As I mentioned in my last entry, I participated in the 6.5 Combo District Championships at the Courtside Club in Los Gatos this past weekend. The weather was a factor all weekend. It was sunny, freezing cold (for California anyway) and often windy. Some of the first guys I spoke to were Lance and George from the Claremont Resort and Spa in Berkeley and they said something like, “Hey, you’re the guy from Tennis.com!” It turns out Lance had heard about my blog from Peter Bodo’s TennisWorld and forwarded it to his team as a potential scouting report. When I began writing, I decided to accept the risk of highlighting my weaknesses to others through the blog, but I felt on the plus side it would give me more incentive to shore them up. I was surprised though by how quickly this came into play. And, as it turned out, we faced Claremont in our first match.
I found the desire to record my experiences to share with you on this blog to be curiously at odds with the need to keep returning to the moment. Some part of my brain wanted to leave the moment to form a narrative in my head to write down later, and I found myself frequently making a conscious effort to release those thoughts, just as I had to let go of the awareness of the San Jose Swim and Racquet Club cheering section. I was glad they were there and I enjoyed receiving their support, but I had to resist the desire to interact with them and to register my delight that my wife and her parents were among them. The thought of you all, who ever you are, was with me too and I had to let go of forming the story in my head as it is happening, so I could focus on making my happy ending.
When it was over, I found myself with a mixed bag of moments. Some highlights, some low lights.
Match 1. Mike Ravel and I versus Herb Schreier and Chris Mok from Claremont Resort and Spa in Berkeley. We lost in two sets, 6-2, 6-4
Highlights: This loss didn’t hurt as bad as some losses do. I felt like I was playing pretty well. I was effectively varying my serves between slice, topspin and flat. Mike and I stayed positive and never gave up. We resisted the temptation to share hostilities with Chris, who has a bit of WWF in his playing style. I felt good about this because a) it would be distracting and b) it’s not really who I want to be on the court.
Lowlights: Chris did a great job of taking over the net either with Herb, who was also solid in the forecourt, or by poaching on his own. Mike and I never really dialed in on our passing shots or lobs. In particular, my backhand lob was often short, leading to big overheads from Chris.
Memorable moment: I was pretty offended when, after we broke Chris’s serve he sent a ball between us on a line drive into the fence. My back was turned at the time and I found myself thinking, “How would I respond if that ball had hit me. OK, let it go. Maybe he’ll self-destruct”. There were no hard feelings after the match. In fact we got to the know the guys from Claremont over the weekend and I’ll be rooting for them to do well in the next round in Fresno. In you guys read this, come back and tell us how it goes!
Match 2. Mike Ravel and I versus Paul and Patrick Lam—father and son, isn’t that cool?—from Mission Hills in Freemont. We won 4-6, 6-4, 10-7
Highlights: I bounced back from a break in confidence that I really struggled with for a couple games. Mike did a great job of holding us up when I was struggling. I dug out several tough backhand volleys that Patrick hit down the middle, and I ran down a number of lobs to keep us in and win some tough points. Late in the match I took the net more aggressively to good effect. I specifically warmed up deep backhand lobs to regain confidence in that shot from the prior match and did better with them. I was able to break the feeling of negative momentum when it was going against us and to nurture the feeling of positive momentum when we started to turn the tide.
Lowlights: My serve was not on for most of the match, though I was able to bring a weaker first serve in to close out the match. I struggled to handle several volleys at my body and had a general dip in confidence where I couldn’t find a good feel for most of my shots. I can’t wait to get deeper into my practice regime
Memorable moments: I remember a long point early in the second set where I ran down several tough shots, then closed to the net to attack and win the point. I suddenly felt like myself again flowing from shot to shot and felt this internal certainty. I felt that was a turning point and I smiled and breathed in the feeling and felt this calm, warm, glow spread to my eyes and through my whole body. Periodically throughout the rest of the match I recreated the feeling with a smile and a breath. I’ve heard that the physical act of smiling can actually cause the body to release chemicals that are connected with feelings of well being. Anyway, even now as I’m typing I’m smiling and breathing, and I can feel that calm, confident feeling, like I’m smiling with my whole body. In a tender moment, this would feel like compassion. In a competitive moment it feels like fierce presence, as if I’m saying “I am here and ready. Bring it.” Well, I didn’t mean to wax nearly metaphysical on you, but there it is.
I also remember a point in the tiebreaker when I was trading forehands with Paul and I decided to charge the net even though he’d hit a deep shot to me. It was a sequence just like my pro Ken Dehart talks about. I closed about halfway to the net and did my split-step just as Paul struck the ball. I moved through the volley which Patrick jumped on—he’s lightening fast, with good hands and he knocked the ball toward my chest. I was able to continue forward through the volley and strike it back into his body and jammed him up winning the point. Yes! Effective aggression feels so good! This came at a time when we were pulling ahead in the tiebreak, which I believe ended at 10-7.
It was an exciting weekend for our team, with five wins and four losses and all the wins coming in breakers. I find myself wanting to call out the highpoints of my teammates’ matches, but this entry is already starting to look like a novel. We didn’t do quite well enough to make it through to the sectionals in Fresno, so this season is over. Most of us will remain together on the 3.5 team for the upcoming season, so it doesn’t feel much like an ending. Thanks Captain Keith and the whole team for a great season. Also special thanks to Anna, the U.S.T.A. staff and volunteers for running a great District Championship tournament, and to Courtside Club for hosting it.
Next week I need to squeeze in tennis somehow despite three, all day team meetings; sort out a weekly morning hitting partner; and do some planning for the upcoming 3.5 season.
I’d be interested to hear from anyone out there who visits my blog, even if it’s just to say hello. And if any of you actually saw the matches this past weekend, I’d love to hear any comments or constructive feedback because an outside perspective can be so valuable.
Have a great one!
Next week: Joe talks about his plan for the next season.