Getting the Feel of a Match

Taste the Wine

My niece just returned from her junior year abroad in France where she studied wine tasting as a part of her curriculum. The other night, over a glass of a full-bodied California Cab, she explained to me how it should be done. “There are three key phases as you taste a wine, and they are summarized by the following phrase: l’attaque, l’evolution, la persistance,” she said. And, she was careful to add: “this has everything to do with wine tasting; not wine drinking." “OK”, I thought, “I’m more of a drinker than a taster, but let’s give this a try." It occurred to me in a flash that the wine tasting process was one and the same as that of beginning a tennis match. In both cases, we attempt to size things up in a fairly simple and efficient way so that the rest of our experience, either the drinking or the match play is enjoyable, which, in the case of the tennis, means that we end up winning the match. (Actually, as a tennis pro, everything is like tennis and tennis is like everything else. I see this as a strength, but perhaps it’s asking too much from a mere game?)

The first phase, l’attaque, has nothing to do with playing aggressively at the start of a match. What it does suggest, however, is that our senses are immediately bombarded with information. In the tasting case, the wine has actually invaded our bodies (it’s in our mouth!) and our senses of taste, smell, texture, etc. go from nearly dormant to being completely deluged by a flood of input. Hence, it is a form of attack on the senses. In the tennis case, we are flooded with input as well: the physical condition of our opponents, their grips, their personalities (most club players have serious control issues – I love asking them to move their bag or their water – they immediately get fidgety), where they like to stand in the warmup (hint: players who warmup their volleys a foot from the net actually don’t have volleys), the court conditions, etc. It is crucial for a tennis player to simultaneously get information from this ‘l’attaque’, while at the same time, to not lose sight of his/her own feel. In other words, you must ‘taste’ the opponent, yet not lose yourself in the act of tasting so that when the actual match begins, you are nowhere to be found. This is l’attaque! - The preliminary assessment.

In order to really taste a wine, many experts suggest that you keep the wine in your mouth for at least 20 seconds, gently swishing it around almost as if you were gargling. This is l’evolution. The wine may change its taste from the initial impression made during the first phase. In a similar way, when the match first begins it’s critical to remember that opponents always do their favorite things first. In particular, they go with their favorite types of serves and return of serves. After a game or two, you should be able to complete the following phrase: when I serve to her forehand, she …, and when I serve to her backhand, she … . This is especially true when a player faces their first break point – notice the intended placement of the first serve – this is their favorite! Particularly simple opponents, just like simple wines, don’t really change much from phase one to phase two. These matches usually translate into easy victories. However, the challenge is the wine (or match) which surprises us in the second phase – unexpected hints of berry or lavender or devious and challenging patterns of play. Use the changeovers to adjust and take account of the complexity. This will serve you well as you approach the finish or phase three.

The final phase is la persistance. This happens when you fully accept the wine into your body by swallowing it. This flavor, the lingering reactions to the wine will remain with you forever. This is the end of the match. There is a winner and a loser. In tennis, victory or defeat is the ultimate judge of the quality of your experience. It will persist far longer than any detail of the match. As a player, you’d only like to swallow what you like – if l’evolution is negative, remember that you can always spit it out, i.e. change your game plan. However, it’s crucial here not to blame the wine for being weak; more likely than not, there was something in l’evolution that you failed to notice, which surprised you when it shouldn’t have. Vive la persistance! Let’s drink to victory!

Bob Schewior

Bob Schewior Director of Tennis

Bob Schewior has been the Director of Tennis at CRRC since 1985. His playing accomplishments include playing #1 at Rutgers University 1971-73. In 1988 and 1991, he was ranked in the Top 20 nationally in Men’s 35 and 40 Singles respectively as well as a #6 national ranking in Men’s 35 Doubles in 1988.

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