Yeah, it's how you play the game, and for the first time in a while, I felt like I played pretty darned well in my league matches this week. There's a Pittsburgh Tennis League and a USTA team I'm weighing down this season.
On Wednesday night, I accompanied my PTL team to Mt. Lebanon in the South Hills to play on their wannabe-clay courts. I hate that stuff. To me, it's like playing in quicksand. You take a step, and ground is disappearing under you. That's not right. Either get real clay or make it a hard court. Anyway, everyone's got that fake stuff out here, so I'll have to get used to it. So I'm on the 4th doubles line (for the 'developing' player) and my partner was a girl I once played against at Highland Park, a tennis hotbed in the city. But she was rusty, and I never start well, so by the time I was really ready to play, we were down 0-6 and 1-2 to a very interesting team. Both players were fairly solid, but one of them had a very suspect serve. When I say 'suspect', I mean that the serve w-a-s e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y s-l-o-w. Yeah. I suspected it was a tactic to make the returner go for too much, which is exactly what I did for the first set. I couldn't believe the free point I was about to get, because it never came. Well, in the second set, I began to stand in really close and treat it like a short forehand putaway shot and that worked better.
I also knew that my partner was a very aggressive player, and she's excellent at net. Unfortunately, she was lacking confidence, and found herself in a place I've been this year: no man's land. Not that no man's land. The place where aggressive players go when they're afraid their normal shots will go out and start dinking balls over, but they try to do it with their regular stroke. No man's land -- as in, no man wins that way. Watching Janet struggle made me realize my own issues, and I walked up to her and said, "Listen. I know you're aggressive, just like me. Go for your shots. Don't hit like a punk because you'll regret it." She responded to my advice, and so did I. I began intercepting loose returns and she began burying some of those volleys.
We held off defeat for a few more games, and came pretty close to evening the second set at 5, but we left with a loss and a lesson. Don't be a (insert your favorite derogatory word for a pusher here). Hit the ball, for crying out loud.
Saturday, I was teamed up with one of my team's better doubles players on the #2 string. After Wednesday's match, I was feeling pretty good, and starting to feel more comfortable with doubles. But my teammate, Jamie, and I made a key mistake: I took forehand. I know Jamie, and I thought I'd be better on the backhand side, but she usually plays backhand, so I acquiesed. Well, that first set went fast: 6-1, bad guys. On the changeover, Jamie looked at me and said, "Let's switch." It wasn't that we were playing horribly at that point, but I was once again partnered with an agressive player, and our shots hadn't started falling yet. They fell in the second set. With Jamie pounding away on those forehand returns, and with me holding my own on backhands, we leveled the match with a 6-4 set. (I should mention we were up 5-2, and when it was my turn to serve, I took a deep breath, told myself to relax, and served three double-faults in a row. Yep. Cool as ice. That's me.)
The third set was a seesaw affair, with Jamie and I leading at 2-1 and 4-3, and surrendering the lead both times, until we found ourselves looking down a 4-5 barrel. The last game of the set ended with me taking a nervous swing at a pretty easy serve and burying the ball snugly into the net.
Another loss, another lesson. First, for cryin' out loud, never, NEVER, just don't ever push the ball if that's not your style, even if you're nervous. Second, I'm on backhand. Always.