Thursday, December 22, 2016

LEAGUE WATCH: The Law of Average

When last we left ... well, me during "League Watch," I was hoping to salvage an erratic season by winning the remainder of my matches and dragging my record for the year to at least .500. At the time, I was off of the mid-mark by a match, with four matches left in the season. I figured it would help if I could play all of those matches, because clearly I needed all the help I could get.
Shortly after my post, it became impossible to play them all because, due to work obligations, I had to ditch a match I had been scheduled to play. So that sucked a little bit. Still, though, there were three matches remaining, and if I could win two of them, I still had a shot. But if I could finish the season knowing I at least played well at some point, then it wouldn't be a total wash. Just a partial wash. 
So. Onward to the next match on the schedule, against the second-placed team in the league. (There are three. We are the third-place team.) So the way this particular league works, there are three doubles matches and in lieu of a third set, a third-set tiebreaker is played to determine the winner if needed. Our team had lost each match played this season 1-2, and all the deciding matches were done in a tiebreaker. It's fair to say, then, that we've had some unlucky bounces as it were. It's been that kind of season for me, too. I've felt so close to regaining form, and mostly confidence, only to stumble at the end. 
Back to the match. For once, I knew both of my opponents. One of them was a decent 4.0 and looks exactly like Tracy Austin. That has nothing to do with anything, but seriously. Just like her. I also knew that she had a tendency to double fault under pressure. The other woman is this short lady with excellent form and is probably the most consistent 3.5 I have ever played. I felt confident head-to-head against her, though, and her partner. 
Here's the thing. Doubles doesn't really work like that. And even if it did, "feeling" a way is different from "performing" in a way. My partner and I actually were down in the first set 1-4 and pushed it back to 4-all before giving up the set. That really frustrated the hell out of me, which doesn't happen. I usually have a short memory on the court, which is super helpful if you're playing poorly. Not that night, though. I think all the close calls I'd been having finally caught up and I started the second set colder than a polar bear in Alaska eating an ice-cream cone. And that locked me up. My poor partner. She must have been swearing me off by then. She'd probably already rehearsed the speech she was going to give my captain about how she couldn't ever play with me again "because she ... was allergic to Prince racquets! Yeah, it's not that she sucks!" 
Then we got down 5-2, and I started connecting with shots again. I stopped hitting my returns into the net and started hitting decent groundstrokes and strategic lobs. Why? How? No idea. None at all. And then we were receiving at 6-5 with Tracy Austin serving and giving us all the double faults we could want in a game and somehow we lost the game. And then we lost the tiebreaker after being ahead in that as well. 
I was pretty frustrated with myself. We had all the ingredients -- a good partner, two opponents who were melting down, and if it were a boxing match, we would have had them on the ropes. All we needed was one more thing -- me. I didn't need to do anything special. I just needed to make the shots I was supposed to make and I did it about 50 percent of the time.
Yes, we have a theme here.  
The next match was on our "home" courts and I had played with my partner before. But she greeted me tonight with interesting news: She hadn't played in three weeks, and she left her racquets at home. Nope. Don't know how you can do that. But it was a good thing our home court has a pro shop. 
Our opponents, were, ... So have you ever warmed up with someone to start a match, and they're tagging the ball, hitting these great strokes and you have to start thinking strategy sooner than you'd like because you have to figure out how you're even going to get the ball back? And then when the match starts, they play nothing like they warmed up? Yeah, that. But still they were good enough to keep the ball in play. 
But the first set went easier than we thought and we won it pretty easily. But then the second set was not as kind. We started slowly, which was a bad thing, because my partner began struggling with an injury and it was obvious to our opponents, unfortunately. It became clear to me that winning the match was going to be a challenge given the situation, and maybe that's why I felt great playing for once all season. I was serving well and I was relaxed but focused. This. This was the feeling I'd been hoping to capture all season. Yeah, it showed up in a match I wasn't going to win, but YAS! 
And yas, we lost. BUT. Our team, once again, pushed to all three courts going to a tiebreak, finally won two of them! We won a match! Could we win another? No, because we couldn't field enough players for our last match.

Oh, well.
So,  to summarize, I ended the season with the worst record I think I've ever had, and I ended it playing one of the best matches I had played. What does that mean? Do I need to convince myself before every match that I'm going to lose in order to play the way I know I can? That sounds dumb and I hope it's not the answer because I know I don't have the mental fortitude to play those types of head games with myself. So, in the offseason, I guess I'll hit the courts to try and figure it out. 
Which, it should never be forgotten, is the fun part.

No comments: