Wednesday, November 09, 2016

LEAGUE WATCH: The battle for .500

I might have mentioned in passing my subpar record and play in league tennis this year. But, as I noted more recently, my results have started to look up a bit. And when I say "bit" you should know that that is exactly what I mean.
I've rarely played two matches this season with the same person, but I have in the past two matches. The first of these two matches was against two really strong players who probably played a little above their rating. This is a 7.5 combo league, a thing I'd never heard of before moving to Florida, but anyway. So one player was a 4.0 and the other a 3.5.
We got our clocks cleaned pretty good in the first set and I had a strategical thought that I conveyed to my partner: Maybe she should lay off the net for a while. Lord knows I always should lay off the net. She was more comfortable up there, but her volleys were not exactly point-enders, so our opponents always were able to retrieve them and stay in the point. I thought it would improve our chances if she played the baseline. But I could tell she was obviously not comfortable with that, so I let it be. "We're here to have fun," I told myself. "Don't put any pressure on anybody."
And even I didn't want to be at the net, I stayed there, too. Same reason. No big deal. It's fun!
Although we competed better in the second set, even building a lead at one point, we lost the set and the match.
Have you ever noticed how you're never more retrospective in life as you are on the drive home after a league match? Everything is so much clearer than it was just 10 minutes ago. Well, this drive was no different. Why didn't I press my partner to stay off the net? Why the hell didn't I stay off the net? I've pulled my own net card a thousand times in a match and done my damage from the baseline. Why didn't I do it, then?
The answer came to me right at a red light. I had taken this "no pressure" approach a little too far. See, I had felt earlier in the year that I was too wound up, too worried about winning these matches, and it made me careful. So I decided that I would focus on having fun above all things, hoping my game would loosen up and I would play well. But now I was putting such little pressure on myself that I was apparently willing to stand at the net and botch volley after volley -- all in the name of not being too worried about winning. Yes, you can say it. That is straight-up stupid. But this was the problem. My inner Scrappy was making occasional appearances in matches, but I was muting her by not wanting to worry about winning.
So how do you fix such a stupid problem? For me, the solution was twofold: Stop beating myself with inertia and -- and this is going to be the fun part -- set a goal. Set a desire. And my goal is not to be afraid to try to win. My goal is to play to win, too. So now I'm going to be happy and have fun playing tennis and I am also going to compete.
But how do you put a metric on such a goal? That answer came later, when I had to endure the endless mocking from my husband, ("Have you ever won a match out here?" "Are you going to the kitchen? Maybe you'll find your backhand in the cupboard.") having lost again. He was looking at his USTA record on the website, which prompted him to look at mine, which I really didn't want him to do. I knew what it was. I had won some, but I had lost even more. I had always prided myself on finishing seasons with a winning record. Now? Two matches below .500.
With four matches left in my season, it's time to put a metric on this goal. I am going to finish the season at .500 or better. And, it was going to start, oh, two days after making this decision, as it turned out.
Due to some communication issues, our next match sneaked up on a lot of people on our team and a couple couldn't play at the last minute, so instead of playing again in two weeks, it was on RIGHT NOW. When I got there, our captain informed me I'd be playing against one of the best players in the county. Yes! Let's get this party started!
I was ready to go, but it seemed my racquet wasn't. Yeah, it was my racquet's fault that we almost got bageled in the first set. I got to play with my partner from last time, and I was still doing the same stupid thing from the last match -- just sitting there at the net, botching volleys. Toward the end of the first set, though, I told my partner I was getting off the net. But I didn't tell her to back off, which I considered, but then something happened. When I got out of her way, she began rushing in and finishing off points. Not all of them, but she was obviously far more comfortable up there. And I was more comfortable back at the baseline. That adjustment basically got us the second set. Now it was on to the tiebreaker, because in Florida, they don't play a third set. Yes, this is terrible, but we'll move on somehow.
We were a few key shots away from winning, but in the end, we lost 10-5, I think. It was a little frustrating, because obviously, once you get that far in a match, you feel you have a chance. But during that revelatory drive home I mentioned, I realized two things: There's still time to make my goal and that I shouldn't be afraid to change things up. Some people, myself included, stay at the net because they feel they should. It's how you play doubles. But tennis is a lot easier to play when you put yourself in a comfortable position on the court. Like so many things in life, we make it harder than it has to be.
So, with that in mind, and more of a focus on strategy and making my goal, I'm starting to feel a bit more Scrappy again. And you should know that when I say "bit," it is exactly what I mean.

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