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Tennis Mastermind: Henri Cochet

Jun 28th 2024

Tennis Mastermind: Henri Cochet

Elegant Master Of The Volley
“Victory comes from finding opportunities in disorder.” - Sun Tzu (The Art of War)

The Tournament In Paris
At three o'clock in the afternoon, the Parisian sunshine reflected off the dusty clay of Stade Roland Garros. There was tension in the air even though the International Challenge Tournament had already been settled. The decisive doubles match earlier had ended the United States stubborn resistance and given France an unassailable 3-1 lead overall.

Now Henri Cochet, standing at the baseline, was ready to serve another game in a largely inconsequential match. It was what the local press had called “match sans enjeu” or a match without stakes. Cochet glances up for another look at his opponent across the net. Ellsworth Vines met his gaze without fear. He was a fine specimen of a man, over 6 feet tall, lanky, speedy, and full of skill and power. He had already made his claim to the top global rankings. Only Crochet stood in his way.

Henri Crochet served. His racket went up smoothly and elegantly. If anything, it lacked his usual conviction. Well, there is nothing at stake, Crochet thought, why even bother? The ball flew like a bullet across the net sending Vines wide to the left. Boom! The return echoed like a cannon in a packed arena. Vine's thunderous return cannoned down the line for an unplayable winner. Crochet stopped mid-stride. He had barely had time to raise his racket.

On The Verge Of Defeat
There was a roar of appreciation from the Parisian crowd who love good tennis regardless of whether it was played by local favorites or not. The few Americans in the crowd bellowed.
“Jeu, Monsieur Vines!” Called the Umpire. Cochet was behind in the decisive set having lost the last two sets to Vines. It was now 2 sets all with Vines leading deep in the 5th. Vines raised his racket triumphantly towards his teammates seated in the stands. They clapped and cheered in response. Finally, they had something to celebrate. Also, a victory by Vines would help keep him at the top of the world rankings. Meanwhile, Cochet hung his head low and walked to the player's bench. 

Cochet tried to relax. He was aware that his teammates had placed a friendly wager on his winning this inconsequential match. Even now he could see concern mixed with amusement on their faces. Someone raised a clenched fist in a show of support. Cochet nodded in response. A loss would be more of an embarrassment at worst but he would try his best. He leaned back on his seat and closed his eyes. As he did his mind went back across the years.

Memories From The Past
He saw himself, once again, in his childhood at the old tennis club in the city of Lyonnaise picking up balls for members. He remembered his wonder and fascination at the elegance of the game, its players, and the ladies who came to watch. He was thrilled by the beauty of it all. As a ballboy, he had an opportunity to get as close to the action as possible. From the moment he first touched a tennis ball, he knew he would become a tennis player. He would work hard to become the best in the world.

He remembered the day Georges Cozon, the Tennis Club President whom he fondly called Uncle Georges, had surprisingly come to the house to ask his parents for permission to offer him free lessons. Uncle Georges had often watched him play late into the evening after most members had left the court. He had always admired the young Cochet's talent and encouraged him with generous gifts. Fortunately, his parents were quick to accept the golden opportunity, and the young boy beamed with pride. The rest was history.

Preparing For Greatness
There were many grueling practice sessions with the young Henri Cochet drenched in sweat but covering the court like a bolt of lightning. Early in his ball-picking days, he started analyzing the game by observing the strategy deployed by different players and weighing one against the other. He knew exactly how he would play in competition if given the chance. 

Cochet wished to be elegant and stylish as a true Frenchman should be. He was already keenly aware of the advantages of coming to the net early in points, avoiding long-drawn baseline battles. Physically he knew that smaller players didn't have the power or stamina to sustain long baseline rallies. The net would be his ally and he would become a master of the volley. And so he practiced long hours tapping balls across the net with Uncle Georges who seemed to understand the young prodigies' clever tactics and good tennis-playing sense. 

Here's a summary of the many skills Cochet developed:

Effortless Elegance - Cochet would move smoothly and elegantly on the court, not for aesthetic reasons but to maintain shot-making efficiency and conserve energy.
Net Domination - Cochet prime volleying and half-volleying skills were needed to pressure opponents and control points by attacking the net effectively.
Fluid Movement - Cochet footwork and court coverage to reach difficult balls comfortably helped him reduce unforced errors and improve recovery.
Master of the Volley - Cochet's strong volleying skills in attack or defense were effective against short balls and drop shots.
Mental Resilience - Cochet was a master of mental focus and composure. This allowed him to make better decisions in high-pressure moments. 


Further Progress 
As the month progressed and with every training session his game improved. Before his tenth birthday, Henri Cochet would start playing occasionally with the more competitive club members. Everyone was amazed by the little boy's skill and tenacity. As a result, he easily found all the support he needed. He received gifts of clothing, equipment, and money from the more wealthy club patrons. Uncle Georges kept a steady eye on his development as the years passed. Then finally the day came, his first local tournament. By that time he was a strong virile teenager of nineteen. There was no fear. He had been calm and focused just like he had been today.

Young Henri Cochet played impeccably in the tournament from the first match until the final day where unsurprisingly he met Uncle Georges as his opponent. Student and mentor went head to head in what was ultimately a novelty match. He still remembered his tears of gratitude in the end as they embraced at the net. He would never forget the pride and joy in Uncle George's eyes.
Even now he could hear Uncle Georges’ voice urging him on. It had been many years since then with many incredible matches and outstanding victories. He had won titles on almost every continent and was already assured his spot among tennis greats.

Victory In Defeat 
“Reprise de Jeu!” The Umpires call jolted Cochet back to reality. Cochet quietly stood up and proceeded to his end of the court. His teammates cheered and clapped in encouragement. But he knew today would not be the day. Vines was a blur of power and precision and he proceeded to see out the match with a salvo of ferocious serves. Cochet scrambled, labored, and toiled but ultimately his elegance would be momentarily lost. The hectic schedule he realized had dulled his reflexes. He fought courageously as always but was a ghost of his usual self.

Finally, it was over, Vines finishing off with his trademark overhead smash to silence the stadium. A wave of disappointment washed over Cochet but it was quickly followed by a quiet acceptance. He had lost the battle today but the war was far from over. He had written another page in tennis history with the French team. The thought came to him as if he had only just realized it, and for sure, nothing would ever change it.

As Cochet walked to the net to congratulate Vines, a warm smile broke across his face. Cheers erupted from the crowd and his teammates. They too had realized that their victory had not been tarnished regardless of the results of this match. They enveloped him, his eternal friends Jean Borotra, René Lacoste, and Jacques Brugnon, legends in their own rites, the camaraderie was genuine. 

They had fought many battles and no trivial wager would spoil this one. The victory was theirs, a testament to their collective spirit. At that moment, under the Parisian sun, Cochet realized that even in defeat, there was a mysterious beauty and a sense of closure. He might have been outplayed today, but his legacy as the Elegant Master Of The Volley would forever remain.