Tuesday, September 23, 2008

TournamentWatch: End of an era

The last tournament of my summer was the Highland Park Wrap-Up.
OK, so here’s the deal with Highland Park, because it’s probably the one thing I’ve never written at length about. I can’t believe I managed to gloss over Highland Park. Especially because HP players bring the ‘A’ to TWA -- big time.
My husband and I began to come to Highland Park a few years back, and our first event was the “Celebrity Mixed Doubles tournament, always held on Labor Day. The first team we went up against was Dwayne and Joy Woodruff. If you’re a man and a sports fan, yes, that Dwayne Woodruff. If you’re a woman, I’ll tell you who Dwayne Woodruff is as though I knew when I first met him. He used to be a cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1980s (DUH!), and anyone who used to be a Pittsburgh Steeler is royalty in Pittsburgh, even backup quarterbacks and even if they’re now working at the Taco Bell. Except Kordell Stewart. But I digress.
We warmed up with the Woodruffs, and Joy made an offhand comment about how young we both looked, to which her husband replied, “She is, but he ain’t.” Being that my husband’s just a tad older than I am, he took offense and the pissing contest begun. So here’s how our match went. Let’s say Dwayne serves. I return to Joy. Joy hits to Jerry. Jerry tries to blast a hole through Dwayne’s midsection. The whole match was Jerry and Dwayne trying to blast each other into next week. Joy and I just gave each other that “boys will be boys” smile, and we were probably both praying they didn’t actually connect on any of these shots.
Fortunately, Dwayne Woodruff is better at football than tennis, and we won that match. Apparently, guys do that kind of thing for giggles, and Dwayne and Jerry shook amiably at the end.
We found that Highland Park was the only place in the ‘Burgh where you could pick up tennis matches. You’ve still got one foot in your car, and someone on the court’s asking you to be their fourth. This is city tennis at its best. There is: trash-talking, blatant attempts to hit net players with overheads, steady conversations between players and those sitting on the bench during play, and various other goings-on that would get you drop-kicked out of Wimbledon. So naturally, we love it.
But it has its blemishes, namely two courts with cracks big enough to lose a can of balls. That’s why, as I tap, construction crews are removing the fences and resurfacing all nine courts. Which is great, but it’s like replacing your old couch. Yes, the springs are popping up out of the upholstery, but it’s your old couch.
This year’s wrap-up, then, would be the last time to note with annoyance the teeny bump along the baseline of the slow court nearest the street. Personally, I wanted to do well there to mark a high note to a nice season. When I saw the draw, I could see I got some help in that mission. I was seeded first in singles. Then I looked at the bottom half of the draw to find my nemesis, the girl who’s beaten me the last three times I’ve played her. AND she was unseeded. I had to laugh. Apparently, the organizers didn’t know who she was, or she would have been seeded first. Sigh. At least I’d make the final there. My partner and I were seeded second in the women’s doubles and half of the top team was my other nemesis. I have a lot of nemesi – meaning the people who beat me. Anyway, I cruised through the singles draw, and ran smack dab into Nemisis No. 1 in the final.
You know what’s frustrating? To know why you lose to someone and to still find yourself incapable of doing anything about it. I have had a different strategy for each time I’ve played this chick, and this time was no different. I thought deep topspin would make it more difficult to hit her push-y groundstrokes. We would see.
The first game of the match was on her serve and it lasted about ten minutes. When I won it, I thought to myself, “Woo! First strike!” Then I dropped my serve in about three seconds. Yeah. That kind of day. I won a lot of my matches just by running everything down and making my opponent hit one more shot. It was not cool to have it happen to me. Not cool. I played well and valiantly, and even held a 4-2 lead in the second set, but it wasn’t to be. I lost, 6-3, 6-4, but I left with some hope. I thought it was our most competitive match yet.
In the women’s doubles, my partner and I also cruised, but we had one of those “Court of Appeals” (you know, the advice column in Tennis magazine)- moments. So, we’re in a rally in the semis and my partner charges in and hits a volley behind the net person for a winner. We’re like “Awesome!” Then our opponent clears her throat and says politely, “Excuse me (yes, she said ‘Excuse me’) but I’d like to call a let. There’s a ball behind you.” We turn, and sure enough, there is a ball a touch behind the baseline. The four of us, on the other hand, are at the net. Also, the ball, I would imagine, didn’t just drop down from Mars. It had probably been there for a minute or so, and was of no consequence – until that volley skimmed her backside. We argued, not assertively, that you can’t call a let after a point is over – specifically, after you’ve already lost the point. But we were in control, and let it slide. A few games later, we had a date with Nemesis No. 2.
Nemesis No. 2 is basically the queen of Highland Park. She wins just about every tournament she’s in, and although I hadn’t played against her in more than a year, she’s beaten me twice. Naturally, all of us women (heck, even the men – she beats them, too) want to beat her. My partner and I felt this was a match we could win, but we didn’t sweat it too much, either. I’ve been playing with Mavis all summer, and win or lose, we’ve basically laughed our way through every match. We have so much fun, and even when we lost the first set 6-2, we were in good spirits. The spirits were better when we opened up a 3-0 lead in the second set. That set turned out to be quite a tussle. I was serving at 4-3, thinking that if I lost this game, we’d be tied, and then, we’d be just as good as dead. Despite my positive mindset, I pulled that game out, and we won the second set, 7-5.
Have you ever felt a sense of foreshadowing during a match? Even though the score is tied? Well, I had that feeling, and it was after we won a very nervous first game of the second set. I felt like we were barely hanging on, which I guess is what separates the champions from the second-place finishers. We lost the third set, 6-2, but I learned a lesson, I think. First, Nemesis No. 2 didn’t miss a single shot in the third set. She got focused and didn’t let up. Her mind’s like a steel trap, and I want to be like that when I grow up.
So, the last tournament on our old courts was not a complete wash. Got two (runner-up) trophies out of it. But that’s not it for me, although I’ve been ready to shut it down for some time. Winter mixed league is coming up. Can the Hubster and I make it to sectionals? Will we join one league or two? And who will we play for? Tune in next time … (cue Batman music) …


van said...

Hey Naf, what's up? Glad to hear you came away with some hardware (that's what my old doubles partner and I used to call trophies back when I was winning some)! Tough luck with the nemesi, but things'll swing around against them.

Naf said...

Yo, Van! Kudos for making it through that entire post! Boy, that should have been in two parts. Anyway, I'm going into some serious training in the offseason, so hopefully next season, I'll dominate! OK, that might be a little strong.