Player Profiles: David Keevins and Brian Uihlein

Alex Bancila interviews The King of Spin at the 2014 Chicago Charities
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David Keevins David Keevins

It seems that David Keevins must have grown up with a racquet in his hand. At 18, he received a full scholarship to play tennis at the University of Kentucky. By the end of his senior year, he was ranked #37 nationally in singles.

After earning his MBA from the University of Chicago, David was burned out on tennis. He explained, ‘Tennis no longer interested me. Someone suggested platform tennis so my dad and I went to our club (Tennaqua) and played. We both liked it. I was hooked.”

David knew Brian Uihlein from junior tennis. About ten years ago, Brian and John Hough began inviting David to play in their platform tennis practice games. They have been practicing ever since.

Comparing his tennis background to platform tennis, David said, “Paddle is a game of mistakes. Power has less of a premium, just look at the lobbing nature of the game.” He added, “In tennis, sometimes one break is all a person needs to win a set and two breaks almost certainly ensures winning a set – especially if the tennis player has a big serve. Not so in paddle. I have lost my share of sets after being up 5-0 or 5-1.”

Asked why he liked platform tennis, David said, “My three favorite aspects of platform tennis are: First, it is a great cure for cabin fever. There is nothing better than being outside in the winter time. Second is the people. Some of my closest friends I have met through platform. Third is the social nature of the game. Although everyone tries hard and competes well, no one seems to lose sight of having fun and sharing a drink after the game.

Not a natural volleyer, David had to work hard on that aspect of his game. He said, “I knew if I wanted to compete at a higher level there were two parts to my game that needed to really improve. The first was my volley and the second was my lob.” David was lucky to have two practice partners for one-on-one-type drilling – his wife Kristin and his friend and mentor, Craig Wilson.

Before Short Hills and the Nationals, David and Brian played a warm-up tournament – the Illinois States. They were pressed along the way and wound up losing in the semi finals to their good friends Peter Berka and Ed Granger. David recalled, “The next day we talked about the match and one very obvious conclusion was that my lobs were way too short. We never got a good look at a drive because they were always hitting overheads two feet from the net. Brian suggested we take few lunch hours and do some lobbing drills.” He added, “Even in practice I was really struggling. I was focusing on height (trying to hit my lob sky high) as opposed to depth (five feet behind the service line).”

It just so happens that as they were drilling, the pro at Onwentsia Club, Rod Workman, was walking by the courts. Brian said, “Hey Rodney, how do you teach the lob?” Without skipping a beat, Rod fired back, “The lob? That’s easy. Cup of water. Pretend you have a cup of water on the face of the paddle. Get the paddle below the ball, having the paddle face parallel to the ground. If you don’t extend straight up toward the sky, keeping the paddle face parallel to the ground during contact, the cup of water will spill. Cup of water, baby!”

From that moment on, David’s lobs improved. More importantly, he became just as excited about a good, deep lob as he did a big forehand drive. David concluded, “Drilling is key. Craig Wilson can attest we did a lot of lob / drive drills the three weeks leading up to the nationals.”

Asked about the transition from tennis, David feels that tennis players should try as quickly as possible to leave their tennis instincts behind (not their tennis skills, but their approach to the game). He said, “Tennis players need to become comfortable letting the ball go to the screen and lob it back. I see too many new (and even veterans) try and block hard overheads and drives from the baseline, as opposed to letting the ball hit the screen and have an easy lob back.”

Looking back at his stellar year, David said, “Brian and I went 16-1 over three national ranking tournaments with victories at Short Hills and the Nationals. Never in my wildest paddle dreams did I think I would ever be part of a team that could have that sort of a Cinderella season.”

Discussing his health, David said, “After some bad knee injuries over the past seven years, the greatest pleasure for me is just being out on the court.” He added, “In the future I would like to see trying to spread the National Tournament over three days — perhaps play the first round or two late Friday afternoon / evening. I understand the logistics of this are challenging but having to play five matches on Saturday (for many teams) is extremely hard on the body.”

David concluded that he reads PTM religiously – particularly enjoying the features and instructional articles.

Known by his peers as the most offensive player in platform tennis, Brian first started playing platform tennis in his early 20′s after graduating from the University of Minnesota. In college, Brian was an All-american tennis player, ending up ranked #3 in the country senior year!

Brian was intrigued by the strategy of paddle tennis. He said, “There are a lot of different shots and strategies that occur in a match.” He added, “When you are playing well you can anticipate how the point is played out 3-5 shots ahead of time. In tennis the rallies are so short.”

Asked what he enjoys about playing platform tennis he smiled and said, “I like frustrating people with spin overheads, hitting a great deep lob, winning volley exchanges at net, and definitely winning.”

Brian plays twice a week because he feels that if he only played once a week he wouldn’t get used to seeing the ball very well. “1 do drills a couple of times a year especially before a tournament.” He smiled and referred to his friend Peter Berka’s new book and said, “I also try to read Winter Warriors before each tournament.”

Asked how the average player can improve, he said, “For newcomers I would try to play with people that are better than you and ask them their strategies. Some of the best advice I have received has come from Rich Maier, Bill Fielder, etc.

Brian’s spin overheads have dominated the tour for years even though he just earned his first National Title. Looking towards the future, Brian said, “I hope my shoulder doesn’t fall off and that I can continue to play three tournaments per year.” He added, “I think paddle is a great game and would like to see the game continue to grow. It is a very social game that really helps pass the winters by and make some great friends.”

Asked about making improvements to the game, Brian said, “I think the APTA has done a good job of growing the game. I hope they continue to make decisions in the future based on the growth of the game.” He added, “I would like to see the game change to reward aggressive play.” Elaborating further, he said, “I don’t know how you can do it but I don’t think having people being able to hit back 50 lobs is fun for people to watch. I would love to see the ball take spin even more. Obviously I am biased but I remember actually being able to cut some of the old balls in half. It makes it pretty hard to retrieve a ball that ends up in two pieces lying on the ground.”

Brian concluded by talking about shortening the number of rounds played per day in tournaments. He said, “Short hills is a great format for me. Trying to play five matches in one day at the Nationals took a few years off my life.”

Source: Platform Tennis Magazine, Vol7. Issue 5, April, 2006