There's a difficult and annoying player we call Mr. Pick 'n Scratch in all sport and business whom I'm certified to describe, but first a true story.

I just escaped Amazon cannibals in the heart of the Peru jungle in '00, and was medivaced by military helicopter to Iquitos, Peru, where I slid out the copter to stagger into a waterfront bar because a keeper, whom I'd never met, was a rare gringo and I needed someone to talk to.

"I was held captive by the Mayoruna Indians, and this is my first contact with civilization in weeks.'

'Have a beer.'

'I don't drink'

'Have a burger; I served Richard Nixon.'

'Look, I'm not any gringo off the streets. I'm a professional racquetball player and author…'

'And I'm from New York City, and played the hard outdoor handball courts for decades.'

'So what?' I yawned.

'All right,' barked the barkeep, 'Let's have a game here, a verbal match, and if you are what you say, the burger's on the house.''

 "First serve…' he opened. 'Do you have a single teeny-weeny weakness in your game that I can pick and scratch incessantly?'

His boldness drew an honest repartee, "Sorry, there's not a single weakness."

"You're the winner!' he clapped my back. 'And welcome to Peter Gorman's Cold Beer Blues Bar.'

I've been a picker 'n scratcher since childhood in multiple sports and tasks, and claim it's blueprint to success for greenhorns to pros. Here's how to ferret a bidder's follies.

Study his gait into the court, hands during warm-up, and preferable a previous match to identify three major weaknesses… to key later. As you surmise, figure ways to exploit each. Hence, you pick weaknesses before the game, and make him scratch them during the match.

The universal glitches of Pick n' Scratchers hatch counter-strategies in this Pick 'n Scratch Chart:

Weak backhand… Counter with the drive serve, pass, and hone ceiling balls to it.

Slow reflexes… Play a power game of low serves, hard kills and low passes.

Poor ceiling game… Soft serve, and hit defensive ceiling service returns.

Inability to cover front court… Kill and pinch.

Poor conditioning… Test him in early game with extended rallies to determine if he can last an entire match.

Can't short-hop or volley… Soft serve him.

 Hot-headed, or has streaks… Slow it down with ceiling returns, time-outs, and control pace of game.

Fails to watch the ball behind him… Hit kills all day, or down-line passes.

Can't handle wall angles… Try Z-serves, around-world and Z-shots.

Uses soft serves with no hard service… Volley and half-volley the initial serves to ensure he never reemploys them.

Drive serves repetitively, with no second or soft serve…

Ceiling return his initial serves to test his ceiling game, which is usually suspect and yields set-ups.

'Chokes' in hairy moments… Bring the heat into close scores by drive serving and forcing play.

Dives and flicks ball up… Continue your kill attempts as the worst scenario is another set-up.

Wets the court… How did that get in there?

This chart isn't inclusive.

After identifying the imperfections, and exploitations, I like to enter the court and evaluate in the opening rallies if my pre-game analysis is accurate. The reasons: To quantify each flaw, to discover if the rival has a backup to cover his shortcomings (such as running around a weak backhand for a big forehand), and to gauge his early reaction to losing quick points in weak suits he must learn he holds.

One by one, I test the frailties, so by mid-game an overall strategic map unfolds. At this epiphany, relax, and decide either to pick and scratch him incessantly at one or more sore spots until it's all over, or to withhold and re-target the imperfections at crucial and game points.

Categorize the chart components for easy recount, in kind: Flaws in stroke, strategy, or general play. You may, as smart baseball pitchers, keep a journal of recurrent opponent defects with the player names in the left column, the 'picks' (flaws) in the right, and the 'scratches' in the middle.

Some of the top paddleball and racquetball pros had Achilles heels. Charley Brumfield dropped a few national titles with a fly-swatter backhand, and Marty Hogan's power game evaporated during a timeout after you sneaked a slow ball, or pricked the game ball with a needle from your sole. Champs Dave Peck, Mike Yellen, Steve Strandemo and Jason Mannino with superbly rounded games nonetheless went down lacking a specialty in a crux, like a crack ace or freak ball. The most seamless players I've met on the court are Mike Ray, Vic Niederhoffer and Cliff Swain, and, well, sometimes there's as fast a draw and you scratch your britches.

Practice like the pros your own weaknesses until there are none, and then practice your strengths to harden to tournament rigors. If you own a single stellar tool such as a booming serve or persistent ceiling game, then hammer it in early game to jump ahead, leave it, bring it back for big plays, and again for the final points to push the win.

Also, make a study of eclectic players from behind the glass or above the court, and ponder, how would I pick and scratch him to victory?

The first serve is struck! so begin gathering intelligence. Here, a master's experience shines, and you may earn it's no more difficult than to chew gum and swing, while watching.

There's no greater satisfaction in life than to meet and dismantle a superior athlete by funnelling shots to a-Keeley's heel. The next most stimulating thing is to watch a rival wither as he tests and finds no wise cracks in your game.





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