Thursday, October 6, 2016

Ajay Patel - He will be missed


This past weekend the tennis community lost Ajay Patel, a great tennis player and an even better man.  He will be sorely missed by his family and the entire tennis community.

Ajay will always hold a special place in my heart as his ability to compete and compete well at an advanced age was spectacular.  He was a man of great integrity and loyalty. 

Tennis League Network will be forever blessed to have his name inscribed on multiple record pages.

Most recently he won his 19th championship:
Indeed, it is possible that his standing of holding the highest number of championships won may never be surpassed:
He's also securely in first place with 552 match wins over 8+ years:
The legacy wins page is hereafter renamed Ajay Patel Legacy Wins Page. 

The admin of this program had the pleasure of meeting him twice over the years. (Once at the 2011 East Coast National Tournament in Miami and last time in 2014 at a Los Angeles West Coast National Tournament.  He won that tournament in dramatic fashion ). 

His passion for tennis was inspiring and will always leave a mark on this community. Ajay the tennis courts are going to be a bit more lonely without you.

We reached out to a bunch of his former opponents and it's simply amazing how Ajay affected other players well beyond the tennis courts.  Here's some of their memories:

Rob Ryan
I always described Ajay to people who did not know him as a tennis "savant".   No one could anticipate where you would hit the ball better than Ajay.  No one could use the angles of a tennis court with more effectiveness.   He was a savant at architecting a point using his combination of consistency, creativity and athleticism.  On big points he could always place his serve in the perfect spot to make sure he won the point.  No one was more frustrating to play or more satisfying to beat (rare as that was).   

In our last match at Lower Peters (court 7 always) we had one of the most amazing points I have played in my life.  It was a 15 ball rally before I finally got the advantage and was at the net....Ajay lobbed me but I was ready and hit a clean smash overhead....Ajay anticipated where I would hit it (I never figured out how he could do that) and hit me another classic Ajay lob that landed on the baseline.   I was able to run back and another 15 ball rally ensued before the point finally ended.   To our surprise there were 4 people that had stopped to watch this point and were clapping for us.  It was our final point we ever played.   Will miss the local legend Ajay and it was my pleasure to share a tennis court with him. 

Ernie Sigala
I was one of the few who took a few matches away from Ajay. We was the Roger Federer of OCTennis league, smooth and sharp. A great competitor, gentle spirit and humble person….he will be missed.

David Pond: 
So so sad and sudden. I played tennis with AJ almost 10 years, he always played with amazing enthusiasm. Caring Dad who talked about his family and was a thoughtful and giving player on the court.
Bless you AJ

Erich Kreidler:
Ajay was one of the kindest tennis players that I had the good fortune of meeting.  We started playing in the league back in 2009 and always held a special place in my mind and heart.  He left quite a legacy with us as he pulled everybody’s game up and encouraged us (by example) to play more frequently.

He will be missed dearly.  

Amanda Lean:
Ajay was the definition of a true champion, his character and always happy demeanor was as true on the court as off of it. Ajay's exceptional game was a genuine credit to his approach of tennis, not as a hobby, but a lifestyle choice. This is also why so many of us in our time playing in TennisOC, knew when it came time to play AJay, the epic record holder, "3-peat Player of The Year, First-ever West Coast Year End Men's Elite Champion, Infinite Legacy Match Winner, once you get passed those intimidating statistics realized why he had achieved them. However, his truly exceptional personality made losing to him the most fun and positive experience losing can possibly have, even for the most competitive of players--- everyone knows its fun to play AJay, regardless of knowing, the more likely outcome that he would prevail. 

His love of the game is apparent when reviewing his career statistics and record in TennisOC, but what is not shown is how many lives he touched through playing tennis and how his experience and years of playing also taught us players something new and never seen before they played him and aimed to improve do it the "Ajay Way!" 

On a personal note, I will never play an TennisOC or West Coast Year End Tournament without smiling and thinking of Ajay and his positive spirit and love of the game and appreciate just getting to play every chance we get as he did! Thank you for always bringing such light and joy to the game we all love beyond what would call a hobby-- you will be missed.
Yung Cho
Sad to hear.  I remember losing to him countless times and finally breaking through with a win in a grueling three set match.  Of course I was elated to win against such a champion but it was his kind words in defeat that I remember most.  He told me that part of his enjoyment in playing tennis is to help players get better and reach their full potential.  What a great sport and true champion!  He will be missed.  YC
Brian Andriamahefa
When I first moved out to southern California and competed in my first tournament, I did not make the finals but watched the match and observed the beautiful serve and volley net game of Ajay that made him take the title. Though I did not get to play Ajay in the finals in that tournament, I was very impressed with his game style and would hope someday we would cross paths to play. Sure enough when I joined the local tennisoc league Ajay was the first person to contact me to play a match. Making my first drive through southern orange county to play him in Irvine started a rivalry of numerous matches of us battling back and forth.

 It was always fun and exciting to step on the court with Ajay and I will always remember the great matches we had. He always pushed me to play my best and if I wasnt playing my best he wouldnt hesistate to make me pay dearly. During our matches we had our fair share of of grueling long rallies, but after the point was over he was already standing on the baseline ready to play the next point. That always got me thinking to myself "man for an old guy he is VERY fit". I can only hope at his age I will be able to compete at singles the level he was able to.

If I didnt play Ajay as much as I did I would not have made the decision to live in Irvine in order to stay close to the strong tennis community it has. So you can say that Ajay was the link of starting my new life in California and the place I chose to call home today in Irvine. I only hope when I grow older I will still have the drive, commitment and passion for the sport like he did. We certainly lost a valuable member in the tennis community and he will be missed greatly.
Brian Millard
I'll never forget playing Ajay.  He always made playing tennis look easy - almost too easy!  He was graceful on the court and was in command most of the time.  He was a humble guy and always gave me good advice to get better.  He's the only guy I've ever played that would hit my out balls on purpose to keep rallies going and give me more of a chance to win - who does that!  He will be sorely missed.

My condolences to his family.   

Frank Seo
I have had the good fortune to play Ajay many times during the last few years. He always was a true gentleman and a great sportsman. He embodied the "old school" sportsmanship, and his love of tennis and good competition was evident. I am shocked that he is not with us anymore, and he will be missed.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Pratyaydipta Rudra - Getting out on the tennis courts 2 to 3 days a week.

We caught up with  Pratyaydipta Rudra who plays out the Denver franchise.

Which league are you a member of?
I'm a part of Metro Denver Tennis League Currently I am playing as Men's Advanced 4.0 in the 2016 Fall Season Advanced Division
Tell us a little bit about yourself, for example: What do you do? Where did you grow up? What are your hobbies (besides tennis)? (Feel free to share any interesting details about your life.)
I was born in India and completed my undergraduate studies there. I moved to USA for my graduate studies. Right now I am a post doctoral fellow in the department of bio-statistics, CU Denver. Besides tennis, I am most passionate about photography and wildlife-watching.

How long have you participated in your league?
I joined this league in September 2015. I have now played pretty regularly for about a year. Pratyaydipta has already played an amazing 43 matches in just over a year's time.

How did you first learn about it?
I moved to Denver last year and was looking for some hitting partners. It's not easy to find players and tennis friends when you move to a new place. So, I was really pleased when I found out about Tennis League Network, basically through internet search.

How often do you play?
During the season, I usually play 2-3 matches with TennisDenver every week. I sometimes play more tennis outside the organization.

What do you like most about the league?
The best part is the flexible scheduling. My work is variable and it's tough for me to play at a fixed time. It's great that me and my opponent can work out the best time for both of us. Also, the user-interface in the website is something I love. It's easy to join leagues, report scores and look at records of other players. The prize pool is a bonus. I love how the league gives extra incentive to play more and win.

Tell us about your most memorable match(es)
I remember a match against Joaquin Tejeda. It was a ladder match, but kind of important in the sense that it determined who goes to the top of the ladder that month. I lost the first set 5-7 and won the second 6-2. In the beginning of the third set, I suddenly lost focus. He was quickly up 4-0. Somehow I regrouped and won the set 6-4. I enjoyed the comeback and the long but high quality tennis match.

Who are your favorite rivals in the league? Why?
Joaquin Tejeda is someone with whom I have played several matches and like playing against him. He is about my level and a good sportsman. We had some very competitive matches in the past. Mike Runda is another one who is a good person and a good player.

Do you have any other interesting comments about your experiences with the league?
It's interesting how I met so many players who live very close to where I live. They are all close to my level, so I enjoy playing with them. But for TennisDenver, I would have never known them. It's a great way to meet fellow tennis players and make new friends.

How did you get started playing tennis?
I always wanted to play tennis when I was a kid. I watched a lot of tennis in TV. But I come from India where there is not much cheap option for recreational tennis. When I came to United States for my studies, I grabbed the opportunity and started playing tennis. I am now playing regularly for about four years.

What level player are you? (NTRP rating)
I think I am 4.0, but on the lower side. I considered myself a strong 3.5 up until last year, but I win most of the time against 3.5 players and so TennisDenver rated me as a 4.0.

What do you love about tennis? 
I love any racket sport, and tennis has the most variety among all racket sports, I believe. The serve, the volley, and the ground-strokes, anything can be your weapon. It's great exercise but does not involve body contact, which is good for a under-weight person like me. The best part is probably the importance of timing and the sweet feeling on your racket when you time it perfectly. Plus, I like the scoring system which gives me enough opportunity to come back. One bad game, I can always forget that and try to do better in the next. Same goes with a bad set.

Who are your favorite pro players? Why?
Roger Federer, by far. He is the artist. I love his effortless yet exceptionally accurate play. He is never boring because he has such a variety in his shots. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Samanta Fernandes: Hitting with the Men out in Orlando

We checked in with Samanta Fernandes out of the Tennis-Orlando league. Here's what she had to say:

How did you get started playing tennis?  Tell us a little bit about yourself, for example: What do you do? Where did you grow up? What are your hobbies (besides tennis)? (Feel free to share any interesting details about your life.)
      My name is Samanta Fernandes and I am 19 years old. I played tennis when I was younger because of my father. He loves tennis and put me and my sister in tennis classes when we were 7. We used to live in Brazil back then. Afterwards, we moved to Switzerland, Roger Federer’s and Martina Hingi’s country. There they have a great structure for tennis classes and tournaments. I played a lot and got really passionate about it. However, I stopped when I moved back to Brazil at the age of 14. 
Which league are you a member of?
      I started playing again here in Orlando in the Orlando Tennis League.

How long have you participated in your league?
      I have been playing for 3 seasons already.

How did you first learn about it?
      I learned about the league through google, doing some research on where to play tennis here in Orlando. When I read about the league I thought it would be interesting to play different people but I did not expect it to be as fun as it is.

How often do you play?
      I usually play 2-3 matches a week.

What do you like most about the league?
      At first, I thought I would be scheduling matches with people and that was it. But there is more to the league and as I learned more about it and how it works, it became more and more interesting. I realized that with a certain amount of wins (Usually 5) you can participate in the playoffs and if you win, you get prizes, entry to other tourneys and go up to a higher division. All of this motivated me to improve my game and get more involved in the league. I got more competitive and improved my mind game.

Tell us about your most memorable match(es).  Who are your favorite rivals in the league? Why?
      I learned that the game is not decided until it is over. Two games that helped me to understand that were against two players; Regan Stevenson and Gary (Giri) Shankar. With Regan, I played at 4pm during a very hot day and I was exhausted. I was losing 5-0 in the first set and playing horribly. Normally, I would think that I had already lost that game and would play just to finish it or I would just give up. However, I told him to have patience with me because of the heat. I drank a lot of water and we waited a bit until it got cooler. We finished the set and I actually won in a tie breaker. 
      With Gary it was different. I won the first set and I was pretty confident. However, he started getting better and actually won the second set. We went on in the tie breaker, I believe he won 12x10. That opened my eyes to never relax and give my best until the end, because in tennis, anything can happen.
Gary is one of my favorites rivals, since he has won two times already. He challenges me with his game and it is really fun to play against him.

Do you have any other interesting comments about your experiences with the league?
      Playing in the league has helped to meet new people, improve my game and get me out there for new opportunities. As mentioned before it improved my mind game and it also improved my game. 

      At first, I thought there would be more women in the league, but since there were not many, I started playing against men. I am actually doing well playing against men and I think this is helping me to push myself more.

      One day I was playing at Lake Cane Tennis Center and they offered me to participate in a doubles tourney, which was really fun. Another day, I was talking to the receptionist in Lake Cane, waiting for my opponent to arrive and he told one of his coaches about me. The coach went and watched me play a little bit and actually decided to put me in a team, which is awesome. I appreciate the opportunities that came for me while playing in the league and I hope there will be more. Soon I will be transferring to UCF and look forward to trying for a scholarship there. The league is providing me with a lot of opportunities, experience and fun. I have been playing for three seasons already and I see more and more people participating and getting more involved. Also, many women are encouraged and participating more and doing well. I love to see the league grow and become more fun every season.

What level player are you? (NTRP rating)
      I started as a 3.00 and now I am currently rated as Women’s Competitive 3.75.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The World of Strings - written by Jeff H.

Strings are half the racquet in tennis. They are like the tires for a race car and can dramatically alter how your racquet plays.  With hundreds of strings to choose from, tensions, and gauges, which string is the best string for you?  Before you make a selection, let’s go over some basics of strings.
String Types:
There are three main types of strings:  Synthetic Gut, Polyester (Poly), and Natural Gut. 

Synthetic Gut Strings:
Synthetic gut is a multi-filament string comprised of very thing fibers that attempt to simulate natural gut.  These strings tend to be softer and flex more easily when striking the ball.  Synthetic gut strings are not made with the intention of durability, but instead made for feel and playability.  Players who play doubles exclusively, serve and volley or attack the net frequently in singles would benefit from the feel of synthetic gut strings.  These types of strings tend to also be more forgiving on the player’s elbow and wrist since they absorb more of the impact energy than stiffer polyester strings.  The downside to synthetic gut strings are they do not generate as much spin or power as polyester strings.  The player needs to use his/her stroke and body to generate big power and big spin.  Certain synthetic gut strings are a little stiffer to help add power and spin, but nothing compares to polyester strings.  As synthetic gut strings are used, they will begin to fray like an old rope.  This is completely normal and caused by the friction of the ball and strings rubbing against each other.  When this occurs, it’s time to restring your racquet.  One advantage to the fraying is you can see where on the string bed your strings are fraying.  If the fraying is in the sweetspot, then you know you are predominately hitting the sweet spot on the majority of your shots.  If not, then that’s good information too.

Polyester Strings:
Polyester strings, often referred to as “polys”, are very stiff strings.  The playability is horrible with these strings.  But for a baseliner or power hitter, they are a dream come true.  Despite the lack of playability, polys are made for power and spin.  As the ball hits these strings, they bite the ball much more effectively than synthetic gut or natural gut and snap back much faster, creating excellent spin and power.  Due to polys being stiffer, they absorb less of the energy from striking a ball and can be more impactful on the elbow and wrist.  One option to increase the feel with polys is to use a different gauge string.  A thinner poly will increase the feel slightly but still provide excellent power and spin.  See below for a description of the different gauges and their pros and cons.  Polys are very, very durable strings and most players will not break these strings.  It’s important to remember when to restring your racquet when using these strings since they will not fray like synthetic gut or natural gut.

Natural Gut Strings:
Natural gut strings are made from beef intestines.  In order for them to be strings, they are dried considerable and vacuum sealed for shipment.  Never put a wet towel, socks, or any moisture near natural gut strings since this may cause them to stretch or break.  Nothing beats natural gut in terms of playability and feel.  Many players use a hybrid where natural gut is in the mains or the crosses and then a poly in the other.  These strings are expensive and can break if the universe is not aligned properly.  But seriously, natural gut strings are not meant to be durable.  Just like synthetic gut strings, these strings are for players who want extraordinary feel and playability and players who create their own power and spin.

String Gauges:The smaller the gauge, the thicker the string.
The standard gauge (g) for a string that most players use is 16g.  Strings come in all kinds of gauges or thicknesses.  15g, 15Lg, 16g, 16Lg, 17g, and so on down to a 20g, which is a very thin string.  The “L” means that the string is just a bit thinner than the associated gauge number, 1.25mm (16Lg) versus 1.30mm (16g).The thicker the string, the more bite on the ball which results in more spin.  But a thicker string is harder to flex and much stiffer, which affects playability and the impact on the player’s wrist and elbow.

How Often Should You Restring Your Racquets?
The general rule of thumb is however many times you play per week is the minimum number of times you need to restring your racquet per year.  Three times per week = At least every four months.  If you string you racquet and never use it, keep it in a climate controlled room, your strings will lose their tension in 12 months.
Signs you need to restring your racquet:
  • Your strings do not snap back in place after hitting the ball.
  • The “crackle” or make noise when you move them with your fingers.
  • You hear a thud rather than a ping when you hit your hand with your strung racquet.
  • The strings are fraying (synthetic/natural gut)
  • It has been at 6 months or longer since you have had them restrung

String Tension:
If you change the string tension and use the same strings, the strings will play differently.  The higher the tension, the less power.  Too low of a tension, no control.  Deciding which tension to use for your strings depends on the type of strings, the type of player you are, and when you are trying to get out of the strings.  Think of a trampoline, if the trampoline is pulled very, very tight you will not be able to bounce very high.  If the trampoline is loose, you will bounce high but you might bounce off center and have little to no control to which direction you bounce.Generally, you need to alter your tension at least 3-4 pounds in order to notice a difference.  If you have not had your racquet restrung in a long time, a freshly strung racquet will feel much different than your used to since your stings were at a lower tension.
For players looking for more power and spin, generally speaking a string tension between 50-55 is recommended.  For players that generate their own power and spin or just want more control, a higher string tension is recommended.   If you notice that all of your ground strokes are just going past the baseline by 6 inches or so, increasing your string tension 3-4 pounds will bring the ball back into the court without having to change your stroke.  The opposite is true as well.  It may take a few attempts to find a string or strings you like and the tension that works best for you, but once you do it’s amazing!

All of this information is pretty general and can be as complicated as you want it to be.  This article is just a general guide with the hope that it will help players find the best string and tension for their playing style which will hopefully improve their game.  I hope you enjoyed the read.

-          Jeff Heuwinkel