Sunday, February 26, 2017

LEAGUE WATCH: Rounding into form

Last summer, I went out and watched one of my husband's doubles matches and watched as his partner sliced and diced their opponents into frustration and defeat. I said to myself, "Man, I'd never want to play against that tricky bastard."
So guess who's standing across the net from me on my first league match of the season earlier this month? That guy. Along with his partner, who probably beat me in my first league match in Florida. I looked at my partner and said, "This is gonna be a lot like work, isn't it?"
At least he was honest with me. "Yeah. We'll just do our best."
PLOT TWIST: We beat them. It wasn't easy and it seemed as though each game went to deuce, but we won. How? I thought you'd never ask.
This was a morning match, so I wasn't expecting much of my brain, but it delivered in a couple key ways. First, as I warmed up with the slicer-and-dicer, I realized that the best way to deal with his game was to be aggressive at the net. Once those balls bounced, who the hell knew where it was going to land? This sounds easy and like a good solid idea -- until I reminded myself that I'm actually a pretty poor net player. My partner, on the other hand, liked returning those funky shots with some junk of his own, so he stayed back. It worked out, I think, because we both played different styles and it probably shook things up. I also poached successfully early on, which is usually a good time to get your opponent nervous.
Our dual approach shook them up enough that we built up a pretty good lead in the first set. The only thing that could derail us was me making bad shot choices, which can always happen. I don't know. I get this thing sometimes when I start trying drop shots. I hit about 1 in 100 of them. Five of 100 actually make it to the other side of the court. But I am persistent. Well, during the match, I hit another failed dropper, and I told myself out loud: "Stop doing that!" And I did! This might not sound like much, but I actually listened to myself. This was a huge mental step for me.
Anyway, we won, which was a huge confidence boost and one that we'd need going into our next match.
The following weekend, we played the third line of doubles against the top team in our division. And they didn't come to play games. To ensure at least one win, they flipped their lineup, meaning we got their best team and line 1 got their worst. So we had our hands full. I knew the woman -- one of the best doubles players in the league. I didn't know her partner, who, during the first game of the match, hit a forehand so hard that I had no idea if it was in or out and I watching the baseline specifically for that purpose.
So it was a handful, but we built a 4-1 lead early. A lot of that was due in part to our ability to isolate the woman, who was having an off day so far. But then her partner, aware that this was about to go sideways for them, got really active at the net and just crushed nearly everything he touched and we lost that lead and set pretty quickly.
We fought hard, but in the end, it wasn't to be. Still, I enjoyed the whole match -- more than the one we won, even. The quality of the opponent was better and even though we lost, I felt like I didn't wither to the challenge, as I had done last year in league play. I missed some key shots toward the end, but overall, I felt pretty good out there.
How good? Good enough maybe to mark the return of my inner Scrappy.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The U.S. Fed Cup team showed us that yes, you can win and be a loser

I already have fundamental issues about the way Fed Cup is handled. It's squeezed between other major tennis events across the world. Why not a Ryder Cup approach -- every other year in one location?
Well, this year's Fed Cup tie in Maui was threat-level 3 disaster. And if I were the German team captain, I'd default every time in the future I had to face the U.S. team. I'm talking about Williams sisters v. Indian Wells. Overreacting? Well, I don't know. Let's recap:
1. The Anthem situation:
The U.S. had its singer perform the wrong anthem before the opening of the tie. At first, I was like, "Well, that's a big whoopsy!" But then Twitter started losing it, and I realized: "Oh. Germany." It was the national anthem under Nazi Germany." And this guy is belting it like he's Pavarotti! The Germans in the crowd -- including the players -- were trying over sing over this dude singing an anthem that is essentially a humiliating slap in the face. Plus, given the events happening in the U.S. right now with ICE agents dragging immigrants out of their homes -- well, it just seems like worse timing than usual. Especially when there are currently some pretty powerful parallels being drawn between Nazi Germany and the current regime, er, administration here in America.
So, yeah, a disaster. Pretty bad on its face. It was compounded by the USTA's weak-ass apology and failure to explain how this fresh hell happened.

To the fans, too, geniuses.

2. Julia Goerges gets injured:
Like everything else about this weekend, this was completely avoidable. It had been raining most of the first day and during Goerges' match against Coco Vandeweghe, it had started to drizzle lightly again (AS HAD BEEN FORECAST, by the way). The German was down a set and was trying to fight off a 1-3 deficit when she slipped on the damp baseline and crumbled down in pain. After the rain stopped, officials brought the players back onto the court, but rightfully, the German team was like, "Hell no, wethinks." The next day, Goerges can't play. Knee injury. See, this is why we don't just roll the dice when it comes to court conditions.

3. Coco Vandeweghe is a petulant child who is so long overdue for a time-out that she has wet her diaper:
There is a fine line between Tennis With Attitude and just Attitude with nothing to back up said attitude. Vandeweghe is a Grand Slam semifinalist one time over. One (1). On top of this anthem and injury issue, Vandeweghe showed no semblance of sportsmanship, especially not in the pivotal third match of the tie against Andrea Petkovic. Petkovic was up a set and a break when Vandeweghe decides she's got a cramp.
She takes a long timeout for treatment and in so doing appears to completely rattle Petkovic. That's a mental thing, and a thing a veteran should not have fallen for, so that's on Petkovic, because she had a huge advantage in the match. Was Vandeweghe really sick? Well, she came back from this timeout and began crushing balls and flying all over the court. Every time she missed a ball, she pulled up lame. You know, the injury is why she missed.
Even if you subscribe to the idea that Vandeweghe was really struggling out there, you would think that when she came all the way back to win the match, she would be a little more humble in her celebration. No. Nope. NO.
Instead, she crumpled to the court, sobbing, and the rest of the team mobbed her. Petkovic actually decided to walk over to this ridiculous celebration to shake Vandeweghe's hand, but sorry, Andrea. THEY'RE. NOT. DONE. YET. They're busy celebrating their teammate overcoming a cramp. A crAMP.
It's like everything about this weekend in Maui was tone-deaf. (Pun not really intended, but it's appropriate, right??) Because when Riske sent out a congratulatory tweet, well, people had some things to say:

Every second, Alison? Sigh.
Congrats, new Fed Cup Captain Kathy Rinaldi. You've got some class on your hands.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

What's Up Down Under?: What Lies Beneath

Have you ever seen a high-performing athlete suffer a drought and thought to yourself, "Man, he should retire?" I have. But this year's Australian Open has given me pause.
You could argue that it all had to align perfectly to get the Australian Open finals that we did. What if Venus Williams had to play Simona Halep, or Svetlana Kuznetsova? What if Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic had advanced to play Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal? What if the Open were played in February? Or if it were always roof-down? You could do this all day.
But it remains that the reason that Serena Williams and Federer won the 2017 Australian Open against their career-long rivals is because they showed up to compete. If you never try, you never win. If you never try, you never fail. Sometimes failure is not a bad thing, either. The last time Venus failed this big, it was 2009. Nadal last failed big in 2014. To do it again on such a stage, at such an age is a loss, sure, but for them, it could be fuel.
The wins will be fuel for Serena and Roger, too. At some point, they will need to cede the stage to the next big challenger. But why now, when you can still win so big, or fail so big? This weekend gave me a new perspective on the question of when to quit. Some pros quit when they can't win anymore. Which is fine -- it's their call. But what about this new breed of veterans, who happen to believe it's worth the big failures for the (rare?) big win? Is that crazy? Or could they do this all day? If you know that you can, even if it's sometimes only, is it still worth the ride?
I'm asking. I really don't know. But I'm happy to sit back and watch these greats figure out the answer that best suits them.