Dealing With Uncertainty: What is iSWAG?
Tennis is characterized by a pecking order. When players know one another, the outcome is often determined before the first ball is hit by the expectations of both competitors. However, when players are strangers, there is considerable uncertainty surrounding a match. it helps to have some iSWAG (innerSWAG) in this situation. I’ll go through what I mean by this in an example from my own playing career below, but before I do, let me explain that I don’t mean being obnoxious or a braggard. It is NOT outwardly bragging. The SWAG I’m referring to is a quiet self-confidence in your abilities and it refers to how you speak to yourself. It is speaking to yourself with inner boldness. This is iSWAG.
The tournament that I’m going to tell you about took place at the Allaire Racquet Club in Wall, NJ in 1974. To be sure, I did have some reasons to be confident. Five years before this tournament, in 1969, I had led Columbia HS to the Group IV NJ State Tennis title and Essex County Championship as #1 singles player with a 24-1 record. I then spent 4 years at Rutgers playing #1 and #2 singles with a solid but not spectacular record. Unfortunately, I tore cartilage in my right knee playing basketball in December of my senior year and limped through most of my last season before getting some of my mojo back in a season-ending 6-4 in the 3rd loss to Penn State’s #1, Walker Shivar. (As I recall, the TD couldn’t get it straight who’d won the match: Shivar or Schewior?).
My regular practice partner at this time was Chris Busa, an English literature grad student at Rutgers with a booming serve, who was to later become my teaching pro partner at Chestnut Ridge RC in NY. I mention his serve because it was a big part of the tournament’s story as you will see below.
In any case, Wall NJ is located towards the Jersey shore and is a part of the Middle States section of the USTA. Coming from northern NJ, I played in the Eastern section. In those days, players rarely traveled between sections to play, so I didn’t have any idea of my competition, but neither did they have any idea of me. I also hadn’t played a tournament in a while, so all of my iSWAG would have to come from my practices.
My first round was against the local teaching pro at Allaire, Dave Brown. He was a consistent player with not much of an offensive game, but I got a poor start losing the first set. Following the split, he left the court for a bathroom break. After several minutes and with still no sign of Dave, my girlfriend whispered to me through the back curtain: “He’s not in the bathroom … he’s doing yoga behind the back curtain on the other side of the court!” It was my turn to serve the first game of the third set when Dave finally returned to the court. I hit four straight aces. I then called out to my girlfriend: “So much for yoga!”
My second round was an easy cruise, but in the quarter-finals I had to face a player a few years younger than I who was touted as having by far the biggest serve in the tournament. But … here came my iSWAG: I entered this match with no fear whatsoever as I was practicing constantly with the aforementioned Chris “Boomer” Busa. To be sure my opponent hit some really good serves, but my confidence was high because of my practices. I moved on in straight sets.
In the semi-finals, I had to face a former Rutgers teammate, Mike Pringle. Mike always played a spot or two behind me in the lineup, yet his own private belief was that he was the better player between us. We had practiced many times over the course of our time on the team together. This made for an interesting setup, but the match itself was routine, 6-4 6-4. I knew to take him seriously, but not to worry. Sure enough, my iSWAG led the way.
In the finals, I was to meet Harold “The Bug” Mollin who was Vitas Gerulaitis’ practice partner. His nickname was “The Bug” because he wore these really huge glasses which gave him the look of a bug. Unfortunately for me, every muscle in my body was sore by this time. Mollin raced to a 6-0, 4-1 double-break lead. Standing at the brink of a one-sided defeat, my body finally started to return to me. I actually had 2 set points in the second set when he served at 3-4 in the tiebreak (it was the old 9-point breaker … first one to 5, win by 1). When we shook hands at the net, Mollin said to me: “I let you off the hook.” “Hmmm, I think I let you off the hook”, I thought to myself. I’d had a really good tournament … there was no reason to let go of my iSWAG.