Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tom Trotter – Fort Lauderdale Tennis Warrior with Inextinguishable Passion

        When we first approached Tom Trotter about this blog profile, the 66-year-old Tennis Fort Lauderdale player was a bit reluctant. He claimed that he lost more than he won matches and therefore unsure if he’d make the cut. Since we had access to Tom’s playing records, however, we knew he was being way too modest. First of all, it should be said out loud that the league is not about winning—IT'S ABOUT PLAYING. And Tom sure does play a lot. These days, he gets on the court four or five times a week, sometimes twice a day. Since Spring 2012, when he joined the league for the first time, he’s played close to 200 matches. And this year, Tom is leading the race for Player of the Year (POTY) with 471 points, which is more than triple the number of points that his closest competitor has amassed. One secret weapon in Tom’s campaign is referrals—he’s made 9 so far, and keep in mind we are only about halfway through the Ft. Lauderdale year. In short, Tom is as close as it gets to the perfect league player: someone whose passion for the game is so strong that it’s irresistibly contagious.

        Before joining the league in 2012, Tom had only played tennis for about a year back in 1975. At the time, tennis enjoyed an upsurge in popularity—this was when the US dominated the Davis Cup for a good part of the decade. Tom never picked up the racquet again until two years ago, when he spotted a flyer about the league at his home court in Hardy Park, and so his recent dedication is even the more impressive. Or perhaps this is also a testament to the league’s effectiveness in getting people to play. As Tom points out, the league provides the right balance between structure and flexibility. Plus, it’s fun to record match results and reference the stats. And not to forget, a big bonus of being on the league is having the chance to connect and compete with other tennis players from all around the country by participating in the End of Year National Tournament at Crandon Tennis Center on Key Biscayne (the same venue where Sony Open is held annually).

        Tom rates himself as a 3.0 player whose primary strengths are his serve and overall sound mechanics: “When I'm practicing my serve sufficiently to keep it fluid and grooved, and I’m getting a high percentage in, it becomes a reliable weapon. Same with my strokes: When I'm practicing them sufficiently, I'm a somewhat more fluid and effective ball striker than most of my opponents at my current level of play (3.0 - 3.25).” 

        Tom nevertheless humbly acknowledges that strong serving and ball striking are just two aspects of competing at tennis. Reflecting on his weaknesses on the court, he says that he often has poor movement due to a lack of energy and stamina. He has Crohn's disease, which can become active for over a year at a time. It often gives him sub-par recovery capability, which can negatively affect his mental state during a match. Despite these challenges, which Tom tries to mitigate by taking iron pills, vitamin B-12, and folic acid supplements, he is still upbeat: “The league provides motivation to play, and the playing keeps me healthy. So, even when I lose a match, I win.”  

        Among the players who have given Tom a hard time (or a great time, if you ask him) on the court are Tatz Tanaka, John Hernandez, and Dan Kerness. Tom’s records against them, respectively, are 1-20, 4-9, and 3-6. According to Tom, Tatz is a 3.5 player who is “good ball striker with nice fluid strokes. He often hits with a lot of topspin, but can flatten the ball out or hit effective slice off both sides. He’s 50, but is very quick, fast, and athletic." John is a 3.25 player who has “a great first serve, and is very hard—pretty much impossible—to beat when he’s getting a high percentage in.” Dan is a 3.0 player and “a tenacious fighter who makes up for somewhat unorthodox form with great quickness.” 

        Did you notice that one win that Tom has against Tatz? It certainly made it onto Tom’s list of most memorable matches. At the time, Tatz had beaten Tom seventeen straight times (!). He won the first set 6-0, then Tom won the second 6-4, and in the tiebreak he hit three service aces to win it 7-3. The glory, however, was short-lived. Since then, Tatz has beaten Tom three times, but there have apparently been enough close points to keep Tatz on his toes! 

        When asked about his favorite players, Tom spewed out a long list of players. Among the retired ones are Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors, Ilie Năstase, Bjorn Borg, and John McEnroe. And among the current ones are Alexandr Dolgopolov, Grigor Dimitrov, Tommy Haas, Philipp Kohlschreiber, and Andy Murray. Given this packed list, we asked Tom what he appreciates about them: “The common denominator among these players is that each has a very unique style of play. What I like the most about the game are the unique nuances of players' stroke mechanics, which are often very subtle. A particular stroking style that results in consistently good, effective shots is for me the most beautiful aspect of the game. But I also pay attention to players' movement and footwork, shot selection, point construction, and attitude. I try to develop an appreciation for and derive the same level of joy in watching these things as I do the way a player hits the ball.” 

        This season, Tom’s goal is to play 30 matches, to learn something from each one, and to win enough matches to get into the playoffs. He currently has played 11 matches (36 percent there) and still looking to win 3 that are needed to make into the playoffs. He has, however, learned something from every single match, and is therefore on pace for a 100 percent success rate in one of his goals. We wish you the best, Tom—those wins are not going to be elusive for much longer! 

Tom's video from the 2013 End of Year National Tournament

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