| By Steven Kaplan
Photo Credit: Getty Images


American junior tennis is in need of saving from the perils of Thanos, Fortnite, cellphone addiction and that obsessive dance called "The Floss." It's time for the agents of U.S.T.A. to assemble the original tennis Avengers to come to save the day. Who would they choose to play the core roles?

Pete Sampras is a natural to play the virtuous Captain America. Pete's reputation as the “All-American Boy” might be a little overstated, but as the reporter said in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance:” “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Bjorn Borg would portray the Nordic God of Thunder, Thor. His speed and overall physicality was truly otherworldly. Soft-spoken, thoughtful Andre Agassi became The Hulk when he crushed a return of serve with fury. If anyone remembers Jimmy Connors' gripping U.S. Open semifinal run at age 39, is there any doubt that he is a quintessential Iron Man?

The incredibly athletic Martina Navratilova defected to the United States as did Natalia Alianovna Romanova, aka Black Widow. The always underestimated, but highly professional, Aussie Roy Emerson would be perfectly cast as the fearless sharpshooter, Hawkeye.

The blockbuster "Avengers: Infinity War" is the inspiration for my thoughts and if you are one of the 11 people who haven't seen it but intend to, stop reading now because there are some major spoilers ahead!

While I won’t address the Utilitarian Consequentialism vs. Deontology existential debate of the film, there are some tennis lessons to be learned from “Avengers: Infinity War.”

Lesson 1: When faced with a difficult opponent, have an end game plan

Dr. Strange seemed to be playing chess with Thanos when he willingly gave up the Time Stone to save Iron Man. He said, "We are in the end game," which is a chess reference to the practice of trading pieces to achieve a final victory. End Game tactics involve giving up less important points to gain more significant points. For example, you might hit a drop shot and likely lose that point, but gain several other critical points later with deep approaches because your opponent is defending the possibility of another drop shot.

Lesson 2: Keep your emotions under control

Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, devised a great plan to snatch the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos which quickly blew up when he let his anger get the best of him. Intense emotions like passion can be a great motivator; however, when handled negatively can turn to all-consuming rage. Remember, your perceived provocation, hurt or threat is most likely just your opponent trying to achieve the same goal you are after. It's not like the fate of the universe hangs in the balance.

Lesson 3: Fear is inhibiting and should be confronted

In the opening scene of the film, The Hulk got his green butt handed to him by the Power Stone-fueled Thanos. After reverting back to Bruce Banner, The Hulk spent the rest of the film in hiding. Fear has the potential to act as a catalyst to conscientious and enthusiastic behavior when channeled positively, but can be paralyzing when not balanced by temperance. Confront your fears on the tennis court with bravery and calm intensity.

Lesson 4: Achieving lofty goals requires sacrifice

Thanos was asked to "sacrifice a soul for a soul" and give up someone he loved to acquire The Soul Stone. He sacrificed his beloved daughter, Gamora, and it was a steep price to pay to get what he wanted. I often remind students that the road to success starts with ambition, but progresses with a willingness to embrace doing what it takes to succeed. It's easy to want to be great, but it's a lot harder to pay the cost of doing what it takes.

Lesson 5: Get the best equipment

Thor spent a good part of “Avengers: Infinity War” searching for a new weapon and forged the mighty "Stormbreaker" with Groot's help. Thor is now at the top of his game with his new retro wood axe. A little extra effort in finding equipment that is a perfect fit can pay enormous rewards.

How about getting Federer to take on Thanos? Nah … it wouldn't be fair!


Steven Kaplan

Steven Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation and executive director and founder of Serve & Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally-ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.