Racquetball update

I had gotten really into racquetball to the last couple years. I was playing 4-5 times a week. Singles, doubles, cutthroat, even some 1 on 2.

As I learned the game I got more and more aggressive. I learned the corner pinch and it became a very deadly weapon...which was needed because of two of my regular opponents.

Tim doesn't have the quickest first step but what he does have is exceptional positioning. He does the best job of any of us of clogging up the center court and standing so far forward that if the ball bounces up at all he gets it. Against him I try to use passing shots, but his positioning is so good it can be tough to get it past him. As a result, I go to the ceiling ball to drive him back and then try to pinch in the front corner. While he may not have a lightning first step, he does have good closing speed and anything less than a perfect pinch he seems to get tom.

Meanwhile, Scott DOES have a lighning first step, he has fantastic closing speed, incredible reach and magnificent anticipation. His primary weakness is positioning. He is so fast he doesn't bother to get in position, instead relying on anticipation and speed to get to EVERYTHING. It feels like it takes a perfect shot to score against him.

The result is I was hitting the ball progressively harder trying for the perfect pinch to the point where the tennis elbow in my right arm got so bad I took a month or so off. After I came back I have been playing once or twice a week, with a noticeable decline in my game.

Note that does not mean I am bad...simply that my accuracy has declined, I leave the ball a bit higher on the pinch shots, my passing shots hit the sidewall too soon...

But there is still a clear hierarchy in our group. We have a pool of 10 of us that mix it up pretty regularly. Scott and I are the top of the ladder, Tim is slightly behind us, Steve and David a bit behind him, and the rest are pretty close to even.

Thing is the differences are small but that the difference between any two players might just be one specific shot a person can (or can't) hit, but that person will beat the next a large majority of the time.

For all the good things I said about Tim above, I have lengthy, months-long winning streaks against him sometimes. David got me once this year (though to be fair I had been playing 2 hours and he came in fresh...other than that he has not gotten me). Other than that, only Scott can beat me, though we are pretty close to .500.

Every so often one of us will develop a new shot. Until the other adjusts and adds it, the first guy wins a lot of games. For example, I was the first one to start taking shots from deep in the court and plastering it hard off the sidewall in a poor mans imitation of a splat shot. For a couple weeks I won 2 of 3 or even 3 of 4 games in singles and cutthroat with Scott involved. Then he developed it and we were back to even.

Then he started hitting a tennis-looking overhead shot from the back left corner that turned into a really good corner pinch. Since my defensive default is a ceiling shot to the other guys' backhand, that played into his new weapon and he was winning 2 of 3, 3 of 4...which led to me developing a 3-wall shot that went horizontal instead and took that shot away from him.

There have been a lot of other shots developed, the pendulum has swung back and forth. Most recently I added a little wrist snap to my drive serve that added 10-15 mph to it. He is catching up to it but I am scoring a pretty high percentage of either aces or returns weak enough to give me easy set-ups which I convert at a pretty high percentage.

However, as the amount of our playing has declined the quality of our shots has as well. Scott has only been able to play twice this month. The first time was cutthroat with Tim. I won the first two games. The the third game, Scott had a decent lead and both Tim and Scott had 10 or more points while I was stuck on 4.

When I am behind and want to "make it respectable" I have another gear. My first step is just a bit quicker, the velocity on my shot a notch higher, the hustle to get those seemingly ungettable balls more present. Before you knew it I had 10, Tim 11 and Scott 14. After a couple service rotations I got to 14 and ended up winning 15-14-12.

We only got in 3 games and only played an hour and a half, as all three of us are in much less of a good racquetball shape due to our less frequent playing.

Before and after that games have involved people other than Scott and as a result over the first 16 days I was 22-0. Thursday Scott and I got in some singles.

Playing less, counter-intutively, has resulted in heavier, more tired legs. I was not sure I could complete the first game. From a scoreboard standpoint it was a fantastic, back and forth affair with several lead changes that ended with him winning 15-14.

From a quality standpoint it was awful. My pinch shots were coming back knee high to the second line...which is not a good thing against mediocre players and is devastatingly bad against someone like David, Tim or Scott who is going to punish me for mistakes like that.

I shifted gears to a passing shot oriented game but two things made that difficult; first, I was hitting the sidewall with an uncomfortably high number of them, giving him a hair more time and a few precious inches to get to it and second, he is so fast he was getting to everything.

I went to a lot of ceiling shots and aggressively pursuing balls myself to stay in the game and was helped by him grounding more than a couple shots that are usually automatic. Otherwise he would have blown me out. Regardless, the first game was nothing that will be on either of our highlight reels.

The second game he started hitting his shots. I had one brief stretch where I took my biggest lead, 11-8. He proceeded to not miss a shot the rest of the game. It was a classic Scott display; I was moving him side to side, back to front, scraping the walls and he was getting to EVERYTHING. His serve was also giving me issues...I was having a hard time picking up the red ball off his blue shirt...I cannot explain that one. It directly cost me a couple points when I could not even return serves that were not his best, and another point or two when my return was quite weak. It did not matter though as he so badly outplayed me in that stretch I never had a chance and he ran off 8 straight over three or four service turns to win handily.

When you have not lost a game in over two weeeks and then lose two straight and the second you are dominated in the money portion of it, it can be a real mental challenge. You start to question yourself when you are hitting sub-par shots but even when you hit a good shot the other guy gets to it and puts it away.

So by game 3 I was just hoping to get one game off him. I was concentrating on attempting the right shot, on staying low, hitting passing shots that bounced twice before the back wall without coming off the sidewall.

In game 1 everything was a lob serve. Game 2 I was mixing between lobs and my standing up 3/4 speed serve. This time I was dropping low, flicking the wrist, mixing up my serves between drives to the corner, z-serves, and an occasional shot to the forehand to keep him off balance.

Early on he was returning everything and I was moving him around a lot. If he was against the left wall I would go for the right corner or pass down the right wall. If he was up front a ceiling ball or passing attempt was the answer. If he was behind the dotted line I tried a pinch.

And he was getting to them. Just barely sometimes, but getting there. After something like 7 service changes the score was 0-0. Even though I could not score on him, he could not score on me either.

He started building a lead. 1 point here, 2 there, anotehr one here...suddenly it was 8-1, he was crushing me.

I found that extra gear. He lost a step. I don't know what happened, but I began fighting my way back. I was gasping an wheezing all the way but I pounded his backhand, avoided bringing them off the wall, started drilling my patented corner pinch.

I caught him at 10, again at 11 and ended up winning something like 15-12. What a huge relief to get that can't beat Scott monkey off my back. I had thought for sure I was going to be down 3 games and not have been competitive from the mid-point of game 2.

There was carryover in game 3 as suddenly everything that was not working early now was. I was getting him out of the service box early and often. I was scoring a point or two every time I ws up. My pinches were dropping in front of him, my serve creating weak returns to give plentiful chances at them, my passing shots got past him, I got to his passing shots, I was getting into and winning long rallies...I toasted him 15-4. That was a shocker.

Knotted at 2 we decided to play a tie-breaker. I was winded and tired but so was he.

Early on he built a lead but I caught up and took one of my own. He came back to be up by a point or so and then suddenly I made a slight adjustment on his serve. He had 4 or 5 straight weak returns and a close game became a rout.

Looking back I cannot believe I even won a game. He was faster, more accurate, hitting better shots and getting to more of them. I think I had better positioning, a better serve, and he was not putting away some shots he normally does. If I played the way I played this time as a general rule he wins virtually every game. This time he was just enough off his feed that I got him 3 of 5 tries.

It was very entertaining and fun. I went through 2 sets of head and wrist bands and they were SOAKED when I took them off and ultimately that is the sign of a great game.