Sunday, September 27, 2009

LEAGUE WATCH: Princeton -- True Story.

So the Early Start ratings came out around here. For the uninitiated, the Early Start ratings come out after the end of the summer league season and alerts you to the rating you can look forward to next year, which gives you time to go through an appeal process. I can still remember the year I opened them up and found I had FINALLY been moved up to 3.5.
I was fairly sure what I'd find when I looked this time, and I wasn't surprised. Still a 3.5. My year was as inconsistent as they come, and I would guess my results at Princeton pretty much sealed the deal. The Early Starts, for me, was the frustrating cap to a really frustrating regional tournament. Read on -- if you dare.
Now, before we went, my team captains had already decided on a lineup for each of the five matches we would play in Princeton because almost our entire team was going and, of course, you want to get everyone in. Sounds good. Well, our lineup was based ONLY on that. I was playing doubles with someone I hadn't played with all year. Our best singles player was on the bench in the first match and none of the successful doubles teams were together. It was a mess.
That was already in the back of my mind on the drive up, and the morning of, when I woke up and found it was pouring outside. The co-captain of our team (and I'll get back to her) called me to tell me we were indoors. OK, I thought. Works for me!
It had stopped raining by the time I made it to the complex where we would play, and it was there the real hammer fell. That was when I found out how the weather would change the tournament format.
We wouldn't play a regular scoring match. No. We would play an 8-game pro set. Yeah.
So, basically, we were made to play an abbreviated match -- to decide which team GOES TO NATIONALS. (Wow, I thought I'd have recovered from this bitterness by now ...) But there was nothing we could do. The decision had been made and play had begun.
Another really brilliant decision made in reorganizing because of the rain was that we would play only one match on Friday instead of the planned two. The second match would be made up on Sunday. (More on that boneheaded call coming up, too.)
Anyway, I was slated to play first singles against the strongest team there right out of the shoot. But I felt OK. I had recently begun taking on a more relaxed approach to my matches. By that, I mean I'd take more time, about three games, to really feel my opponent out and then come up with a plan. I'd decided that even though it was a pro set, I'd continue with that plan. I could afford to lose a couple of early games, I thought, if it came to that.
Well, it came to that. I was down 4-1, and on that changeover, I realized something. "Holy crap. The whole match is almost over!" And I went into overdrive and tried all kinds of tricks. Rushing the net. Drop shots. Slices. High loopy topspin. But in the process, I was making waaaay too many mistakes -- probably because I had one eye on the clock. After one too many missed backhands (and probably the easiest one I had all match), it was over. I'd lost the "match," 8-4. The news wasn't good for the rest of my team, either. None of us took well to the new format, and we lost 4-1.
I hadn't planned on attending the banquet, and I probably shouldn't have. Not because I got too wasted or stayed up too late -- I wasn't even on the Saturday morning lineup. But as I was leaving, our co-captain walks up to me, gets right in my face, tells me in as deadly a tone as you can get for someone who was just dancing to "It's Raining Men," that I needed to be at the courts at 8:45 tomorrow morning. And then stared me down! For real! There are witnesses! Now, we all know that last year, my lateness caused a bit of a problem for my team. I didn't realize that meant I could be scolded like a 4-year-old. I wasn't even in the lineup! So, more consternation.
The next morning, there's a message on my phone from Co-Captain Stalin, saying that I wasn't in the lineup (really?) and that "she wouldn't be upset with me" if I weren't there before 9 a.m.
Well, thank God.
Anyway, I got there to watch my team start three of five matches with a solid lead, only to lose them, and we were out 0-5 when it was all over. Yikes.
The second match, I was at first doubles with a teammate I had never played a match with before. Okay, I've tried to contain my frustration with the lineup thing, but I gotta get it out! I get it. You want everyone to play. Fine. But we are at PRINCETON! Allegedly, we spend ten hours round trip in a cramped vehicle to win. So why am I playing with someone for the first time HERE? And why, with the crappy-ass hand we were dealt, were we not rolling with the punches? In an 8-game pro set, there's no time to get a feel for your partner, and if you screwed up giving her the deuce side, well, then. That's that.
So, yeah, we lost, although we both played well, and had the chance to go up 5-4. My partner had been serving great, and after one of her service games, she walked up to the net, and I went back to the service line to fetch a ball. When I turned around I heard one of the opponents telling my partner, "I didn't want to say anything ..." and I was a bit curious. I asked her what they said, and she answered, "They said I was foot faulting." I could see it really bothered my partner even before her next service game, even though she tried to laugh it off. The next time she stepped up to the line, her serve had lost its sting and accuracy. On break point, she double-faulted AND the bitch, er, opponent called her on a foot fault. I, unlike Serena Williams, held my tongue but I did almost clock her with my racquet on the changeover. (Aaaand, yogahz, it turns out that in an officiated USTA match, an opponent is not allowed to call a foot fault. They can warn the server, which they did, and then they can call an official, who would call a foot fault.) Anyway, it was over from there. We went down pretty quickly and again, so did the rest of the team.
This left us at 0-3 in overall competition, and by extension, out of the running. This also left us in a very interesting situation. On Sunday, we normally would have had one match and then we all break for home. Now, we had two, including the makeup from Friday. Matches were slated to begin at 11 (outside, because now it was gorgeous after two rainy days. Nice. Reeeal nice.), and with the backlog of matches on the day, the second match would probably start no sooner than 3 p.m., which meant we'd hit the road at about 6 p.m. for a five-hour drive home. I wasn't in the first lineup, but I was in the second, and attempts to get into the first match failed. My captain called me and said that it'd be okay if I didn't want to stick around for the last match. Some people would probably debate with themselves loud and long. "Do I support the team?" "Do I leave early so I don't have to drive at night and so I can escape this hellish weekend?" "Should I tell my co-captain that she can stop being a bitch anytime she's ready?" "Should I find the tournament director and give her a piece of my mind?"
I left at 2 p.m., with my team ready to secure our first and only victory of the weekend, which made me feel good, especially because it was against the top team! As I was walking out, though, I happened to notice a little old lady sitting at a folding table, looking official. That was because she turned out to be the tournament director. Piece of my mind, here we go!
I introduced myself and explained to this lady that deciding who goes to nationals with an 8-game pro set was pretty effed up. I told her that I had played a 2 1/2-hour match just to get to New Jersey, and this seemed terribly unfair. She frowned at me and told me that the tournament was going to be finished, which would have happened no other way, although, she said, there was the idea of dividing teams into flights and playing a regular match. At that point, at hearing that there was a better choice, and that it was nixed, I wanted for the first time in my life to hit an old woman. No offense to old ladies (and when I'm one, I'll probably delete this post because I'll be more bitter than ever at that point because I'll probably still be a 3.5), but an 8-game pro-set setup pretty much ensured we'd be sending a bunch of blue-haired to Arizona to represent the Middle States, not necessarily the best team. She capped off her little lecture by saying I just wanted to complain, like everyone else. Then she just turned her back on me and started talking to someone else. True story.
So that was my experience at Princeton. I didn't think that if I made it back again, that it could potentially be worse than last year. Obviously, I'm frustrated with myself for not playing better. I still feel that in a real match, my chances would have been much better. But everyone had to play a pro set, so I can't complain too much. I can complain a little. But not playing for real sucked, and it wasn't worth a five-hour drive.
And then there's the matter of my team. I can't shake my team co-captain being a complete jerk all weekend, and as great as they are during the year, I have to ask myself if I want to still be part of this team. Given a little time, I can probably get past the whole taskmaster 'tude. But what if this happens again next year? I don't want to be on a team that's going to waste their chance at Princeton to let everyone play. And yes, if I was the worst person on the team, I'd feel the same way. I think we could have all played AND done better. It's always tough to lose when you feel like you had a chance to win. Those teams weren't better than we were. We played our cards wrong and got slaughtered. I think we'd make the same mistake again, and therein lies the problem. Is it wrong for me to tell this to my team captain? I'm still not sure, and as of now, I have yet to return a call to her because I don't know what I'll say. I'm still disappointed, and a little pissed. In the timeless words of Tina Fey, "Bluurgh!"
And now? Now, I get into winter tennis mode, in mixed doubles league. Hopefully, put this year behind me and do something about my drop shot, which can also be referred to as a drop lob. And think about something other than tennis and work.

P.S.: I'm watching a commercial for NCIS: Los Angeles. First, does anyone else think LL Cool J is too old to be going by LL Cool J? That was vaguely cool in the 80s. Second, is it now acceptable to come up with one good idea for a TV show, then slap a new name on it and make it another show? This is why I feel there should be a moratorium on new movies and television programs until someone comes up with a creative idea. I don't care how long it takes. Just give me a DVD of "The Wire" and I'm good.
Yeah, I'm in rare form today. I might need a nap.


yogahz said...

I'm so sorry that sectionals was messed up. It really was mismanaged and you had every right to complain to the tournament official. That's no way to determine a contender for Nationals. Thanks for sharing the experience with us, I know it's still raw and will always be a sore spot (PIAA states my senior year...).

The old "I think you're foot faulting" is a great strategy. (kidding) (kind of)

For next year, as my husband says, the only way to guarantee that the team is run like you want it to be run is to run the team, i.e. become a captain. I've never been but he's captained or co-captained every year - but not this one. He's done, there's too much grief.

I'm on 7.0 and 8.0 mixed teams this year and the 7.0 has a beginning-of-the-year policy that it is strictly for fun, everyone plays. We will NOT be going to playoffs. But it might That'll be weird.

Naf said...

Thanks, yogahz. I can't believe I'm still so down about this. I'm really hoping the winter tennis'll beat it out of me. Playing tennis for fun?!? What are you on, lady?
I know it's hard to be a captain – those are hard decisions to make, and I certainly don't envy mine. This was a tough call – last year, we brought 8 people, and this year, 14! You just can't win, even if you do win. I had a friend whose team told her straight out she probably wouldn't play if she joined them in Princeton. That sounds really hard-core and mean, but I guess it's something you have to lay down at the very beginning, that if you get a shot at Princeton, you're in it to win it. But then you lean too far that way, and it's no fun. So I believe I'll just judge from the sideline. :)