The racquetball Chronicles VII

Another match with JJ. In the first game it looked like he had regressed...he could not get to my serves, I was winning all the volleys, his serve was setting up perfectly for me to spike it repeatedly. he did scratch out 5 points...but it was a squash.

Game two was more of the same. I lightened up my serve and was just crushing him. 15-4.

Game three something clicked for him and he was playing much better. He was hitting that corner serve i struggle with, he was returning my serves, and we got some spectacular volleys...kill shots were re-killed and the rekills turned into passing shots...

...then I rolled my ankle.  It frightened me. It had started hurting at work for no apparent reason. Fortunately, when I felt it start to go i went with it and collapsed on the floor which probably saved me a really nasty sprain.

It was tender for 5 or 10 minutes which, counter-intuitively, was good for me...because I played solid position racquetball instead of counting on my athleticism. It was a close game before and after the ankle incident but I pulled it out 15-10 or so.

The next game started slow with several service breaks. The thing is...he was starting to play strong position and I was relaxing in the back court. So he was picking up a point here and there. When he was ahead 7-2 I started going all out.

But now he was getting to my nastiest serves, getting to my passing shots, and I could not get a kill shot down. He was consistently hitting solid defensive shots and getting into the forecourt.

I could not score off him. But he could score off me. 3-7. 3-9. 3-9. 4-9. 5-9. 5-10. 7-10. 7-11. 8-11.

And then the point that probably decided the game. I was serving, having scored 4 or 5 quick points and I laid out a nasty, low corner serve. He got a nice defensive return that drove me to the back wall. I got in a nice ceiling shot that drove him back while I sprang back to mid court. He tried a passing shot, I dodged left and hit a pretty good (for me) kill shot into the corner...that he got to and hit a passing shot of his own, but two deep. I got to it, another ceiling shot, I sprang back to forecourt, we traded a couple ceiling shots, then we both got to mid court and hit about 4 shots in succession while standing side by side...near kill shots, corner pinch shots, passing attempts...and then he got a perfect kill shot in.

All it did was give him the serve...and exhaust me. So instead of driving him back and going to mid court, I started playing from the back wall. 12-8. 13-18.

Second wind. I got to 10. I got to 12. And he got the serve and ran it out for his first win against me. Great game, lots of fun. Very glad he got a win in. I do not want him getting discouraged because I love playing against him. And that was a completely legit win...which is even more awesome.

Well, that changed everything. Now we were battling to see who could get to front court. He got to the majority of my passing shots and I was struggling to hit effective kill shots so scoring points was hard for me. He was up about 8-3 again and I was thinking things had flipped completely when I got the serve and went on an immense run.

I scored several aces and several serve winners, mixed in a couple volley wins.

I was working better on the passing shots...tonight I was seldom hitting the back wall, but they were almost too soft. Against a guy like JJ with excellent reflexes and a good read on the ball they are slow enough that he can get to them. So I need to figure out how to get them lower and quicker but still not off the back wall.

Meanwhile, I really got better at using the strategy of ceiling shots to drive him deep and seize position. I just need to hit the kill shots to become much more effective.

Anyway, I ended up winning about 15-10, then won the next one about 15-8.

Then we had one of "those" games where I just obliterated him 15-1. Cannot even say what either of us did different.

We elected to play one more 10 minute game...our allotted court time...which ended up going to 15 minutes.

It took about 5 minutes for him to build a 4-2 lead as we were exchanging service breaks. Then he stayed deep for a couple of points, I hit a couple of aces and it looked like I would break it open. He fought back to make it 11-7, I ran it up to 14-7, he scored a couple to make it respectable and I won about 15-11.

Looking back on the night, I know I am improving every session. The ceiling shot was effective for getting position. I successfully served a z-serve to the right hand back hand corner for the first time. I hit several "tough" shots...not kill shots, but shots where he was deep behind me and I hit it softly off the front wall.

I did a good job of moving him up and back, side to side and mixing up my serves.

I also did a better job of waiting for the ball to drop and driving it low...I just need to get my racket angle down to make those very good shots.

At the same time, I took several points off...he would hit a shot, I would assume it would land where I could not get it and not even try...only to realize I could not only have gotten to it, I could have gotten to it in time to put together a pretty strong shot.

Overall tremendous fun and great exercise.


The Racquetball Chronicles VI

Today was a game I was really looking forward to. I was playing my friend JJ, the guy I play tennis with frequently, who runs the softball team I play with some years. I really enjoy our games as he and I have similar outlooks at this point in life; we play for fun more than victory but still enjoy the win when we get it, just not at the cost of enjoying the process.

Early on I got a pretty good sense of our respective abilities. I had a vastly better serve and sense of strategy. We have similar reaction times, though mine are slightly quicker. He has slightly better control.

I softened my serve in the interest of volleys and it was an excellent choice. We had numerous volleys where one of us would hit a strong almost-kill shot, the other would return with a defensive shot that would put player A running back to the back wall for a long-shot attempt...there would be 4, 5, 6ish near winners that we somehow returned.

In other words, we had a lot of lengthy volleys including lots of running around and some pretty spectacular shots.

After four games we had one of "those" games where I just wrecked him. So I took a few moments to talk to him about little improvements he could make to his serve and sure enough, the next game he built about a 10-8 lead and it was a solid lead.

At that point I was working hard on proper serves...low, to the backhand corner...and he was making strong returns that had me running. We exchanged the service three or four times, then he scored to go up 11-8. I was playing full out and falling further behind.

Then he struggled to return a couple of brutal serves, I won a volley. He got the serve back, then won a point. It was 13-13. I got an ace, then we had a spectacular ralley that ended with me hitting a corner kill shot, him returning it deep and me getting the best passing shot I have ever had.

We finished with a 6th game that was tight but saw both of us, tired out by our 2 hour match, playing a lot of position racquetball instead of running madly.

Very fun game.

I love playing with JJ and hope we get in many more games.


The Racquetball Chronicles Round 5

Tonight I was matched up against T-mat, a guy from work who used to play regularly but took about a three year sabbatical. I figured I would score a few points but probably lose handily.

I was also a little concerned because when I set it up, I had forgotten he said he used to regularly plunk guys in the back who set up in position.

Well, the first game started out with him jumping out to a 3-0 lead as I played the back court and got spanked for it. Then I started working the mid court and got the serve, reeled off a bunch of points and was up by a comfortable 10-3 or so.

We then exchanged serves a couple times, but I was not worried because I was winning the volleys and he was struggling with his serve.

I finished off the game with a convincing 15-3 win and was feeling pretty good. Maybe I have improved that much. Sure, it was hard for him to score since his first serve was long the vast majority of the time, allowing me to get serve after serve I could handle. Regardless, I was winning most of the volleys.

Game two, he got his serve down. He was using a drive serve that was actually not legal as it screened me but I was complacent, thinking I would win anyway, and thought it would be good for me to work on my return game.

He was mixing up his serve well between drives down the forehand wall, drives down the back hand wall, and drives that just ate me up right into my chest. Even when I did get a return, it was a week one that consistently had him taking shots from scoring position.

When I tried pinch shots I angled them poorly, thus bouncing right back up waist high to his forehand and when I tried passing shots, I over hit them, allowing him to stay at mid court and hit kill shots.

Only my speed and agility allowed me to keep a lot of balls in play and his rust had him miss a few easy shots so it was a respectable score...something like 15-10, but he won. It was a really fun game because we had several rallies that included multiple points where we both had shots it seemed like we had put away for a winner, only to see the other guy hit an even better shot that we somehow returned...I loved, loved, loved it.

As the set wore on, I noticed an error I kept making. I have been working on using the walls more to create angles to make my shots harder to read. However, he is so good at reading them that all I was doing was giving him to set up in the mid court and blast perfect shots...but I kept hitting that shot. I really need to work on my in-game adjustments.

The third game was really back and forth. He built a 4 or 5 point lead, I fought back to tie it, he scored a couple, I took a small lead, he took a small lead, tie, I took a 10-9 lead, he took a 12-10 lead. I then scored 4 straight.

We were both gassed. It had been an incredibly tense game. I was sweating so bad that three times the racket came out of my hand. This new racket has a grip that gets super slick. I will either have to purchase a glove or regrip the racket. I NEVER had that problem with the old racket.

Anyway, at 14-12, I hit a gorgeous serve that bounced about an inch past the service line and bounced a second time short of the receiving line...a perfect ace. He flipped the ball back to me like you do when the ball is short so I shrugged and went back to work.

Unfortunately, I had assumed the game was over and, my head not on straight, served up a lollipop. He hit a kill shot, I went to return it...and the racket came completely out of my hand.

He then served an ace of his own, another point, then served an ace.

I started to go and he said, "this ain't tennis. You gotta win the last point on a rally."

Aha. Now I get it. My serve HAD been good but he had a house rule that I was not aware of. Fair enough.

Still, could not get my head back in it, and did not even go after one shot in the next rally that was not only eminently hittable, it was well set up for me to hit my most effective shot...a backhand pinch shot to the far corner.

He just outworked me after I thought the game was over. Even without that, he is a better player than me all around...he has a stronger serve, better kill shots, better position...so I feel good about the games and best of all, worked my tail off for an hour.

Also, it was good because I learned more about the game. My regular playing partner hits it to the same corner, but his shots tend to bounce off the side wall and/or back wall. So I was setting up to return those.

T-mat, however, keeps them scraping the side wall or bouncing dead at the back wall, so where I was setting up to play the rebound, there was none so I was out of position. So I need to read the ball angle better.

Then B showed up and we played. I fell into some bad habits because I was trying to keep it interesting. Instead of working on my shots, I was trying to set up rallies.

Even so it is such a mis-match that I wrecked him 2 games in about 15 minutes.

I then started serving more seriously which, counter-intuitively, he seemed to have an easier time returning than the lollipops I was serving earlier and suddenly we started getting a few rallies going. I still won pretty handily, but it was a better game.

We still had 25 minutes to go or so, so I took out a few minutes to help him work on his serve.

And he promptly serves time and again that I struggled to get to. Unlike some of my games with him, every point he got in this game was legit...I simply could not return those.

We had several good rallies, he was up 11-9 and serving many I could not handle...probably 9 of his points were off serves I could not return. I was winning most of the rallies and losing to his serve.

We closed out with a handful of good rallies and I walked off a 15-12 winner in the last game.

I need to remember to work on my ball control when I play B...not just try to get rallies, but work on hitting passing shots hard enough to get by the opponent, not so hard they bounce off the back wall. I need to work on the kill shots. The angles.

I also need to make him work harder because he plays better when I do.

Overall an exceptionally fun night of two hours of racquetball and I am spent.

The 2012 Racquetball Chronicles Round 4

So tonight I was playing opponent B. A few things about B.

Whereas opponent a was indisputably better than me when we started and won 2 or 3 games by legit 15-1, 15-3 type scores, the me that started Dec. 5th would indisputably dominate B. It would not even be close.

And the me of today is 3-2 against A this year...which means I have gotten much, much better very very quickly but B is honestly not a challenge.

It says something about how I have grown the way I play B.

Whereas in my youth I would have "spotted" him or given massive advantages to him, then absolutely wrecked him anyway, the more mature me plays him straight up...I just play admittedly soft.

See, I think the "spot you 10 points and the serve, then win 15-10" guy is unintentionally being a jerk. He is saying I can give you any amount of advantage and still win because I am just that much better than you.

Well, we started playing and early on I was playing soft but practicing my serve to the backhand. Not the hard serve...just a high, defensive lob serve that I can use when I play right-handers. It will be months before I develop a solid serve to right-handers, but it is imperative I develop at least a defensive serve.

B was struggling with it and there were not many volleys. A quick 15-4, 15-1 demolition later, I switched up my strategy.

I wanted to work on a couple of shots. First, I want to work on the wall shot designed to be a passing shot. I typically hit it too hard...it rebounds off the back wall, giving them plenty of time to get to it. When I do not hit it too hard I hit it too soft and it becomes an easy mid-court shot for them. So I wanted to work on hitting it hard enough to get past them but soft enough to bounce twice before the back wall.

Second, I wanted to work on the corner kill shot.

The best way to do that is get into some rallies. So I started hitting high soft lobs to his forehand.

Unfortunately, I also got int he habit of not playing position. On the bright side we got in some volleys and he hit several nice winners. On the dark side, being out of position let me practice neither of the shots and I was playing too lackadaisically, not getting the workout I wanted.

He even led 10-7 in the third game, though there was no realistic danger of me losing. He ended the game with 10 by the simple expedient of me moving to center court and regaining my position. So it was good practice for that.

Game 4 was more of the same. I kept letting him have the front court and lounging in the back court. And here is where I figured out a valuable lesson.

Player A has a better kill shot than me. Not a massively better, but he hits say...30% kill shots when given the opportunity, and I hit maybe 20%.

Early on he had a much better serve. I struggled so much to return it his serve was often worth 10 points per game.

He also is slightly better on passing shots than me...lets say he hits 20% winners on those, I probably hit 15%.

So the edges he has are not all that many.  I counteract many of them with superior speed and agility.

So why was he so dominate at first?

The same reason B scored 12 on me in the second game.


When one player is in the mid court and the other in the back court, it makes the player in the front court 50% or more better. They have the best scoring position, the best defensive position, and the biggest margin for error.

So when I allow myself to get distracted and stop moving to center mid court at every opportunity, I squander any advantage I have and suddenly small advantages for the opponent become huge advantages.

That is the single biggest shift in the outcomes of my games with A. Once I seized mid court I continue to hit a low percentage of winners via kill shot or passing shot...but I have many more opportunities.

A powerful lesson indeed.

It is one thing to read about the importance of position, another thing entirely to see the difference in live action.

At some point I will probably have a losing streak to A again, and I hope that when I do, I will return, read this, and reclaim the center mid court.

Meanwhile, I finished off the 4th game with a beautiful passing shot that was exactly what I wanted..low to the ground, lightning fast, bounced once inside the first service line and once just past the receiving line when I had driven him to the far side of the court...a great way to finish.


The 2012 Racquetball Chronicles Round 3

My regular partner is planning to ski this weekend and wanted extra time to recover so asked if we could play earlier this week. I love to play...I would play pretty much every available day if I could find opponents, so of course I responded in the affirmative, booked the court and we were set.

When I got to the gym things started to go wrong. I forgot my towel and lock. That meant leaving my wallet with my grocery money in it and my I-phone in an open locker...not something my mind was at ease about.

Then I could not get into a rhythm with the weights and ended up doing weird sets...instead of 3 sets of 7 at 110, I did 3 sets of 20 at 80 on the preacher curl, for example. And they all felt weird.

Then on the leg kick it started to hurt. The bench press I dropped 20 pounds off my normal weight...and then could not even finish the third set. It was bizarre.

The leg extension I could not adjust the seat so cut the weight in half (!) and still struggled to complete the reps.

I quit. No sense pushing and hurting myself.

I went downstairs and watched basketball for a bit, then the racquetball court opened up so I headed on over and started working on controlling the location and speed of my shots for about 10 minutes.

Then my partner showed up and...had left his racquetball gear in his car. So we got off to a late start.

After warming up for a few minutes, he hit a horrible lag for serve. And I promptly hit an unbelievably bad one that did not even get to the front wall. Ouch.

He started out hot. His serves were perfectly placed for me to crush passing shots down the line to his forehand he could only possibly return if I hit them too high and so they went all the way to the back wall. Instead I mis-hit off my frame over and over until he was up 3-0.

I came back to take a 5-3 lead with a couple nice volley points where I seized center front court and ran him side to side until i could squeeze a pseudo-kill shot he was too winded to get to or else a passing shot he just missed.

Then he got a couple strong serves I could not handle and won a couple volleys off weak returns to go up 8-5.

We went at it pretty strong until he had a 10-7 lead and then something happened I could not believe.

I have had great wind for about a year now. Between biking with Fluffy the Cat and playing tennis at every opportunity, I developed tremendous stamina.

Until tonight when, inexplicably, I developed a side-ache and complete fatigue. I actually had to take a time-out.

Now getting to the ball was tough, and instead of using position and planning my shots, I just tried to get to them and wrist them away from him. I actually thought to myself, "He is winning this game because of my conditioning."

What a huge switch. Always before he has won with a better serve, return and better shots. My massive advantage was speed and endurance.

He built a 14-10 lead and had a tremendous serve that I somehow got to, he hit a kill that I somehow got to and it was my serve.

Ace. 11-14.
Perfect serve down the line he muffed. 12-14.
Great line serve, he returned weakly, corner kill. 13-14.
Perfect serve down the line he muffed. 14-14. Ace. Game.

I scarcely moved from 10-14 until I completed the 5 point comeback. What a great, back and forth game that he should have won. I was ecstatic...he was a bit disappointed. We both knew he should have won and said so.

After a quick break he came out on fire. He always gets very intense after he loses a game. He ran off 7 points and it was not close. I was muffing the easy serves and not even getting to the hard ones.

Part of it was strategy. Late in the first game I had gone for a shot I have been working on. He is to my right waiting for me to hit it down the line to his backhand. I am center back mid-court and the ball is belly button high to my backhand. I like to hit it about 5' from the corner off his back hand wall. It then squirts to the center of the center wall and pinches against the side wall, becoming almost a passing shot kill to the mid court and virtually impossible to return.

Except I mis-hit it and smashed him in the side of the face.

So now when his serve got passed me and I spun, waited and wanted to hit it to his backhand corner, I kept seeing him in the line of my shot. Instead of calling a hinder as I should have, I repeatedly altered my shot and hit a soft shot to his forehand that repeatedly let him smash kill shots.

Worse, when I did return one with a solid defensive shot, I failed to seize the center court forward position. I was playing fatigued and he was putting on an old-fashioned tail-kicking.

I got the serve, dropped an ace, a tough one he gave me a good set-up and I won on a passing shot, and another service winner to come back to 3-7.

Then I could not handle his serves again. 3-8. 4-8. 4-10.7-10.

he went on a run and got to game point, 14-7.Ugh. It was a whipping and no mistake.

So was he and I won a couple of quick serves to get to 10-14. "At least I hit double digits," I commented.

Then we developed a crowd. See, the racquetball court has a glass back wall. It is right next to the girls locker room. And about 6 of them stopped and watch a point. It was the perfect point to watch...

I smashed about as good a serve as I ever have, coming low and hard and would have bounced twice before the back wall, about an inch from the wall. He got to it and squirted it to the back-hand, low and left. I tried a passing shot to the far wall. He got to it and caught me leaning the wrong way, hitting a passing shot to my forehand. As I ran to the back wall, I saw people watching but still flicked a no look over the shoulder that was going to come off the front wall soft. He charged for the kill, I charged to center court. His kill shot skipped, I plowed it into the far corner, he got to it and I hit a beautiful passing shot down the line that was as pretty a shot as I have ever hit.

It was probably the best rally we have ever had, with both of us returning 2 or 3 almost sure-winners hit by the other. After that fantastic display, our audience left...and it was good that they did because he then muffed a poor serve, I put away a quick winner, we had a short, ferocious rally that ended when, in front of him, I leaped and hit the perfect overhead smash into the pinch corner and, at 14-14, won on a service winner.

Yep. I scored 8 straight points to win a game he had in hand.


He does not like to leave on a loser, so we had just 10 minutes left, we were going to play to time (even though in reality I suspect he would be ahead and want to finish the game.)

Again and again I muffed cake serves...waist high, easy to read, 4' off the wall. He was winning 5-0 before I returned a serve. I quickly scored a couple, he then scored an ace on a great serve and garnered another point on a serve that pinched off the side wall straight into me...two very good serves in succession.

Then he served a nasty driving serve to my backhand corner which I got a good ceiling defensive return....but he pulled a muscle in his....well...lets just say posterior.

And it was over for the night.

Looking back I really can see how much I have improved but another huge weakness has developed.

I fell in love with a shot that bounces off this back-hand wall, off the center wall, off his forehand wall. But I was hitting it poorly and he was able to stand at center court and hit numerous winners off that. I hit it too high and too far back.

Second, when I got tired I played a lot of back-court instead of trusting my reflexes. Once I started bouncing it to the back wall and sprinting to the mid-court I dominated. It was tough for him to dislodge me from that position, tough for him to get a ball past me without resorting to a high lob off the back wall...which I had more than ample time to get into position to hit scorching passing shots which allowed me to seize the center mid-court.

I need to stop letting him jump to big leads and learn to handle those z-serves, particularly on a night like tonight when his serve was not nearly as strong as it normally is.

Still, I feel great about coming back from 4 and 7 points down to win in adverse circumstances.

I also am going to work on my wind. Back on the bike I go.

Great night, lots of fun.


The 2012 Racquetball Chronicles Round 2

One of the guys from work has been wanting to get into racquetball to get back into shape. This morning we had an 8 o clock game set up.

Before the game we hit it back and forth for a bit and a few things were readily apparent to me. One, he has lost a fair amount of his agility and ability to hit the ball but it will come back quickly. Two, if I went all-out this would not be much fun for either of us. So I resolved to set up rallies and work on my serve location to a right handed player since my normal playing partner is leftie.

I had him serve first and worked on serve position, shot selection, and shot execution. The ball was certainly coming back at slower speeds, but it gave me the time to think about where I wanted to be on the court.

I was doing a good job of moving into the aggressive fore-court position and my reflexes were letting me not just get to the ball but actually think about where I wanted to hit my return. When he lobbed it over me, i was able to get to the back wall, think about my next shot, and was doing a good job of playing a defensive shot instead of always trying for an offensive shot even when out of position.

I also was able to recognize how important it was to re-lob it to him. This allowed me to get off the back wall and back into my prime position in fore-court, ready to take any low shot off the wall and put it away for a point.

I did score a lot of points off serves close to either wall he struggled to return so I spent a lot of time working on lobs to either corner to experiment with where to serve to a right-hander.

This is not a knock on him. He has not played in nearly 30 years, I am younger, quicker, in better shape, and have been playing for over a month...I should and did badly outclass him. I was able to toy with him, work on my game and still completely dominate the match.

I won 15-4, 15-6, 15-6.

He then wanted to work on his back-hand. I offered to just hit it around but he wanted to play another game so we did. He jumped out to a 1-0 lead on one of those z-serves I struggle so much with. I then took a 3-1 lead. And then he had a string of serves and a couple volley put aways. I was working hard on hitting it to his back hand and forgot to play position. So he was in front of me and I was struggling to put away winners.

Once I remembered to get back in position I kept pounding his backhand and ran out the game 15-6. He broke my serve a couple times but could not score off me again once I remembered to seize center court forward.

Overall it was a great time. Even though I was never in danger of losing a game, it was a good workout and allowed me to work on several weaknesses much more than working on reinforcing any particular strengths.

We did have several fun rallies involving getting to shots it seemed impossible for either of us to get to and I thoroughly enjoyed those.

I also had a really fun shot that was tight to my backhand when I was at the dotted line just left of center court. I pulled it tight and low, garnering a pretty good kill shot in the low right corner that bounced twice within about 8" of the wall. Probably the best shot I have hit yet.

So overall a fun day that i think improved my game a lot.


2012 Tennis

JJ and I got together to play some tennis. I really like playing with him. He is relaxed, easy going, and loves the game almost as much as I do.

As he himself often admits, I am at this stage in our careers somewhat more talented than he is; I am quicker, have a better net game, a stronger serve, and have plenty of endurance. His sole advantage is his baseline game where he has a slight advantage.

As a result, I usually win about 6-2 or 6-3 most sets.

Tonight was more of the same. We both played well. He gets to shot after shot that I think is a winner and sometimes his returns catch me out of position and his placement is impeccable. He hit a lot of winners tonight and that was great.

We have both improved. Whereas before most points were scored by the opponent making mistakes, tonight I think most of the points scored were actually winners or else forced errors...someone having to run cross-court 5 or 6 times and trying a tough angle return.

I probably had a dozen of my beloved shots he returned slightly too high allowing me to slam from my favored net position and at least 20 times he put a lob over my head, I ran it down and returned it deep to his baseline.

We had some very fun rallies that could have been won by either player and I loved it.

My spin serve was lethal tonight and I offset it just often enough with my "speed" serve to keep him off balance.

My speed serve of moderate speed was getting in and was super effective because he had to play forward to have a chance to return the spin, so it seemed faster than it was. And I learned something,

I am that guy I often mock.

My spin serve is a very strong serve. It either wins the point outright or moves them out of position, allowing me to approach the net and limit their shot selection on the return.

But the serve I WANT to make is the lightning fast serve...which I get in a low percentage of the time.

I need to learn to want to serve the effective serve, not the one i am not good at.

Overall, really good time, 1:30 minutes of play time.

The 2012 Racquetball Chronicles Round 1

With the onset of winter I really wanted to keep playing tennis, but my potential opponents were few and far between. Knowing a former co-worker was a racquetball aficionado, I suggested to him we play weekly.

He accepted and we decided to play each Thursday evening. We started Dec. 12th and, as I suspected, my advantages of speed, agility and endurance were no match for his advantages of experience and skill. I scored 6, 2, and 6 points the first week.

The second week I scored 10, 2, and 8. Both times there was a game in there where he just crushed me.

The third week in the second game I was ahead 12-1, scored a point, he mis-remembered the score and it stayed 12-1. I care more about playing than winning, so I let it slide. Ironically, after he mounted a furious come-back, when I scored to go ahead 14-13 it should have been game over...I should have had my first win. But that uncounted point would never be scored and he won 15-14, then absolutely wrecked me in the next game.

I then injured myself off-court and did not play for a week. When I did it was against my father in law.

John is an avid racquetball player, playing three times a week. If you suspect me getting my tail kicked was the probable outcome you guess correctly. I think I scored 6, 7, and 10 points or something like that. We then played 3 games of doubles.

We won 2 of those 3 games, but that was almost entirely John's efforts. I hit a few nice shots and missed a lot of shots. It was fun and my foot was one massive bruise when we finished.

Still, it was so much fun that the next Saturday we went down for some planned doubles with some of his regular partners. The first game I was partnered with a guy who played a style I had not seen and I loved it.

He stayed about mid-court, maybe a step or two towards the front wall,and relied on his quickness to get to seemingly every ball hit off the front wall.

We dominated the first game. By the time I partnered with him again he was too tired to play that way and the other 5 games, the losing team had something in common; me.

My game is quite technically weak for several reasons.  First, I have no serve to a right handed player. Second, I tend to hit the ball too high and return it to center court. Third, when I do keep it to the wall I tend to hit it too hard, allowing it to bounce off the back wall and set my opponent up for a solid return. Fourth, I have tremendous difficulty reading the angles the ball will come off the wall.

However, I spent a lot of time thinking about how they played, where they positioned themselves, the way they hit their shots and planned to put them in practice this week against my regular playing partner.

He jumped out to a small lead but I was making progress. Typically when he serves I stood deep in the court close to the wall he correctly drops his z-serve off relentlessly. My thought process was this gave me more time to react to it.

After watching the guys John plays with, I instead took a couple steps in and towards center court. The z-serve still gave me problems, but whereas before I seldom successfully played a return, now I at least was returning it and getting to play volleys. Instead of him having 4, 5, 6, 8 point scoring runs just off his serve without having to expend energy, now he was working for those points.

He still has the advantage as he is more accurate with his shots and more skillful in correct court position, but actually putting the ball in play was letting me think about more than just trying to figure out how to return the serve.

He led the entire game and won something like 15-11. It was a tough, hard-fought game and the second best game I played against him.

Game two would show the results of game 1. This time I would be able to use the lessons I learned and the experience I gained in game 1.

First, I used the correct serve. He is left-handed so I relentlessly pounded my first serve hard and soft down the line, scoring several winners and, even when not a winner, forcing him to hit a defensive shot.

Later I will learn the z-serve as a change up, but for now I need to go with the best serve I have, even as he adapts to it.

Second, I was immediately moving to a position similar to what John's friend used; center court, a step behind the servers box. I am trusting my quickness and agility to let me get to any shot. This allowed me to set up passing shots and force him to run side to side, expending energy while I conserved my own while being in great position to hit the next shot.

I still need to master the kill shot and get better at both my drop shot (feathering the ball off the front wall when he is deep in the court) and passing shots, but the improvement was immediate and vast.

Third, I was using the side walls to ricochet the ball around and make it more difficult for him to set up the kill shots he is so good at.

I built a lead, but he battled back. He took a 5-3 lead. I have never come back from a deficit to take a lead. I have tied him a few times, but never led. But this would be different.

These were not great passing shots but better than before. I used to hit them too hard so they bounced high off the back wall and allowed him time to recover and get to them. Then I hit them too soft, allowing him to charge the wall and hit a kill shot. Now I was hitting them so they bounced twice before the back wall and that made all the difference.

I took the lead 13-10 and then we had an epic back and forth where we broke each others serve about 10 times apiece. It felt like whoever scored next would win. He scored to make it 13-11...but then I took the serve back and managed the last two points to win, 15-11.

I was happy but he was quite disappointed. I think he expected to beat me every game for quite some time to come. And it is entirely possible he will go on a long winning streak..but I am working hard at the game and learning. By the end of summer I think I will win at least 30% of the time. Not yet...but later this year.

Anyway, he said, "There is no way I am leaving on a losing game," so we played a third.

Sure enough, he played with intensity while I somewhat was playing satisfied and he jumped out to a 13-1 lead. He was dominating every phase of the game. So I stepped back, went to work and fought back to 13-9 before I ran out of steam and he put me away.

For the night, I was very happy. The new position helped me be much more effective in returning the serves. The new mid-court forward position helped me control the action and allowed me to mitigate much of his superior shot-making while poking at his weakness of endurance. My better touch on my shots allowed me to hit both better defensive shots and more winners.

I am quite happy with the improvement shown. 2012 is off to a great start.