Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The U.S. Fed Cup team showed us that yes, you can win and be a loser

I already have fundamental issues about the way Fed Cup is handled. It's squeezed between other major tennis events across the world. Why not a Ryder Cup approach -- every other year in one location?
Well, this year's Fed Cup tie in Maui was threat-level 3 disaster. And if I were the German team captain, I'd default every time in the future I had to face the U.S. team. I'm talking about Williams sisters v. Indian Wells. Overreacting? Well, I don't know. Let's recap:
1. The Anthem situation:
The U.S. had its singer perform the wrong anthem before the opening of the tie. At first, I was like, "Well, that's a big whoopsy!" But then Twitter started losing it, and I realized: "Oh. Germany." It was the national anthem under Nazi Germany." And this guy is belting it like he's Pavarotti! The Germans in the crowd -- including the players -- were trying over sing over this dude singing an anthem that is essentially a humiliating slap in the face. Plus, given the events happening in the U.S. right now with ICE agents dragging immigrants out of their homes -- well, it just seems like worse timing than usual. Especially when there are currently some pretty powerful parallels being drawn between Nazi Germany and the current regime, er, administration here in America.
So, yeah, a disaster. Pretty bad on its face. It was compounded by the USTA's weak-ass apology and failure to explain how this fresh hell happened.

To the fans, too, geniuses.

2. Julia Goerges gets injured:
Like everything else about this weekend, this was completely avoidable. It had been raining most of the first day and during Goerges' match against Coco Vandeweghe, it had started to drizzle lightly again (AS HAD BEEN FORECAST, by the way). The German was down a set and was trying to fight off a 1-3 deficit when she slipped on the damp baseline and crumbled down in pain. After the rain stopped, officials brought the players back onto the court, but rightfully, the German team was like, "Hell no, wethinks." The next day, Goerges can't play. Knee injury. See, this is why we don't just roll the dice when it comes to court conditions.

3. Coco Vandeweghe is a petulant child who is so long overdue for a time-out that she has wet her diaper:
There is a fine line between Tennis With Attitude and just Attitude with nothing to back up said attitude. Vandeweghe is a Grand Slam semifinalist one time over. One (1). On top of this anthem and injury issue, Vandeweghe showed no semblance of sportsmanship, especially not in the pivotal third match of the tie against Andrea Petkovic. Petkovic was up a set and a break when Vandeweghe decides she's got a cramp.
She takes a long timeout for treatment and in so doing appears to completely rattle Petkovic. That's a mental thing, and a thing a veteran should not have fallen for, so that's on Petkovic, because she had a huge advantage in the match. Was Vandeweghe really sick? Well, she came back from this timeout and began crushing balls and flying all over the court. Every time she missed a ball, she pulled up lame. You know, the injury is why she missed.
Even if you subscribe to the idea that Vandeweghe was really struggling out there, you would think that when she came all the way back to win the match, she would be a little more humble in her celebration. No. Nope. NO.
Instead, she crumpled to the court, sobbing, and the rest of the team mobbed her. Petkovic actually decided to walk over to this ridiculous celebration to shake Vandeweghe's hand, but sorry, Andrea. THEY'RE. NOT. DONE. YET. They're busy celebrating their teammate overcoming a cramp. A crAMP.
It's like everything about this weekend in Maui was tone-deaf. (Pun not really intended, but it's appropriate, right??) Because when Riske sent out a congratulatory tweet, well, people had some things to say:

Every second, Alison? Sigh.
Congrats, new Fed Cup Captain Kathy Rinaldi. You've got some class on your hands.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

What's Up Down Under?: What Lies Beneath

Have you ever seen a high-performing athlete suffer a drought and thought to yourself, "Man, he should retire?" I have. But this year's Australian Open has given me pause.
You could argue that it all had to align perfectly to get the Australian Open finals that we did. What if Venus Williams had to play Simona Halep, or Svetlana Kuznetsova? What if Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic had advanced to play Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal? What if the Open were played in February? Or if it were always roof-down? You could do this all day.
But it remains that the reason that Serena Williams and Federer won the 2017 Australian Open against their career-long rivals is because they showed up to compete. If you never try, you never win. If you never try, you never fail. Sometimes failure is not a bad thing, either. The last time Venus failed this big, it was 2009. Nadal last failed big in 2014. To do it again on such a stage, at such an age is a loss, sure, but for them, it could be fuel.
The wins will be fuel for Serena and Roger, too. At some point, they will need to cede the stage to the next big challenger. But why now, when you can still win so big, or fail so big? This weekend gave me a new perspective on the question of when to quit. Some pros quit when they can't win anymore. Which is fine -- it's their call. But what about this new breed of veterans, who happen to believe it's worth the big failures for the (rare?) big win? Is that crazy? Or could they do this all day? If you know that you can, even if it's sometimes only, is it still worth the ride?
I'm asking. I really don't know. But I'm happy to sit back and watch these greats figure out the answer that best suits them.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

What's Up Down Under: Aussie Anomaly?

I gotta go to sleep soon so I can watch the women's final in the middle of the night, my time. But. Let us discuss the time warp we find ourselves in, and let us just appreciate it.
First, the Williams sisters. Sorry, I meant The Williams Sisters. Serena Williams will likely go down as one of the best tennis players in history, and certainly the best woman to ever play the game to date. She's ranked No. 2 in the world, and that's seriously underachieving to her. You could see her getting this far. Her draw was full of potential minefields and she navigated the ones she faced. Her opponent, though? Well, it's been a rough few years. Venus Williams has had to cope with a chronic disease that leads to fatigue and once she figured that out, well, the women's game had come up a bit. She was seeded 13th, and that seemed about right. Except if you were paying attention to Venus toward the end of 2016. Karolina Pliskova almost won the U.S. Open, but she barely managed to get past Venus to do it, which was plenty surprising enough. Also, Venus is 36 years old.
Oh, and is Roger Federer isn't far behind. Venus has been building up toward a result like this. Federer took the last quarter of the season off because of injury. With the exception of a warm-up tournament, he came into this tournament cold. He is seeded 17th (same number of the Slams he's won ...) and handled business, meaning Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka.
And Rafa Nadal. Nadal showed at the Olympics that yes, he still has it. But will the body cooperate? I guess so. I don't know if you saw the semifinal with Nadal and Grigor Dimitrov (who picked a heckuva time to live up to his potential), but Nadal got outhit at times. The ball didn't bounce his way. But when he did at 3-4, 30-love down, was a life lesson. You go for it. You could be tentative -- play not to lose. Or you could step inside the baseline and hit a perfect backhand and leave your opponent flailing.
What does this mean? Is it an anomaly? Who knows. What it is -- to me -- as the real world slowly drifts off its axis, it means that there is one constant, one thing that is true. It means that if you want something, and put yourself in the position to get it, you can get it. You can only control you. The draws fall where they may and the people left standing put themselves in that position. This time, it true. It's the beauty of sport. I'm gonna let Venus take it from here:

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What's Up Down Under? Seriously. What Is Going On Down There?

Truth time: I have been out of commission for the better part of this week with a doozy of a cold. ASIDE (I don't like to align ailments with current events, but I felt really bad on Friday, but better on Saturday, when I had to go exercise my First Amendment rights. By the way, if you're reading this in another part of the world and did the same thing, thank you. Also, just to let you know, most of us had nothing to do with this. Honestly.) END OF ASIDE. The only thing that's kept me from coughing are cold meds and cold meds have me in la-la-land before 11 p.m. This is really not ideal if you're watching the Australian Open in the U.S.
I'm feeling better. Thank you for asking! But I thought for a second that the meds were messing with me. So I thought I'd run these draws by you to see if I'm crazy or not:

OK. It's 2017 and Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal have a legitimate chance of playing in the Australian Open final. The same is true of Venus and Serena Williams.
There is so much here that I don't know where to start. Like I said, I haven't seen a good chunk of these matches, so I literally have no earthly idea how most of this happened, but I will be catching up! Let's start with what I woke up with this morning. Angelique Kerber lost to Coco Vandeweghe. THE SCORE WAS 6-2, 6-3. I just want to point out that Coco barely beat Genie Bouchard in the second round. So can someone explain this to me. It's almost as if young Americans are trying to be a presence in pro tennis again!
OK! Moving on. We got Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. I picked her to go that far. But barely, because of Simona Halep, who did not make it out of the first round. I'm not even going there right now, because if she had come that far, it wouldn't have made a difference. I have seen a couple of Venus' matches, and she is lighting it up! She is playing the best tennis she has ever played. That's up for debate, but you'd have to bring me some indisputable evidence.
Let's move to the red-stained bottom half of the women's draw, populated by unknowns (American Jennifer Brady), up-and-comers (Johanna Konta) and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Yes. The same Mirjana Lucic who upset Monica Seles at Wimbledon. SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO. This is like Back to the Future XIII, or whichever one they're up to now. Here, in 2017, she's beating Agz Radwanska, the third-best player in the world.
And then there's Serena Williams, who had a nasty-looking draw ahead of her. Had. Because she's in the quarterfinals against Barbora Strycova now, who holds a doctorate at the University of Tennis With Attitude. She is definitely not intimidated by Serena. I'm not saying she won't get her butt kicked. I'm just saying she's doesn't really care who Serena is.
I got to see the tail end of Dominika Cibulkova and Ekaterina Makarova and I had to chuckle at the idea that two people who usually mess with top seeds in early rounds had to play each other. And of course, the lower seed won. Maybe it's just me who finds that funny.
Now the men. Like what the actual hell. This is what I wrote last week about the most probable final:

Novak Djokovic? Lost to Denis Istomin. See what I'm saying about Back to the Future?
Andy Murray lost to the lesser-regarded Zverev brother, Mischa in the fourth round. (Oh. We'll get to the higher-regarded one in a minute.) So yeah. Not so destined to rumble all the time.
Meanwhile, Federer is gliding through the draw like it's five years ago, beating the fifth- and tenth-seeded players with relative ease. People have been asking Federer about retiring the last year or so. Roger, your thoughts?


Now that we've gotten that straight, let's move on Federer's good friend, Nadal. He has recently begun receiving AARP mailers as well. But then I woke up yesterday with this match still looking at me, a few hours after I had dozed off watching Nadal getting his butt kicked. Because Nadal is also not really ready for retirement. He's got some schooling of Zverev boys to do. It hurt me last week to pick Alexandr Zverev over him when I was filling out my draw, but I just didn't see how Nadal, riddled with injury, could mount a real challenge to anyone in form right now. Guess it's time to get the crystal ball back into the shop.
And then there's Gael Monfils and Jo-Jo Tsonga, who are apparently still not receiving the memos that their time as Grand Slam threats are over. Also Andreas Seppi. Like, what is happening here? Have I taken too many meds? Am I actually in the 2007 Australian Open? Next, you'll be telling me that Grigor Dimitrov has advanced further into this tournament than Djokovic and beat a wily veteran to do it.

OK. I am going to sleep now.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

What's Up Down Under with the Gentlemen?

Sometimes, you see something happening for a long time. Like, you see it, but you don't see it. I'm referring, of course, to the evolution of the men's tennis landscape. It has changed. Did you know that? Let's take a look at the men's draw:

Some things worth noting:
1. Roger Federer is ranked 17th in the world. Right, right. I know he's been out with injury and while he's been gone, other men have climbed the ladder, the one he used to occupy alone (with occasional company by Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic). But there is a 17 next to Federer's name at this tournament. Like, what. What does this mean, in relatable terms? It means that Federer's quarter is not really his. It's Kei Nishikori's. It means that Federer's third round opponent is Tomas Berdych, not some tomato can who's wandered in off the street. It means that if Federer wants to get into the semis here, he has to possibly beat Berdych, Niskikori and the world No. 1, Andy Murray. So. The landscape is changing.
2. Have you ever seen "The Dark Knight?" You know that part where the Joker is talking about how he and Batman are destined to lock horns forever?

Damn, that is a good movie.
Anyway, after watching Murray and Djokovic face off in that Brisbane final, I think that they are destined (this season, anyway) to rumble for a lot of titles. Murray lost their most recent match, but not other recent matches. I used to get the sense that Murray didn't really believe he could beat Djokovic before, and now he absolutely believes it. Djokovic acknowledged how important it was for him to win that match, because if anyone is wanting to blink here, it would be Djokovic. This is like watching Federer/Nadal all over again -- one proven dominant player, one dogged aggressive challenger who says really nice things once the match is over, but is not nearly as deferential on the court. I don't know how everything before the final will pan out, but I do believe Murray and Djokovic will be the last ones standing. And there are plenty of obstacles for both men, but it's safe to say they're watching each other closely.

3. There are a couple other players that could bring some ruckus to this party. One of them is Milos Raonic. I still cannot believe he has shed himself of Carlos Moya after the best season of his career. (And it's not like Moya hasn't found himself some other work.) Raonic is now working with Richard Krajicek, who could probably help young Milos take it another step this year at Wimbledon. Raonic has a pretty tender draw. Sort of. There's Nadal, who is an unknown quantity at this point. Gael Monfils? Really, who knows with that guy? Alexander Zverev has promise, too. But this looks like Raonic's table to run. I'd really be interested to see him face off with Djokovic.

4. The other ruckus person is Nick Kyrgios. I have a crazy theory about Little Nicky. Now his season didn't end in the best way last year, and he's not exactly what you would call a fan favorite. If I were going to characterize his status in the eyes of tennis fans, I would say he is basically the opposite of fan favorite. But this is why I think he could pull something off here. It seems to me that he is fueled by haters. There are no more passionate haters of Nick Kyrgios than Australian tennis fans. They think he's a rude punk -- he's no Pat Rafter, and he shows no signs of mellowing into what Lleyton Hewitt has become. And Australians are almost as delusional and desperate as Americans these days for their next big hope. Bernard Tomic ... er, no. Sam Stosur? Hm. Sam Groth? Thumbs way down. Kyrgios is the next big hope and they hate him. So how to really get under haters' skin? Win the home slam and make sure they never forget you. Kyrgios can beat anyone in his quarter and maybe the top half. The operative word is "can." But will he? Is he interested enough? These are things we don't know.

First-round matches to watch:
1. Ryan Harrison v. Nicholas Mahut: Mahut versus a big-serving American? What could go wrong?
2. Mikhail Youzhny v. Marcos Baghdatis: Hello, everyone! Welcome to the 2008 Australian Open!
3. Tommy Haas v. Benoit Paire: TOMMY M&@^(*@(F(#***# HAAS.
4. Dmitry Tursunov v. Radek Stepanek: Hello everyone! Welcome to the 2006 Australian Open!
5. Novak Djokovic v. Fernando Verdasco: Well. This is a nice, easy match to start.

What's Up Down Under with the Ladies?

The 2017 pro tennis season is underway and fraught with dramatic story lines, in both the men's and women's games. Can Angelique Kerber defend her title and her status as the world No. 1? What about Serena Williams? What about the upstarts? And what value can we place on warm-up tournaments?
Let's get right into it.

A few things worth noting:
1. If Serena Williams is going to win the Australian Open, it might have to be one of the most legendary performances she has ever orchestrated at a major. And she just started her season with a loss to Madison Brengle. This Madison Brengle.

So. Serena's first round opponent is definitely Belinda Bencic, who has already beaten Serena before and has a really good game. She struggled with back injuries last year, and if she's feeling better, well, yeah. I don't know. But let's say Serena gets out of the first round. She's likely to face the tricky Lucie Safarova, and up-and-comer Timea Babos. Looming in just her quarter: young gun Naomi Osaka, Dominika Cibulkova (who's always down to ruin someone's run at a major), Caroline Wozniacki and, well, Ekaterina Makarova, who has beaten Serena at the Australian Open before. Now, to be fair, Serena has a dominant head-to-head with Makarova, but, again, Madison Brengle. Should Serena navigate her way through that quarter, I think she's likely to face Agz Radwanska. But there's also Karolina Pliskova up there, and Sam Stosur. Obviously, in the final, she'd be seeded to face Kerber, but it could be Svetlana Kuznetsova, or Elina Svitolina, or Venus Williams or Simona Halep or even Garbine Muguruza, if she's finally recovered from the biggest win of her career, the 2016 French Open. Actually, if she could get out of the first week, you could say Serena's chances are pretty good in the second. But Madison Brengle. I just don't know.

2. A lot of people are really big lately on Johanna Konta, even going as far as saying she could win this tournament. Well, her draw's not real friendly, either. She gets Kirsten Flipkens in the first round. Now, if you are trying to ease into a tournament, work your way into it, getting better incrementally as you play, Flipkens is not really someone you want to see in the first round, as Venus Williams can attest from their match in Rio. Konta's second-round match would likely be against Osaka, who has a ton of firepower. Even if you think Konta could win that, she's in Serena's quarter. She has the same problems! But someone has to navigate them. Maybe it will be Konta. I don't know if I'm buying her yet, though.

3. Ms. Kerber. Sometimes, I watch her play and ask myself, "Does someone actually practice hitting like that?" Sigh. You know what they say, though -- there's more than one way to skin a tennis ball. Wait -- that's not right. Anyway. So Kerber is the obvious pick to advance to the semis here. There are dangerous opponents, but no one that should give her issues before the quarters. (Unless you count Genie Bouchard. I do not. Yes, I know she just beat Cibulkova.) It really does depend on where Muguruza's head is these days. If it's on right, then I'd choose her to win the whole tournament. But Kerber's head appears to be on just fine. She lost her first match in the warm-up event in Sydney, but her thoughts about the result (a straight-set loss to Daria Kasatkina, who is in Kerber's quarter in Australia, by the way), showed some pretty good perspective.

That's light-hearted and cold-blooded kind of all at the same time.

4. There is a lot of talent in the bottom quarter of the top half of the draw. I was buying Halep stock about a year-and-a-half ago. I'm selling now. She's No. 4 in the world, which is good. It's very good. Here's my question about Halep: Would she be top 4 if you couldn't get on-court coaching in WTA events? I'm not going to go on and on again about how much I hate on-court coaching again, but Halep does a lot better when Darren Cahill is talking her through a match. But what about Grand Slam events? Last year, she failed to get past the quarters in any major event, losing in the first round in Australia. But she won three tournaments, including Madrid. So it's a thought -- a thought that if you use a crutch long enough, it becomes hard to remember how to stand on your own feet. Like I say, a thought.
I have thoughts about Venus Williams, too, and they're a bit more upbeat. It looked like Venus really began to build points and consistency last year. Some of her losses last year were spectacular -- not in a "wow, that was a trainwreck" sense, but more in a match quality sense. She started her career as a wrecking ball, hitting through everything and then she seemed to falter when people began to handle it. But in her fourth-round loss to Pliskova, she showed some real balance in her power and strategical skills. Just enough balance that she deserves mention here. She doesn't tend to do well here, but I'd love to see what happens if she and Halep play in the fourth round. And then there's the barber Svetlana Kuznetsova. Her kind-of comeback (she's always sort of been around) has been great to watch. She's a great player and pretty entertaining in case you hadn't heard.

OK. So some first-round matches to watch:
1. Laura Siegemund v. Jelena Jankovic: Just because it's Jankovic. It's the same reason you watch any Alize Cornet match -- for the drama.
2. Kristina Mladenovic v. Ana Konjuh: Konjuh is the one who crashed onto the scene last year at the U.S. Open. Mladenovic has been playing great doubles and not so bad at singles, pushing Serena hard at the French Open last year. Should be good tennis.
3. Sam Stosur v. Heather Watson: Who knows which Sam Stosur will show up? Who knows which Heather Watson will show up?

Saturday, December 31, 2016

This Week with TWA: Retirement and rumination

We'll keep this last entry of the year short. I mean, there's not much to see anyway, and 2016 has in general been the type of year you want to drop-kick into oblivion. So have a great New Year, and ... what? Oh, I just checked my Twitter! We got some things to discuss!

Petra Kvitova: Apparently, 2016 decided to truly unload in the month of December. With it came reports that Kvitova was attacked by a thief who got into her apartment, and her left hand had been cut as she tried to defend herself. That is the terrible news. The very good news is that she's had a successful first surgery on the hand and she's recovering nicely. For once, tennis is not the most important thing here. What Kvitova went through must have been emotionally traumatized and all we can really do is hope she recovers both physically and mentally from this. And also that the bastard who did this to her is apprehended eventually.

Ana Ivanovic retires: Before we get to this, let's give a shout-out to one trend perfected in 2016: the coy social media announcement. Lots of pro players took to it this year, for varying reasons. Most of them used Twitter and Facebook to announce coaching changes (Rafael Nadal, Milos Raonic, who used it a lot for this), Maria Sharapova (to preview a press conference about a failed drug test and suspension, but NBD you guys! See you next year!!) Bethanie Mattek-Sands (for a Facebook Live chat about nothing at all), Victoria Azarenka (pregnancy announcement) and now this.
Ana Ivanovic unfortunately might go down as one of the game's underachievers. She never really seemed to recover from the biggest win of her career -- the French Open in 2008. If it wasn't injury, it was unexpectedly dropping early-round matches in majors. But her talent, especially where her forehand was concerned, cannot be denied. She came into the game as one prong of the Serbian attack on tennis (with Jelena Jankovic and some dude named Novak Djokovic) and can boast wins over many top-tier players. It might appear to be an unfinished career of sorts, but best of luck to Ivanovic. Please don't join the Tennis Channel as a commentator.

Serena Williams is engaged: Look, I'd never heard of this Alexis Ohanian before yesterday, either, but this is almost certainly better than Drake. No offense against Drake, but ... he needs to find himself. Seriously, though, back to Serena, who also announced her engagement on her fiance's baby, Reddit. Can anyone doubt that any children produced by this pairing might create the world's first superhero nerds? Crushing calculus and crime in one fell swoop! Good luck, Serena!

Fast Four: I guess I was hoping I could end this year without a rant directed at the tennis powers-that-be who are trying to destroy tennis. But then I read this story about the Hopman Cup trying out this Fast 4 match format. This is barely even tennis. You have to win four points to win a game. No-ad scoring. Four games to win a set. Play a tiebreaker at 3-all. This is just an exhibition, so this isn't the end of the world. But they're only doing it in doubles, and that's crap. Once again, everyone wants to get doubles off the court. There's going to be an exhibition in Sydney with the same format, and it just figures that there's one participant talking about how great it is:

Yeah. The tennis purist.
You know, if you're going to give me half a match, I'm gonna want half my money back.
*wallet drop*

Thursday, December 22, 2016

LEAGUE WATCH: The Law of Average

When last we left ... well, me during "League Watch," I was hoping to salvage an erratic season by winning the remainder of my matches and dragging my record for the year to at least .500. At the time, I was off of the mid-mark by a match, with four matches left in the season. I figured it would help if I could play all of those matches, because clearly I needed all the help I could get.
Shortly after my post, it became impossible to play them all because, due to work obligations, I had to ditch a match I had been scheduled to play. So that sucked a little bit. Still, though, there were three matches remaining, and if I could win two of them, I still had a shot. But if I could finish the season knowing I at least played well at some point, then it wouldn't be a total wash. Just a partial wash. 
So. Onward to the next match on the schedule, against the second-placed team in the league. (There are three. We are the third-place team.) So the way this particular league works, there are three doubles matches and in lieu of a third set, a third-set tiebreaker is played to determine the winner if needed. Our team had lost each match played this season 1-2, and all the deciding matches were done in a tiebreaker. It's fair to say, then, that we've had some unlucky bounces as it were. It's been that kind of season for me, too. I've felt so close to regaining form, and mostly confidence, only to stumble at the end. 
Back to the match. For once, I knew both of my opponents. One of them was a decent 4.0 and looks exactly like Tracy Austin. That has nothing to do with anything, but seriously. Just like her. I also knew that she had a tendency to double fault under pressure. The other woman is this short lady with excellent form and is probably the most consistent 3.5 I have ever played. I felt confident head-to-head against her, though, and her partner. 
Here's the thing. Doubles doesn't really work like that. And even if it did, "feeling" a way is different from "performing" in a way. My partner and I actually were down in the first set 1-4 and pushed it back to 4-all before giving up the set. That really frustrated the hell out of me, which doesn't happen. I usually have a short memory on the court, which is super helpful if you're playing poorly. Not that night, though. I think all the close calls I'd been having finally caught up and I started the second set colder than a polar bear in Alaska eating an ice-cream cone. And that locked me up. My poor partner. She must have been swearing me off by then. She'd probably already rehearsed the speech she was going to give my captain about how she couldn't ever play with me again "because she ... was allergic to Prince racquets! Yeah, it's not that she sucks!" 
Then we got down 5-2, and I started connecting with shots again. I stopped hitting my returns into the net and started hitting decent groundstrokes and strategic lobs. Why? How? No idea. None at all. And then we were receiving at 6-5 with Tracy Austin serving and giving us all the double faults we could want in a game and somehow we lost the game. And then we lost the tiebreaker after being ahead in that as well. 
I was pretty frustrated with myself. We had all the ingredients -- a good partner, two opponents who were melting down, and if it were a boxing match, we would have had them on the ropes. All we needed was one more thing -- me. I didn't need to do anything special. I just needed to make the shots I was supposed to make and I did it about 50 percent of the time.
Yes, we have a theme here.  
The next match was on our "home" courts and I had played with my partner before. But she greeted me tonight with interesting news: She hadn't played in three weeks, and she left her racquets at home. Nope. Don't know how you can do that. But it was a good thing our home court has a pro shop. 
Our opponents, were, ... So have you ever warmed up with someone to start a match, and they're tagging the ball, hitting these great strokes and you have to start thinking strategy sooner than you'd like because you have to figure out how you're even going to get the ball back? And then when the match starts, they play nothing like they warmed up? Yeah, that. But still they were good enough to keep the ball in play. 
But the first set went easier than we thought and we won it pretty easily. But then the second set was not as kind. We started slowly, which was a bad thing, because my partner began struggling with an injury and it was obvious to our opponents, unfortunately. It became clear to me that winning the match was going to be a challenge given the situation, and maybe that's why I felt great playing for once all season. I was serving well and I was relaxed but focused. This. This was the feeling I'd been hoping to capture all season. Yeah, it showed up in a match I wasn't going to win, but YAS! 
And yas, we lost. BUT. Our team, once again, pushed to all three courts going to a tiebreak, finally won two of them! We won a match! Could we win another? No, because we couldn't field enough players for our last match.

Oh, well.
So,  to summarize, I ended the season with the worst record I think I've ever had, and I ended it playing one of the best matches I had played. What does that mean? Do I need to convince myself before every match that I'm going to lose in order to play the way I know I can? That sounds dumb and I hope it's not the answer because I know I don't have the mental fortitude to play those types of head games with myself. So, in the offseason, I guess I'll hit the courts to try and figure it out. 
Which, it should never be forgotten, is the fun part.