Sunday, June 29, 2008

LEAGUE WATCH: Special deluxe edition

True confessions time: I have no idea what happened at Wimbledon on Saturday. There are other tournaments going on, you know.
That would be the Bob O'Connor Summer Tennis Classic, held in Pittsburgh every summer. All the area's really good players (and hacks like me) sign up, hoping to take home some hardware. So this week has been really hectic for me, but no day was more hectic than Saturday, where my tournament matches and league obligations collided. This meant that at 8:30 on Saturday morning, I had to head out to West Virginia to play with my team. Although we were in first place in our division, we were down a player, which put us at an immediate disadvantage. At stake was an undefeated streak and a trip to regionals in Princeton.
On account of my youth, I am the designated singles player. I'd been winning all season, but I knew that my lack of practice would eventually catch up with me. Guess I was right. My first set against an opponent who poked at every ball did not go well. I couldn't keep a rally going, or move very well on the Har-Tru surface. I lost the first set, but I still wasn't too worried. I told myself I was having a slow start, and I just needed to move my feet and watch the ball better. By the time I was done with that little mental pep rally, I was down 1-4 in the second set. Every time I told myself to take my time and wait for a good chance to go for my shots, I'd dump a serve return into the net. I managed a small comeback, but my opponent served for the match at 5-3. Before long, she got to her first match point, and I did something I've ever done before. I saved a match point! It's funny, because I was already giving myself the "You can't win every match and this is a lesson for you" speech, and was swinging pretty easily by the end. But, as was the pattern in the match, I made an unforced error and faced another match point. And I saved another. This went on for about five more match points, and each time, I was more relaxed, because I figured that as badly as I was playing, it was only a matter of time before she put an end to it.
It wouldn't be any time soon, though. I managed to win that game, and the next two, until I had to serve for the set. And boy, did I botch that game, along the tiebreak. I was a bit ticked over my first loss of the season, but to be graphically honest, I felt like a tennis whore. I completely abandoned my game, and sold out by playing patty-cake with this woman. I didn't go for my shots, and I have never been more convinced that I deserved to lose a match. Unfortunately, because I didn't pull out a win, my team also suffered its first loss of the season. As a team, we're still in decent shape, since everyone in our division has lost already. All we have to do is tighten up for our last three matches.
As for me, I had a one-hour drive to stew about what I did wrong. I knew this wouldn't bode well for my singles final the next day, or in fact, for any of the (at least) two matches I had to play when I returned to town.
At the O'Connor tournament, I had a mixed-doubles match with my husband. He had his hands full in his men's doubles match, which did not go well for him. So we both had a tough start to the day, and before our match I told him, "Maybe we can team up and get a win." At first, we pretty much took out our aggression on our opponents and won the first set easily. Then they began to warm up, and in our overconfidence, my husband allowed me to serve to start the set. I promptly dropped my serve like a hot racquet. The second set got very complicated for us. We got down 2-4 and couldn't believe it. Then my man took over the match by putting away his volleys and overheads with his trademark "Aggghh!" We got back to 4-4, and after I dropped serve again, we finished the set off, and booked ourselves a spot in the final.
But there was no rest for the Naf. Next up: a women's doubles semifinal against a D-3 college player and a weaker, but capable, partner. My partner, who's pretty used to playing big matches, was steady, as usual, and did a good job of sticking to our plan: Hit to the one who didn't play in college, OK? I, on the other hand, came out the gates playing the worst set I'd played since ... since, well, that morning. And again, after that, the belief that we wouldn't win made me play much better, but this time, I began to swing out, and before we knew it, we were up 4-0 in the second set. I supplied the power from the baseline, and my partner placed her volleys perfectly, and the next thing we knew, we were in a third set. I could not believe how calm I was, and I didn't become tense even as we opened up a 5-2 lead in the third set. I served for the match, and still, no nerves. But on the other side of the net, they picked up their game. A couple of nice volleys and a great return later, it was 5-3. Then 5-4. 5-5. Gulp. Seriously, still no nerves, although now, I was thinking that losing this match at this point would really suck. We broke to go up 6-5, and again, I found myself serving for the set. I took a deep breath, stepped to the baseline, and ... lost my serve again!! Third-set tiebreak. At this point, there were no more matches, and the handful of spectators had fallen dead silent. It was an awesome atmosphere, and while it can be nerve-wracking to have all eyes on you, I found that the silence calmed me. Our teams were neck-and-neck early in the tiebreak, until my partner put away a great volley to get the edge. She served for the match point, and when I saw a floaty-looking return, I pounced on it. But the ball hit the edge of my racquet, and set up an impossible (and accidental) angle for the winner. Ugly? Yes, but it was over, and my partner and I were in the finals of the women's doubles open. That was the good news.
The bad news was that the final was next. As in, right after our third-set tiebreak win. The next team included a D-1 college player and her very solid partner. At the beginning of the day, I had told myself that one singles match and three doubles in one day wasn't that much tennis. But seven sets had taken a toll on my toes, of all things. Honestly, though, I still wasn't tired. Not physically, anyway. Although my partner and I pinpointed one player's backhand as a weakness, we still couldn't target it with any consistency. Mentally, we were fried. We lost badly, but we were still happy with our semifinal win. I don't think either of us had given ourselves the chance to win, so it was a sweet surprise. I thought I'd played much better in my doubles matches, which I would have never expected in a million years, considering my longtime preference for singles.
Anyway, the day was over, and overall, I went 2-2. Not bad. And while Sunday was the day of rest for the weaklings at Wimbledon, it was finals day for me. How'd it go? You'll have to wait until I can feel my toes again for the results.


van said...

Naf, I have to tell you: That had me on the edge of my seat! No joke, I actually gasped a little heading into the third-set breaker!

I've only done league tennis once: A couple of years ago, I played mixed doubles and our team was a mess. We rarely practiced, we never kept anything close to the same partnerships—an utter disaster. I hadn't played tennis for months because of a hernia, then when I came back, it was to that!

Anyway, I can't wait to hear what happened.

Naf said...

Yeah, leagues are a mixed bag. I told my team this weekend they were the most fun team I've ever been on. You never know what you're going to get. You should try it again.
I'm waiting for some pics, and then I'll post the results.