Peachtree City, Georgia is dripping with Southern charm and hospitality, even on its tennis courts. Within minutes of walking alone onto one of the two well-maintained courts at Pebble Pocket Park, a man who was teaching a woman backhands invited me to hit.
An hour and a half later, my new buddy George Beauchamp and I were sweaty and flush with the fun of long rallies.
Haters, I'm here in Peachtree City for the first annual US Tennis Congress, just down the road at the Dolce Hotel and Resort, and scared as all get out that I'm going to show top instructors like Emilio Sanchez just how well I can shank the ball. So I was at the court in this little park in Peachtree City, looking to hit against a wall and practice my serves.
You know, like cleaning up the apartment before the cleaning lady comes.
I was grateful to hit with George Beauchamp. It took the jitters right out of me.
George told me he teaches tennis. I could tell. Watching him initially, with his sister, Martine, I heard the verbal mannerisms of a teaching pro: "Bounce? Hit!" And then, as her ball arced over the net, "That's riiiiiight! Gooooood!"
I didn't ask him how old he was, but he's old enough to be "somewhat retired." He moves well, getting smoothly to wide balls and deftly fielding the inevitable loopy long shots from my forehand wing.
"May I give you a tip?" he said. "Don't tilt your racquet face up and don't hit under the ball. I know you have to clear the net, but...."
I mentally finished the sentence for him. "But we're not talking Empire State Building here, lady."
"You should hit the ball further out in front of you," he continued. "Don't let the ball push you around. Hit it earlier."
Know what keeps you focused on the court? Your eyes.
I nodded. Sounds familiar. I thought of my Sunday sessions with Coach Al. Pivot, with your racquet back, then move toward the ball. See the hit. Your eyes make the shot. Because of hearing these instructions, over and over again, I was able to take what George was saying and make it make sense. Different set of eyes on my game, different way of delivering instruction, but the principals are the same: prepare early, so you play the ball instead of it playing you. Get your racquet back and then move to the ball, TO it, not away from it. Watch the ball. See the hit.
"You don't play your opponent when you play tennis," George said. "You play the ball and the lines. You shouldn't even be looking at your opponent, except to see how the ball comes off of his strings."
Later, at the net for a quick breather, my Southern friend got Socratic method on me.
"Know what keeps you focused on the court?" he asked.
I thought of Coach Al. Your eyes make the shot. Without hesitation, I answered. "Your eyes."
He smiled. "That's riiiiight."
I felt encouraged. These are the basics. They are like a hammer, a wrench and a screwdriver. You should never abandon them, no matter what new gizmo is being hawked near the cash register. George Beauchamp did me a great favor, hitting with me. He warmed me up physically and mentally for the weekend of instruction ahead.