Friday, July 28, 2017

Playing Collegiate Club Tennis

Kristianne Bontempo with Gretchen Shisler | Towpath Tennis Contributor

While gearing up for classes for your very first (or returning) semester at your chosen university, many of you are also deciding on whether to get involved in one of the many organizations offered on campus and wondering what exactly they entail. Back when I was a freshman at Ohio University, among the half dozen other club activities I was interested in joining, one of them happened to be club tennis. So a few things: 

1) Ohio University does not have a Varsity team.
2) Even if they did have a Varsity team, I wasn't sure I wanted to commit full-time.
3) I might not make the Varsity team.

Obviously all good reasons why I should aim to play club tennis!

As naive as I was thinking I easily had a shot at walking on a club tennis team, little did I know that was definitely NOT the case. Another thing, joining any club is a commitment not a 'come as you please' activity. Long story short, playing club tennis wasn't in the cards for me. However, I still always wondered how everything worked: Do you have to travel? Is it co-ed? Do you play just a season like in high school? How often are practices? Now that I've had the opportunity to talk to somebody with first hand experience on playing collegiate club tennis, I can finally educate myself along with others who are debating on giving it a go!

Gretchen is going into her junior year at Ohio State, and on top of majoring in Marketing and minoring in Fashion Retail, she plays for her school's club Gray (B) tennis team. She played in high school but wanted to continue her experience after learning about the club tennis team during her summer orientation. Trying out on her own was intimidating, but now she can't imagine life on campus without tennis. Some clubs may abide by different procedures but for the most part this is what playing on a club team is generally like: 
Gretchen (far right) plays for OSU's Gray team.

  • Most teams have tryouts in the fall. Many schools have more than one club team depending on how many tryout with varying levels or teams that travel while others don't. Previous members may even have to tryout every year.
  • Members pay dues (generally most clubs do for one reason or another). Dues will typically cover travel costs as well as uniforms. 
  • You are still playing competitive levels of tennis without the commitment of playing Varsity  (NCAA) college tennis. (ie. OSU Club tennis practices 2x/week, tournaments aren’t every weekend and not every player goes to every tournament. Varsity tennis plays and trains nearly everyday and usually has a busy tournament/match schedule during the fall/spring seasons.)
  • Great option for players who want to play on a semi-regular basis, without sacrificing other social activities on campus (Gretchen is also a member of a business fraternity and works part-time).
  • Teams are co-ed.
  • Many universities require a minimum GPA and/or minimum credit hours to be an active club member.
  • Teams are active in fund-raising events as well as giving back to their communities, such as volunteering to teach tennis lessons.
  • Teams are invited to tournaments around the country by other teams’ captains or by the coordinator for USTA Tennis on campus. Normally, tournaments only last one weekend.
  • Matches include (in this order):
                         -One Women’s Doubles
                         -One Men’s Doubles
                         -One Women’s Singles
                                           -One Men’s Singles
                         -One Mixed Doubles
  • Each match consists of one set and teams win based on cumulative games, not sets won. (ie. The scorecard could say 30-17 instead of 5-0, etc.). So even if your team is down before the mixed doubles match, they can still tie up the game score forcing a super tiebreaker to determine the winner.
  • Matches are no-ad scoring. The receiving team chooses which side will return at 40-40; for mixed doubles, the receiver of the deuce serve is the player of the same gender.
  • Substitutions: A team can at any point substitute a player (same gender) into a set. Once a player is replaced, they cannot return in that set. If a substitution occurs in doubles, the remaining player cannot change the side on which he/she receives or the service order. Substitutions are allowed in overtime if a player has not already played in mixed doubles. 
  • You will make friends! Not only will you be spending each week with your team, but many teams do social events together OFF the courts as well. Your team becomes like family.
When you hear somebody say, "My college years were the best time of my life," I doubt they're only referring to their coursework. When you're new to campus or just looking for something to do on your downtime, joining an organization like club tennis with others that share the same interest is really the best way to enrich your social life on campus while also staying fit (hello food court)!

Monday, June 5, 2017

How to prevent a mental breakdown on the tennis court

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Contributor

I read about mental breakdowns on the court, I've written about how to avoid them, so when I’m in the middle of a match and am flustered with the inability to hit a ball, I’m flabbergasted thinking, “How could I be having a mental breakdown??”

With certainty, no matter who I’m playing I’m probably the most mentally dominant person on the court…is what I would’ve told you 5+ years ago. With kids and more responsibilities on my plate, things have certainly changed. Yes, it’s hard to fit the same amount of play time in, however my strokes are still there, my footwork—ehh, could use some work but is still better than the average player, but what has been the hardest pill to swallow is accepting the fact that my once mentally confident game is deteriorating. So instead of beating myself up and vowing to quit (which I’ve done numerous times), I decided to drill down what was causing me to break and ask myself, “How do I diagnose a breakdown before it happens, and what do I do to combat it?”

Diagnosis of breakdown:
Social/Environmental  – It might not have been obvious at first, but the unfamiliarity of a new partner, a new tournament format, a new venue or even playing an opponent I have history with was a disruption of my game. You’re no longer playing just a match, you have other factors involved that are out of your comfort zone.
Physical – I've been fortunate to be free of injuries, but with little ones a good night sleep is always a gamble. At times, I play more relaxed when tired, however once I get to that 2nd set mark I slowly feel the fatigue creeping in. With USTA season in full swing, most matches are in the evenings, so after a long day not only is your footwork shot, but also is your inability to make any smart strategical decisions (at least for me that's the case).
Mental – Pressure can come in all types of form whether you had a bad day at work, have any outside social tension, or for me, just feeling the pressure to win for the team’s sake. If you continue to let the pressure eat away at you, it's like being a deer in headlights where you are unable to move—the worst kind of breakdown.

Most of the time, I'm usually dealing with just one of the culprits above (the most common being fatigue), but I wanted to figure out how to pull myself out of a complete funk when I'm feeling like every aspect of my game is going down the drain. So after more reading and experimenting, here is a list of solutions that have worked for me and hopefully for you as well!

Treatment/Prevention of breakdown:
“Only the ball” – Are you looking at the ball? The first thing I notice when I'm in a downward spiral is my eyes are on everything BUT the ball (when you’re hitting a whole ton of rimmers, then that should be your first clue). Reciting the words, “bounce, hit”, as you are swinging away will help you focus on that fuzzy yellow ball. Another useful tip during 'down times' or when waiting to return a serve, is to look at your strings to stay focused or say "ballllllll" in your head as the server is tossing. Swear this works!
Continue playing your game – “I’m just not playing my game.” This has literally come out of my mouth numerous times over the past season. Something doesn’t work, so instead of trying the stroke or poaching again I’ll play it safe and just push it back—I despise that game! Not only do I feel like I've lost my edge, but my footwork is atrocious. Sports psychologists suggest continuing to try your shots with the correct motion (maybe even over-exaggerate it), since it will eventually come along. I know it won't help when you're in the middle of a match like I was, but really the best suggestion is to get out beforehand and hit some balls on a backboard or ball machine, or jump into a drill a day or so before.  
Be versatile – If you try and try but plan A isn’t working, then have a plan B…and C…and maybe a D. Changing your game up will actually work in your favor since your opponent will have to stay on their toes to keep up. Just be sure to start with plan A each time, since the less you use it the harder it’ll be to get it back.
It's all about body lingo – My sister back in the day had taught me the importance of looking the part of a positive, energetic and optimistic player even on the verge of defeat. That has definitely played a huge part in my playing style since forcing myself to laugh off my stupid shots has kept my mind from sinking into a dark hole. Stand up tall, smile, jump around, jog in place, shadow stroke, positive self-talk—these subtle cues will make a dramatic impression on your opponent. For me, fatigue has played a major role in affecting that positive/energetic role, so my solution—bring energy-infusing foods to your matches, like a banana or a granola bar. Makes all the difference!
Lastly Breatheeee Inhale. Exhale. Do this with purpose in between points to force yourself to take your time, and more importantly to relax your mind and body. 

Obviously, the way to prevent a mental breakdown is to recognize the possibility of one beforehand. If you pick up at the start of your match that you are uneasy about something (anything really), then mentally prepare yourself on a strategy that will help you focus throughout the match. Good luck and stay strong!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

New to competitive tennis

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Contributor

You may be wondering why there's a sudden shift of excitement in the air at your club, why players are talking USTA teams, partners and uniforms, and of course wondering, "why am I not involved?" The good news about spring season being upon us so fast, is that it gets us thinking about whether we're ready to wet our toes in competitive tennis, because before we know it the 'king' of USTA seasons (summer) will be here and trust me, you're not going to want to miss any minute of it!

Towpath's 3.0 40 & Over team.
In case you need a little background, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) is the most notable tennis organization in the country for players that want to play competitive tennis. It's a long-tested, well-run, rule-implemented structure that players (not all the time, but most of the time) enjoy following so they can get out and play a fun, fair and competitive game of tennis. The USTA primarily follows the general rules of tennis, with many of it's own amendments for different scenarios and regions around the country. The summer season has gained the most notoriety because that's when most players are free to play thus why there are more teams. Plus, nice weather makes people want to get out and DO something! 

But here's where things come to a halt for most newbies. The hype of the new season usually gives way to the fear of what the word competition actually means with players asking themselves, "Am I ready for this?" The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes, you ARE ready! And in case you don't believe me, here's the 'unofficial' pre-requisite to playing on a USTA team:
  • Can you serve? 
    3.5 Men's team finishing a match.
  • Can you somewhat hold a rally?
  • Do you know how to score?
  • Do you want to exercise while having fun?
  • Do you want something to do in your spare time?
  • Can you play well with others (aka-not be a jerk on the court)?
  • Do you want to get better at tennis fast?
  • Do you want to meet new players and test your skills?
  • Do you want to make friends?
  • Do you like drama? (J/k! Contrary to common belief, not ALL teams are drama-filled.)
And to answer some of your lingering questions:  Yes, you can play at any age. Yes, you might get double bageled (lose 6-0, 6-0), and yes, you just might have a little bit of fun. Honestly, the best way for newbies to go into the USTA is to jump in with an open mind and a positive attitude--corny but true. Even at the 4.0 level, I still go in with this mantra. I might not win every match, but I'm going to do my best to come off the court laughing.

One of Towpath's many Mixed Doubles teams.
So, whether you're completely new to the scene or resurrecting your game, I highly recommend giving USTA play a shot. Even if you don't think your game is 'competition ready' (whatever that means), try to look at this experience as a way to meet new players, gain some confidence and add value to your game. 

Your next step is to talk with our desk staff, one of our pros or one of your tennis buddies and ask how to get involved, -OR- come down to watch one of our many spring combo/mixed teams over the weekend to get a taste of what the competition is really like. You might be so enticed to commit for a team right then and there, because we guarantee it won't be long before you join in on the fun!

Friday, December 2, 2016

"Late to the Ball" by Gerald Marzorati - Becoming a tennis player at any age!

Barbara Youel | Towpath Member Contributor

“Late to the Ball” by Gerald Marzorati is a coming of (older) age story of a former professional reader and editor, who decided to become a competitive and match-ready tennis player on a national scale. As a fifties-something player, Marzorati challenged himself by engaging coaches, trainers, friends and opponents to find skill and meaning in this game. Despite his fear of a late entry to tennis, where (according to him) his years were approaching “the anteroom of the aged,” he was eager to learn and expend both considerable time and money to find that if he plays better, he will win more. “That’s how you grow. And growing is what playing is all about, ultimately, or should be, “ urged Coach Krill.

It’s a great story, told in a conversational style, and full of references that proves he has decades of literary and scholarly prowess. But before you think this is all too academic, he takes us through all the familiar angst and anguish of the novice tennis player. We will recognize our own struggles on the court – you know – the brilliant “all planets in alignment” shot to a candidate for the all-time tennis bloopers on YouTube, no less.

Marzorati passes along all kinds of tennis tips from tennis pros to professors.

1. “To hit a tennis ball well, so many things have to go right. And then you have to be ready because it is coming right back at you, and you have to do it again.”

Oh yeah……….this just about covers the big picture! Should we stop reading now? But wait, there’s more…

2. “…top tennis players could anticipate where a serve was going by picking up not the ball’s trajectory or even the motion of the racquet but by glimpsing tiny shifts in an opponent’s torso early in the service motion.”

Reminds me of that sixties’ tune – “Easier Said Than Done”…

and, my favorite…

3. “If you want time to slow down, become a student again.”

Seriously, this just about sums up Marzorati’s love affair with tennis. It may explain why youngsters will never be old enough to drive, or graduation is so far away or…. you get the idea. Apparently young people are so busy learning all sorts of things, they feel that life’s in slomo –nothing will ever come to fruition. So if you are in mid-life or later and think time is zooming by way too fast, go out and learn something new, whether it’s tennis, some other sport, a new language, cooking, philosophy or memorizing all the state capitols (you never know when Jeopardy is in your future).

I have been pondering of late (just an expression but it works here) my coming to this wonderful game of tennis some 15 years ago (in mid-life more or less, but who knows how long I will live?) and then starting to run 5K’s “late in life” 5 years ago. Recently I ran a 5.5 mile relay in the Akron Marathon, something I have never done before and never even thought about doing. When some said I had come to running (or even tennis) “late” I began to question that assessment and asked myself if that’s a view from a wide-angle lens or microscope. When I hear players new to tennis say that they are “late-comers” to the sport, I think they reflect a relative notion, one they may be comparing to the lucky youngster given tennis lessons at age 5 or some high school or college wunderkind. But are the newcomers really “late?”

When you are ready to improve your serve, develop your forehand, tighten your volley, or run faster, the readiness IS all…and you are never late. Learn something new and put Father Time on a slow burner. The time is now and it is just right.

Oh, and Mr. Marzorati, I don’t think you are late to anything.

* Gerald Marzorati is former editor of the New York Times Magazine and has written about tennis in the New York Times and on He is 63. Late to the Ball (Scribner - 2016) is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and public libraries. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Weird tennis rules & match scenarios - Part 2

Kristianne Bontempo & Katelyn Caniford | Towpath Tennis Contributors

How many times have you played a match and wondered, “Is that legal?” Well with all sorts of odd-ball rules and strange scenarios, you might find yourself frequently questioning the rules. We’re here to give you a list of ten uncommon situations you might find yourself dealing with during your matches.

1) I was playing a match one time and I hit a shot that was floating in the air, but looked like it wasn’t going to go over the net. As the ball was floating, my opponent reached over the net and hit the ball. Is that allowed?  No it’s not allowed. The ball must cross onto HER side of the net before she makes contact, and as long as she did not touch the net, THEN it is okay to follow-through over the net. The only situation when a player may reach over the net to play a ball, is if the spin or wind brings the ball back over the net to the side of the player(s) who hit the shot. Then your opponent can reach over the net to hit the ball.

2) I once played a match where my opponent was cracking open a new beer every so often while changing sides. Are you allowed to have alcoholic beverages during a USTA match? Surprisingly we cannot find any rule against this, but we would hope players would wait at least until after the match is completed to consume any alcohol. If the facility prohibits alcoholic beverages on the court then that player should certainly abide by their rules.

3) Is there a limit to how many lets you can serve in a match? Someone once tried to call a fault for doing so. No! Serve as many times as you need☺

4) Is there a rule that prevents the receiver from “crowding” the service box when returning serve? You and your partner can stand anywhere you want on your side of the court BUT seriously why would you want to considering 1) You can be distracting your doubles partner who’s returning. 2) You can get hit by your opponent's serve and lose the point anyways. 3) You need to let the service ball bounce before you hit it. 4) Your opponents could claim a distraction if you look like you’re intentionally distracting them.

5) I played a doubles match one time where my shot fell too short while lobbing and I told my partner to “watch out.” We ended up winning the point. However, my opponents told me I cannot talk when the ball is leaving my racket and that we can only talk when the ball is coming towards us. Is this correct?
No, this is not correct. You are allowed to speak to your partner at any time during play. Just try to be respectful about it. For example, this could become an issue if you and your partner are so loud that it affects your opponents' concentration or ability to set up the point. They in turn are allowed to ask for a let. 

6) During a singles match, your opponent’s hat flies off in the middle of the point. Is it considered a let or a loss point? In an officiated match, a hat, glasses, ball or racket that falls during a point is considered a let. If an item falls again, then there will be a loss of point. HOWEVER, in an UN-officiated match it is up to the opponent (not the player who dropped the item), to call the let. Also, if the ball in play happens to touch anything that you wear or carry (other than the racket) or any part of your body, then you lose the point.

7) If you whiff a serve, is it considered a fault? Yep sorry! Good news is if you swing and miss an overhead (or any other shot for that matter), you can try to retrieve the ball after the permitted one bounce or no bounce and that is legal. Your partner can make an attempt to play the ball if you whiff a shot as well.

8) What happens if my opponent is serving and purposefully comes to the baseline every time with only one ball? Therefore if she misses, she can take her time walking to get another ball in order to delay. The official rules state that if the first serve is missed, then the second serve should then be hit without delay. Even though the rules also state that there is a 20 second provision in between points, that doesn’t apply to first and second serves. Your opponent should have two balls with them every time they step up to serve.

9) Can you switch hands when playing tennis? There are players that are ambidextrous that can play with two forehands/two backhands (ie. Monica Seles). It might screw with your opponent's head but yes, it is legal to switch racket “handed-ness” during play.

10) I once hit a shot that was clearly going out. Both my opponent and I know it, yet he calls the ball out but then reaches up and catches it. Is this allowed? No. According to the rules, if a player catches a ball before it bounces then that player automatically loses the point. Players are always considered to have the benefit of the doubt that the ball is in, until it touches the ground.

To study up on other weird tennis rulings, check out Miscellaneous USTA Rules. You never know when you're going to need it!

Do you have a question or weird scenario that you'd like to know the ruling of? Email us with your question!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Revamping the USTA rating system

Katelyn Caniford | Towpath Tennis Pro

      With the busy summer USTA season officially ending and fall season now in full swing, many players are in the process of getting their ratings set. Whether you’re a brand new player doing this for the first time or you’re returning from a long hiatus, in order to play on the USTA tennis leagues, a rating is needed. Unfortunately, anyone that’s had to endure this test has encountered first hand just how frustrating and sometimes inaccurate it can be.

       One of the biggest problems with the USTA rating system is their lack of detailed questions. The test begins with several yes or no fill-ins trying to categorize you anywhere from a world class player to a total beginner. The problems occur when you get deeper into these questions. For instance, back when I had to rate for the very first time, I had just committed to playing division II tennis. Long story short I got rated a 5.0. Now granted, I was a decent high school player, but no state champion deserving of a 5.0 rating. Not to mention I had just graduated high school and had never played USTA adult league tennis before.
       So why did they rate me as so? Was it solely because I was committing to play in college? The real question is, can the USTA really make a good evaluation of the type of player I am based on that one answer? No. There are many tennis players out there on college teams that couldn’t even compete with the average high school player!
       Another example is the classic story of a returning tennis player trying to get back into the USTA leagues. Take a former 5.0 college player who hasn’t touched a racquet in 20 years, has had two knee replacements, and isn’t nearly in as good of shape as she used to be. Should this player still be rated a 5.0? According to the rating system, if that was her last published rating, then yes. Even though the test doesn’t ask her when the last time she played was, or the injuries sustained (injury questions happen during the appeal process).
      Now obviously the USTA can’t come and watch everyone play who needs a rating (they tried it for years with people raters). So what’s the solution here? More detailed questions with a little more leeway. The yes or no questionnaire is fine and does cover a lot. A text box discussing dates and severity of injuries sustained or time off from playing would make a significant difference. Also, rather than a computer making an immediate decision, it would help if the USTA could review answers prior to giving out set ratings. This might not work for brand new players but it would be a good system for someone returning from a long break from the game. That way, they don’t even have to worry about going through the appeal process.
       It’s safe to say that the USTA doesn’t have the time or the man power to force groups of people to monitor their rating system-but they need to. They would save so much time having to sift through appeals if they would review the tests to begin with. Even just adding a few more text boxes so players can explain their history with the game would make a huge difference. 

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

How much would it cost to attend all 4 major grand slam tennis tournaments?

Katelyn Caniford | Towpath Tennis Pro

Australian Open
French Open
May - June
June - July
US Open
August - September
New York City

 Any tennis fan dreams of attending one of the major grand slam tournaments at some point in their lifetime. However what if you were able to attend not just one, but ALL of the majors. How much would that cost? Where could you secure the best deals? Well we’re here to give you the breakdown of how much multiple trips like this would cost, and the best methods to save money.

Let’s assume that a regular couple living in Akron, Ohio were trying to attend all the major tournaments. They also would love to see the quarterfinals in each event. Economically, the best way for them to save on their finances would be to purchase “tour packages”. These are a perfect option when traveling overseas. Some of the best packages are available on TWS Tennis Tours ( or Tennis Tours (

TWS Tennis Tours seemed to have the most bang for your buck as a typical package would include not just tickets to the event itself, but the hotels and flights as well. They have tours for all of the majors aside from the US Open. One of their most popular packages is for the Australian Open which they call the “Australian Luxury Tour Package”.
Included are - 4 quarterfinal tickets (or 3 semi-finals tickets instead),
-          a round trip economy air flight from LAX to Melbourne with private airport transfers to and from the hotel
-          a booking to a five-star suite hotel with daily breakfast buffets
-          At the event itself-access to the championship bar and corporate lounges, and VIP access to the main gates
-          Private walking tours and a tour of the local art museum are included as well
-          Buggy to ride around in and an exclusive wine tasting
This particular package assumes that you will be staying for 2 whole weeks and the cost would be $14,950. However, in order to save even more you can drop your stay down or sell off the other tickets included (assuming two individuals are going). This would most likely drop the whole cost down to about $7,500.

Now of course, there are going to be things you’ll need/want to do that might not necessarily be involved in these tour packages. Such as food and attractions. It’s safe to budget about $400 for the attractions assuming that you’re attending about 4 events at $100 each. As for food, you’re looking to spend about $1,100 assuming your meals are eaten at places other than fast food restaurants. Also keep in mind too that if you’re a drinker it might be a good idea to add on another $9-$15 per day depending on how much you plan on consuming.

Similar packages on TW Tennis Tours are not nearly as expensive as they are only over 5 days, don’t include a flight, and typically only give you two tickets instead of four. Their Wimbledon and French Open packages are fairly similar to the Australian package above, except this time costing $6,350. Add in a round trip flight for $1,100 per ticket and you’re at a total of $8,550 just for the essentials. Add on the $400 for attractions and $1,100 for food and you’re looking at about $10,050 for the whole trip.

Fortunately, for a couple living in Akron, Ohio the US Open isn’t nearly as expensive as the overseas tournaments. To attend the quarters and semifinals of the open (types of tickets they offer) and staying in a 3 star hotel over 5 days, you’re looking to spend about $1,695 each. Factor in the food and attraction prices, plus money for gas ($100 on the high end depending on your car) and you’re looking at a little $5,000.

One way to save even more money when traveling to the US Open is by purchasing tickets for the first week of play rather than waiting for the later rounds. That way, not only are you saving money but you also get to explore all the action on the grounds. A lot of the less expensive ticket packages for the first week even grant you access to all of the courts!

Overall on the high end of attending the quarterfinals of all four majors for two people at a moderate comfort level, expect to drop around $33,000. Of course these are all rough estimates and you can definitely eliminate staying at nicer hotels or maybe not eating a high class meal every night. Either way though, definitely be prepared to drop a pretty penny if attending these grand level events is on your bucket list.

For those of you that would LOVE to attend the majors but just can’t fit it into your budgets, there are plenty of other tournaments to attend that might get you more bang for your buck. Indian Wells, Key Biscayne, and the Western & Southern in Cincinnati are just a few that will give fans a more intimate atmosphere to see your favorite players at a much better price tag!

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