Monday, February 27, 2012

Two ALTA playoff matches won, two to go for a city championship

Our mixed doubles team made it to the city semi-finals yesterday, after two days of great matches in which all eleven players on our team in the lineup contributed at least one point to a victory.

Saturday was sunny but very windy, making it cold for watching and tricky at times for playing. We found out Friday afternoon that our planned opponent had been switched due to another team dropping out, which meant that we’d be playing a team that finished third in their division instead of one that finished second. Shorthanded due to availability, I had to go with a less-than-optimal lineup, but it worked out for us anyway. Our opponent, having found out on Friday that they were in the playoffs, wasn’t able to field a complete team, so we began the afternoon with a line 5 forfeit to start. Since our line 5 was untested, a brand new pairing, this was certainly fortuitous. Having to win two of the three remaining lines (and having 3 courts to use), we started lines 1-3 at 1 PM. Since I was playing at line 3, my partner and I made a deal to not scoreboard watch at all during our match, but to instead remain focused on our match at hand. This was because it didn’t matter what happened at lines 1 & 2, we could lose them both and still win line 4 as long as we won our match.

We were more ready to play than our opponents in the first set, which we won 6-2, and were up 4-2 in the second before our opponents raised their games. Evening things at 4-all and then holding to go up 5-4, I found myself having to hold to stay in the set. Since I hadn’t lost my serve all day, we confidently won the game before breaking our female opponent. Then, it was up to my partner to hold her serve. After going up 40-0, our win seemed inevitable, but our opponent still had some fight and, after some very long points that included both tentative and terrific shot-making, we were at deuce. I think we then went up ad-in twice before finally securing the game and the match.

At that moment, I noticed that my line 2 male was walking across the court to shake my hand; he told me that he and his partner had won, meaning that a team victory was ours. On to the next day …

Sunday wasn’t as windy and the skies were clear, a much more pleasant day for watching, which was a good thing since both teams had entourages. I would remiss if I didn't mention that our line 1 man returned from a winter break trip to help shore up our still somewhat less-than-optimal lineup. Starting 3 lines at 1 PM again, all three of our pairings jumped out to a one set lead, only to lose the second. Since the line 1 match was being played on the nearest courts, most all of the fans were fully engaged in it vs. the other two. Having lead for much of the second set, our pair lost their break advantage late in the set when our man lost his serve. Still, having multiple chances to win it before the tiebreaker in the twelfth game of the set, we were unable to do so. Fans of both teams were alternatively energized and frustrated as neither pairing could capitalize on match or set point opportunities during a tantalizing tiebreaker that was finally decided 12-14 in our opponent’s favor. It was at about this point that the third sets were being decided at lines 2 & 3, so some attention shifted there. Our 2’s got down 2-5 in the third before battling back to 4-5, and eventually losing the set and the match. Our 3’s - playing for the first time together - got down 4-5 in the third, but held to 5-all, then broke and held again for a 7-5 win.

Since it was then time for the 4’s and 5’s to begin their matches, one of which could decide it for us depending upon the outcome of line 1, and I was one of the 5’s, I was unable to watch the conclusion of the line 1 match. I made the same deal with my partner not to scoreboard watch, which was easy to do during warm-up. I was actually feeling pretty good, about to play on the same court as my clinching win the day before, though with a different partner and at a different line, and our opponents certainly seemed beatable. But just as we finished our warm-ups, the line 1 match was decided in our favor and, though I would have preferred not to, ‘we’ decided to move our match to court 1 in front of the fans.

The match started out very well for us as we quickly snatched a break and a 3-1 with me serving for 4-1, which is when my game began to unravel. Whether it was double-faults or unforced errors from my previously unshakable forehand from the day before, nothing seemed to go right the rest of the set for my partner and I, and we lost it 4-6. Having agreed to switch sides if we’d lost the first set, since we’d only played together once before and failed to do it the last time, we hoped to change our luck. But things quickly went from bad-to-worse and, sitting down before switching ends at 0-5 (after losing my serve yet again), I broke a promise to myself and sneaked a peak at line 4’s scoreboard. I was relieved to see that we’d won the first set and were about to serve for the match, leading 5-4. Now somewhat relaxed, we actually had our male opponent serving at love-30, the first time we’d gotten even a tooth into one of his service games. Though he evened it to 30-all a short time later, I heard from the crowd’s reaction that our line 4 had closed it out and we were saved from the embarrassment of losing our line 5 match for posterity (this will be the only record of the event).

So we’re on to the semi-finals this Saturday or, should I say, we’ll be hosting the next playoff match here. As it turns out, our week 3 opponent from our own division will be coming to play us for the chance to advance to the city finals. The best news yet is that we'll finally be at full strength again. Wish us luck!

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