Monday, May 9, 2011

Ever played against a backboard before?

Of course, what I’m really asking is “have you ever played against someone – or a team in doubles – that got everything back?”  Friday night, my mixed doubles partner and I played a couple of backboards, and it took nearly 3 hours to win our match!

Update – we controlled our own destiny in our USTA 7.0 mixed doubles league last Friday night; my partner and I won, and so our team won its division!  Getting there, however, wasn’t very easy even though it started out that way.  During our warm-up, we assessed that – among our opponents – the man was the weaker of the two players.  It was a father-daughter pairing and he (we learned later) was 74 years old; she is a 4.0 rated player who is very steady and moves extremely well, almost freakishly so, which made up for her father’s lack of mobility.  But don’t get me wrong, he was no slouch.

I was filling in for another player on our team that had tickets to the Hawks-Bulls NBA playoff game, so this was the first time that I’d ever played line 1 (this season) and with this partner.  We strategized that we should play him and it worked very well in the first set, which we won 6-2 by taking advantage of his movement (or lack thereof).  We got up a break in the second set and thought that we’d probably cruise to victory, but then played a couple of sloppy games in a row to find ourselves on serve again.

Then, our opponents started playing really well.  They changed strategy, moved him back from the net when she was serving to me so that I could no longer hit at him or have the alley to exploit.  Plus, she started creeping to the center of the court, which enabled her to cut off my partner’s crosscourt shots to him; she hit great volleys either splitting us down the middle or at me.  Lastly, they both started lobbing, something they were both very talented at doing, hitting the ball deep into our court, making overhead winners difficult.  They were both adept at converting our overheads into lobs.  But the most impressive thing was how well she covered the court.  She is both fast and quick.  Despite hitting fairly aggressive topspin lob forehands from corner-to-corner, she was not only able to get there, she was able to hit a good shot back, one that my partner couldn’t poach.  She even hit a winner off a drop shot that my partner hit that should have been a winner for us.

We ended up having to break him to get to 6-all in the second set and then, after getting up 4-2 in the tiebreaker, lost it 5-7 and the second set 6-7.  We proceeded to lose the first two games of the third set before we “righted our ship” to win six of the next seven games to take the match 6-3 in the third.

When you’re playing a couple of backboards, you make a lot of errors.  In fact, I thought I was playing terrible last night until I talked with some of my teammates and thought about the match afterwards.  I was remembering the put-away shots that I missed instead of the half dozen shots I’d made before it which had inexplicably come back and caused me to go for too much out of frustration.  We played some really long points and games even though there weren’t very many deuces in any one game.  In other words, we didn’t have a lot of “ad-out, deuce, ad-in, deuce” etc.  I can’t remember many service games that had more than a couple of deuces.

How did we win?  We cut down on our errors by playing more patiently, waited for an opportunity to involve him in the point again or hit behind her – into the alley or crosscourt – to keep her out of the middle of the court … and my partner played fantastically.  She was able to successfully execute drop shots, angled her shots more sharply, and was solid when they hit the ball at her at the net.  Whereas I usually play with a partner that plays back while I hover around the net – looking to hit an overhead or poach – she was able to hold her own if and when we found ourselves in the reverse court positioning.  But perhaps the most amazing thing about her was that she’d told me, after we’d lost the second set, that she’d had strep throat all week … yet she was able to play 3 sets over nearly 3 hours and was the most solid player on the court at the end of the match!

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