Monday, October 24, 2011

Hard losses can be tough, for a day or so, but then you have to “get over it”

After an amazing comeback on Friday night – my mixed doubles partner and I found ourselves down 2-5 in the first set, only to rally to win the set and the match 7-6, 6-4 – my men’s partner and I lost after a similar comeback on Saturday morning. Since this latter loss meant that our team didn’t make the playoffs, I took it particularly hard and couldn’t get it out of mind for almost 24 hours.

Even though we started the season poorly (3 points after 2 weeks), my men’s ALTA team had a chance to make the playoffs as the second place team if we took all five lines from the team currently in second, which we were playing on Saturday. Our first four lines won their matches, so it was up to me and partner at line 5 to finish the job. Our opponents were definitely beatable and we stormed to a 3-0 lead before fading and having to break them in the last game to hold on for a 7-5 first set. The second set was back and forth, a long and hard fought affair that could have finished with the same score in our favor, but ended in a tiebreaker, which we lost.

Still, we were confident going into the third set, even though we’d be playing from behind – they’d serve first – but it started out disastrously. We were broken and found ourselves down 0-3, but I reminded my partner that even though it seemed like a lot, it was only one break, and that if we held for 1-3, we could get back on serve with a single break. We held, but then they did too. Now it was my turn, and I hadn’t lost my serve all day. Unfortunately, we lost my serve so that we were now in a sudden death situation, down 1-5 in the third. At this point, I could no longer hear our teammates cheering for us; it was clear that the match was all but over, especially since our opponent with the unusual hitch in his serve – which he hadn’t lost all day – was up.

But somehow we rallied: we broke, held, broke, and it was my time to hold again, which I did for 5-all. We then broke the unbreakable’s serve yet again for a 6-5 lead with my partner ready to serve for the match. Of course, now our teammates were going wild, tasting a playoff berth and cheering for us as loudly as they could, especially after my partner made an incredible diving play to lead 40-15. At this point, I probably should have tried something different. I should have been extremely aggressive and poached our weaker opponent’s return. Something, anything, but instead I let the return float past me, where it dropped softly in front of my exhausted partner, who couldn’t get to it before it had bounced twice. We were unable to hold out and so a tiebreaker would decide it. We won the first point of it on my short angled return, and held my first service point for 2-0. However, at this point, I unraveled: I missed a short return, then lobbed a ball long and then missed an overhead – I went for angle instead of power – and, after losing the next point, we were down 2-4 at the changeover. I then dumped my return of serve at 3-5 so that we were down 3-6, but then won my next service point. At 4-6, I got a good serve in and my partner had a put away at the net, but our weaker opponent came up with an incredible volley off a ball hit at his belly button which passed my partner in the alley and the match was over.

After this 3+ hour match which we’d all but lost before almost winning it, I obviously obsessed about my missed shots in the tiebreaker all day (and night) until I started to remember that my real error was not being aggressive enough in the twelfth game of the final set. I’ve often believed that you don’t change what’s working and we’d gotten to the precipice of winning by being more steady that our opponent. In fact, my partner said “they can’t keep hitting winners” (along with some other inspirational words when we’d found ourselves down 1-5 in the third) and, sure enough, we’d rallied. But after my partner had literally left it all on the court – body and all – to give us that 40-15 advantage, I should have gone all out on the next point myself, or on those three straight points in the tiebreaker, instead of playing faithless (like I did).

What I should have done Saturday after the match is try to remember all the great shots I hit that put us in a position to win the match, instead of obsess on the one’s I missed that cost us the match. It would have helped me to recover earlier. Instead, on Sunday morning, still struggling with regret, I prayed to ask Him to help me to forget, and He helped me to remember that “it’s just tennis” by stirring my memory to recall the incredible experience I had when I heard Chris Coleman speak at North Metro Church a little more than a month ago. God then gave me another incredible gift yesterday when He prompted me to ask my daughter to play tennis with me – for the first time since July – and she said “yes”. By His will, I was able see the game for what it is and what it can be: great exercise and a way to connect with other people.

In the words of Clemson’s college football coach “Dabo” Swinney, after his team had just beaten yet another higher ranked opponent on their incredible 8-0 start to this year’s season: God is great!

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