Monday, May 2, 2011

Controlling your own destiny

Six weeks into an ALTA or USTA season, it’s great to be in a position to control your own destiny going into the last week of the season, whether it’s a chance to win your division or just to make the playoffs.  The final match can be dramatic and exciting even if it’s disappointing.

I’ve played on many ALTA teams where my team’s only role going into the last weekend of the season was that of a possible spoiler.  Most of the time, we’ve risen to the occasion, taken the challenge and tried to show what we were made of by knocking off the top team or preventing another from making the playoffs, stunning our opponents into elimination.  Unfortunately I’ve also been on teams that were so tired of getting beaten week in and week out that they quit, made it difficult to field a competitive lineup or even ten guys and enabled a fourth place team to “take 5” easily vaulting them ‘undeservedly’ into the playoffs on the final weekend.

This season, our ALTA men’s team was blessed to be a position to control our own destiny on Saturday.  We were in second place:  3 points out of first, and 1 point ahead of the only team to beat us all year.  So, our mission was clear:  we had to win 4 points.  Four points against the most dominant team in our division seemed like a tall task, but they were coming to our home courts and we’d only lost one match all season, the rained out week, the week that we’d been missing our top two players.  It was time for redemption; it was time to claim our bag tag.  Yes, there was a chance that the third place team, the only one with a tiebreaker against us, could “take 5” and claim the top spot.  But they were to play the fourth place team:  a team that also still (mathematically) had a chance to make the playoffs, and a team that had taken two points from us earlier in the season.  But even if that improbably happened, we’d still make the playoffs as the second place team if we took 4 points.  So, our destiny was in our hands.

Watching the first set of line 1 play, it was easy to assume that we wouldn’t be winning that point.  Our opponent had a firebrand youngster with a big game playing with a powerful veteran.  But the newest members of our team were playing some of their best tennis of the year; they outsmarted their foes by mixing it up, taking some pace off the ball, and playing steadier than their opponents.  Incredibly, we won line 1.  Our line 2’s had only lost once all season, and were our only line to win against the third place team that was on our heels.  But our opponent’s second line was a wily couple of veterans (one was 65 years old!) that complemented each other perfectly, and our guys were stunned in two sets.  My partner and I (at line 3) played sloppily at first, but recovered to win in two tight sets, while our fours dominated their opponents.  So it came down to line 5.  We won the first set, but were unable to play as well over the course of the next two sets, so our team took 3 points.  Our destiny was now in the hands of others.

For whatever reason, the third place team’s captain didn’t put in their ALTA scores until about 5 PM on Saturday; so we were on pins and needles all afternoon.  Unfortunately, they took 4 points; we tied with them for second place and hence failed to make the playoffs.  So close, and yet so far.  If we’d have won just one more – out of the eleven we’d lost over 5 weekends during the season – point, we’d have been the first place bag tag winning team.  As it stands, we missed it by “that” much.

Fortunately my USTA mixed team controls its destiny going into our final match this Friday; wish us luck!

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