and spend that extra time on the practice court?

If I’ve learned anything from Roger Federer, 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 an adjustment. For example, if your forehand goes in the net, the outcome is telling you to hit up on the ball.

Yes, it seems simple, but always remember what my brother Murphy says: “Tennis is a very simple game played by very complicated individuals.” Murphy is always right – just ask him!

I want to finish this edition on a very sad note. Tennis lost a great champion not too long ago and way too young. Ken Flach was part of a doubles team with Robert Seguso that dominated the tennis world right after John McEnroe and Peter Fleming. Flach and Seguso competed and won grand slams and everything they played from Davis Cup and the Olympics. They were feared because of their tennis intelligence as a team while being ruthless competitors. As a young pro moving up through the ranks, most veteran players saw me as a threat; Ken didn’t. He was extremely helpful to me with advice on all levels … tactics, work ethic and my playing calendar. He was always available if I needed some assistance. Ken, with his movie-star smile, was always contributing and making everything around him better. I always thought I would see you again. See you on the next tour, “Flash.” All of your tour buddies miss you.