I'm not saying I win them. I'm just saying I play them an awful lot. Sheesh.
Week 8 of my USTA league pitted us against the first-place team in our division. The top two teams at the end of the season advance to the playoffs. So, kind of a big-deal match.
I know the opposing team well. Most of them are my teammates in a city league. I felt that overall, my team would do well. I wasn't so sure about myself. Unfortunately, my opponent was familiar to me. I played against her last year, and she beat me in two close sets. We agreed after the match that it was the best one either of us had played all year.
Basically, we picked up where we left off, playing a very tight first set, until I donated my serve game. Meanwhile, my captain's playing on the next court, and she's not doing well. Automatically, I start doing the math. "If I lose, and she loses, and one doubles team loses ..." (It occurs to me that if I had been taught math using tennis scenarios, I'd be able to do calculus right now. Hmm.) But I refocused and retool my strategy, which becomes ARE YOU EFFIN' NUTS!!?! DON'T HIT TO HER FOREHAND! My subtle adjustment brought instant dividends, and I started the second set with a 3-0 lead. I held serve to wrap it up at 6-3 and broke early in the third for 2-1. It was really hot, and I thought I noticed my opponent tiring. She wasn't running for everything, and her money shot seemed a bit wanting. I led in the third set 5-3, and had, oh, about three match points on her serve. On two of them, I hit my return into the net. The third? Stupid mistake. (I just want to know why I try shots I don't have at the most important time in a match.)
So, I'm standing at the service line at 5-4. Most of my team, and the opposing team, is watching our match, and my captain yells over, "Do you mind if we watch?" I'm like, heck no. It could only help, right? Heh. Anyway, I'm a bit nervous, but I'm trying to reason with myself. I actually thought this to myself: "It's OK to be nervous. It's what you do with the nerves." Who am I, Dr. Phil? I'm serving for the match, and I'm trying to talk myself down. Oh, Lord. So my first serve attempt is the worst miss I've had in some time. It lands practically in front of me. I don't think I have to tell you how that serve game went.
I failed to break her again. I have to credit my opponent here. I got very sloppy, convinced she was tired, and even started hitting to her forehand again, because she had been missing them. Well, she took advantage, and when I served again, now down 5-6 (let me repeat that. I went from serving for the match to 5-6, sudden death for ME!!!) my opponent unleashed a series of forehands that I could barely see, let alone respond to. I was down 0-30, my team's cheering me on, and I just told myself I was going to lose. For some reason, this strategy seems to work well for me. I hit some of my best serves, and held on for the tiebreak.
We traded minibreaks right away, and switched sides at 3 all. I was feeling pretty good about myself. Then I double-faulted. Then I watched a forehand sail past me up the line.
Then, things got really dramatic. Up 5-3, my opponent moved to chase one of my shots, screamed in agony and dropped to the ground. She'd rolled her ankle. I, like a total idiot, went for my tennis bag and brought it to her. There was a first-aid kit inside. I'm not sure how she was supposed to know that. I don't think my babbling would have conveyed that very clearly. Anyway, so one of her teammates is a physical therapist and starts giving her the massage, a-la-Doug Spreen. My opponent was in a lot of pain, so when her teammate wrapped up her leg, I was a bit stunned when she said, "Let's try to finish it up." Okay, I'm going to be real here. I thought the match was over. I just wasn't prepared to play again. We'd been standing around for 10 minutes, hoping she'd just sprained her ankle and nothing worse. So, we square away the score, and I head back over to my side, and my job is simple. I have to not screw up three points. Honestly, I didn't trust myself to hit too many groundstrokes, and I hit some safe serves, and lobbed her backhand side twice in a row to wrap up the match.
Before I get all selfish, she's going to be fine. No major damage done as far as I know (she left under her own power), and if I don't see her again in the playoffs, she'll be the bane of my existence again next year. Now, back to me.
It took me about three hours to convince myself I deserved to win that match, and even now, I don't know how true it is. I was up 5-3 in the third set, and should have won that match three times. I only won, I thought initially, because she hurt herself. That might be true. I reminded myself though, that I'd played well, too, and that instead of flaking out at 5-6, I made it out of that game. But really, who knows? Who knows what would have happened if she hadn't fell? Knowing her, I'll find out next year.
Oh, and by the way, our team won the match! We're back in first place, with two matches left for the season. One's a rain make-up with another tough team. Will we make the playoffs? Will I have to play third-set tiebreakers on back-to-back days? Am I learning to play under pressure? What should I wear?
The answers to all those questions -- and more -- next week in League Watch! (Cue Batman music -- campy version, OK?)