Saturday, November 08, 2014

On-court antics: 7.0 mixed

I'm not much of a tennis snob. It's more like being a tennis whore.
I will do anything to play more tennis, especially in the winter. Still, joining a 7.0 team as a 4.0 player might be considered going too far by some.
But here is why I did it:
1. The 7.0 season out here is twice the length of the 8.0 season. There are roughly a million teams, compared to eight for the 8.0 division.
2. I thought it'd be easy. "I'm pretty good," I told myself. "I can carry a 3.0 player. So this will be just like practice for me -- you know, for 8.0 tennis. For the big dogs."
What has happened since is not exactly what I thought would happen. Let's just say it like that. Or we can say that the most certain thing I can carry in a match is my tennis bag. Not that my partner needed to be carried. During the first set of our first match together, I realized he was putting things away at the net, keeping serve returns deep and hustling to short balls. You might ask yourself what I was doing during that time. That is a good question.
We lost our first match in a third-set tiebreak, and three days later, while I was driving to work, I realized that if I had changed strategy, we could have won. That led to my first tennis revelation in some time: I have 4.0 strokes and a 2.5 brain. How many times have you heard someone say that tennis is like chess? No one ever says tennis is like whack-a-mole. But I play tennis like it's whack-a-mole.
So after sitting on the bench for a week, trying to get my head right, my partner and I got the call again. This time, I told myself, it's going to be different. This time, it's going to be ...
3-6 in the first set. For the bad guys. So we changed some things. I took the ad side and served first. We jumped out to a 5-2 lead, and things are going well. Then I noticed my partner looking a bit, well, tired. I'm standing at the net while he's serving and if I hadn't known any better, I would have thought I was playing with Darth Vader.
My partner took to the baseline to serve at 5-3, and I figured Darth wasn't going to make it if we didn't end this set and get him some bench time. So I had an idea. I decided to stand at the baseline while my partner served. I had tried being aggressive at the net, but as he was getting weaker, his serve was making me more of a target up there. Another advantage to being back there was that he now didn't have to run around for balls that had passed me. And because it's 7.0 tennis, it either never occurred to our opponents to hit a drop shot or it wasn't in their arsenal, so we just traded ground strokes until I hustled in to put away a short ball. This, I am proud to say, was all my idea.
We finished out the second set there, and after addressing my toddler's meltdown in the club's restroom, I returned to find my partner looking pretty much the way I had left him. Except now, he began cramping. We started out 1-2 in the third set. Back to the baseline with Darth, who is looking worse than ever. Having said this, he also refused to quit. In fact, he eliminated a lot of errors. I'm not saying he turned into a pro, but he kept the points going and kept putting me in good positions to do what he was doing early -- finish at the net.
But even though he was somehow keeping it together, even while grimacing in pain between each point, we finally had a hiccup, and it was after we had broken the guy's serve to get to 4-all in the third. And I was serving. This was a good thing. I don't want to brag, but my serve is pretty good. OK, it's not easy to attack -- that's fair to say. So this was a good thing. First point: double fault. Three points after that, it's 4-5. This sucked, yes. But it was the woman's serve(, and let me say something right here about you short people who hit flat balls. You are all terrible people. There ought to be a law against people who refuse to put some spin on their ball. Am I right? Am I?? Right???).
Anyway, it was her turn, and I had struggled with her serve, but we made another adjustment -- we got in closer and hit high and deep returns to the baseline, because we realized that it's hard to hit the kind of ball she wants to hit when it's bouncing in your face. Also, she helped us out a little by double-faulting and making mistakes she wasn't making before. Translation: 5-all.
Out comes the team captain to tell us that our match is suddenly timed and that we have to play a match tiebreaker. Now. It was almost 7 p.m., and the match had now been going on for nearly three hours and now it was time for the club to close. Those of you familiar with TWA know how I feel about tiebreakers. But considering that my partner was basically taking a knee between each point, I decided to embrace it for once.
As with the rest of the match, we had a slow start, 1-2, to begin. But once again, my partner surprised me -- he summoned just enough energy to run after a couple balls and keep things going, and boom! A little after 7:15, we won a third-set tiebreaker for a change.
"So what?" you might be asking. "Settle down -- it's 7.0 tennis."
I get it, but I played tennis like it was chess for perhaps the first time in my life! Yes, I got into tennis to hit the bajeezus out of a ball for an hour-and-a-half, but in the time since I started out, I thought it might be nice to also win a match every now and again.
What I learned from 7.0? That I can change the outcome of a match by thinking about what is happening while it is happening. Crazy, right?

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