Monday, September 19, 2011

Found my game just in time!

After last weekend’s debacle, when my men’s ALTA team lost 4 lines (when we should have lost 2, at most), we lost 3 this weekend. In fact, uncharacteristically, we lost the first three lines. So the pressure was on my partner and I (at line 4) to end the malaise.

Unfortunately, while winning is contagious, so is losing and, after winning the first game at love and having our opponents at 0-40 on their first service game – we'd won the first 7 points of the match! – we lost the next six games, and the set 1-6. What happened? Well, personally, I wasn’t moving my feet. Of course I didn’t realize this until mid-way through the second set when my partner and I were down 2-3. We started off the second set by breaking their weakest server, but then lost our first service game of that set as well. Their best server was next, and we continued to struggle to get into his service games.

After switching sides, it was my turn to serve at 1-2. After putting the ball in play I noticed that our opponents had switched sides. I stopped playing in the middle of the point and announced that fact, which they acknowledged. I lined up to serve the next point from the ad-court, assuming that their violation had earned me 15-love. When they protested, I returned to the deuce court to serve the first point of the game. Innocently, I didn’t really know what the rules were. I knew that if we'd played the point out in good faith, the point would have stood regardless of whether they were on the wrong sides to receive, but since we didn’t finish it, I assumed that there would be a penalty for their mistake. No problem, we played and won the game but then lost the next game to their weakest server (as we had in the first set) again.

At some point, it might have been at 3-all actually, I scrambled forward for a short ball that their better server had hit off of my return of serve and ripped a winner. Though we lost the game, I realized that I hit better shots when I moved my feet, something better players make me do anyway, but against these opponents I was just standing there as the ball came to me and then over or under hitting (or even pushing) my shots back. We ended up winning the second set 6-4 and clearly had the momentum going into the deciding set.

However, the third set played out much like the second in that we were playing from behind – having to hold serve to even the game score each time – and there were no breaks of serve until late in the set. In fact, it was their stronger server, whom we hadn’t broken all day that was up at 4-all. I said to my partner that this was our last chance to break him and that it would probably demoralize them – and the match would be ours – if we did. Their best server had a spinning second serve that bounced very high, one that I can normally drill even with a swing from above my shoulders. However, without moving my feet earlier in the match, I’d lost confidence in my ability to execute the shot. Before his previous service game, I asked my partner for help, did he have any advice about how to return the high bouncing serve? He said to receive it from two steps behind the baseline. I did, and had some success, even though we’d lost that game. This time, I stood deep and hit a powerful topspin forehand after his serve fell into my strike zone. Because of my earlier futility, the net man thought he’d have an easy poach, but my strong shot surprised him and his volley hit the fence behind us. At 0-30, our serving opponent went back to a shot he hadn’t tried since the first set, and he’d obviously forgotten why. He went up the middle to my backhand and I drilled it past his partner by hitting down the alley, the same as I had done in the first set.

With the break secured, I had all the confidence in the world because my partner had been a beast at the net all day. So I stood at the line and hit my hardest serves of the day; the only point they won was a missed volley that my partner inexplicably missed. To get to 40-15, I had to run from the ad-side to the deuce court to get a lob over my partner and, because I'd found that the key to my game was movement, I hit a confident, scorching forehand winner up the middle that surprised both opponents and elicited some cheers from my teammates. Game, set, and match for us even though our opponents won more games (14-13) than we did. Our line 5 was similarly inspired, coming back to win the second and third sets after losing the first, so that (as a team) we doubled our point total from the previous week. If we’ve played the two best teams in our division, there’s still a chance we could make it to the playoffs, otherwise it’s going to be a long season.

Wish us luck!

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