Thursday, August 24, 2017

League Watch: How You Play the Game

For me, league play has been so infrequent that it's been hard to get excited or amped for it. You know what it's like? It's like when the Davis Cup happens. You kinda knew it was happening some time soon, but then it's on TV now, and you're like, "OK, I'll watch it." I used to get jacked for league matches. Checking out all the potential opponents, coming up with game strategy during the warm-ups.
That just doesn't happen anymore, and I think part of the reason is that the competitor pool in this part of Florida is actually smaller than it was in Pittsburgh, which is very disappointing. I didn't come to constant sunshine to have fewer leagues going on. Someone better fix that!
Also, though, I'm busier. I have a few irons in the fire right now and as much as I still love getting out on a tennis court, it's more like a block on my schedule. I just show up to the courts when my captain tells me to and try to have a good time.
So that last part right there, the "have a good time?" I think it's been a bit of a crutch lately, borne of a run of bad tennis. It's been my way of coping with losing -- saying, "Well, it was a good match, good competition. We had fun!" And really it's a shame that the Brooklyn in me has allowed this to go on for so long.
Part of what makes tennis fun is winning. Playing really good competition is another part. And this summer, I've been lucky to play some very high-quality players, especially in mixed doubles. During a recent match, we were playing against a team with a really strong male player and by the end of the first set (which we lost quite easily), I was feeling great. I thought I was hitting and returning well, and targeting the weaknesses on the court. My partner, though, spent half the match denigrating his own play and the other half telling our opponent how great he was. Every changeover was a set of fresh compliments as I stood on the court, waiting for him to remove his lips from this guy's ass. I don't know if it was this specifically, but something shifted in my thinking. I asked myself that day, "Why do I have to be the one to lose?" That might not have been the best time to ask that question -- we did lose in straight sets, even squandering a lead in the second -- but that question has stuck with me
I've been too quick to cede the advantage to the other side, too eager to conclude that they're good, too, so they'll probably win. Que?! And why? Maybe listening to my partner give voice to effusive opponent praise was what spurred this revelation in me, but it's changed the way I walk out on court lately. It makes me lower my chin and get to work out there and it makes tennis more fun when you play to win, not play to have fun.
This year, there's this new division for league play -- tri-level. It's a range of players, say 3.0 to 4.0 and there are three lines, with each line being a different level. So I would play the 4.0 line with a partner against two other 4.0s. So our first match, I was telling myself to relax and have fun. Besides, these women are warming up terribly. Well, the match started and our opponents really surprised me with their level of play -- they were very good. We lost the first set easily, won the second set easily and then came the tiebreak. (You know how I feel about third-set tiebreaks. If not, please consult the right side of this page.) Between my partner and I, we handed over half of the tiebreak points in double faults. That is not an exaggeration. Of course, when we shook hands in defeat at the net, we did acknowledge that it was a good match, a fun match.
Fast forward to this week. I ended up playing against the same two players, although I had a different partner. Of course I remembered how the last match went. And just like that, in either my first or second serve game, I found myself already in trouble, about to drop a game during a tight set. Usually, in this situation, I'll think something like this to myself: "Well, if you lose this game, at least there's the next one." This time, I thought to myself, "I don't have to lose this game." And we didn't. If I remember correctly, we didn't lose any deuce games. And this time, we won the whole match in straight sets. Just that shift in thinking made me feel like a different person out there, and that was fun.
One of my least favorite sports adages of all time is, "It's not how you win, it's how you play the game." Maybe if I tweak it a little, I'll like it more: "Play like you want to win the game?"
I'm liking it.

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