Matches started today at Ramat Hasharon, the Israel Tennis Center. It is the equivalent of our Billie Jean King Tennis Center. There is a major ATP Tour event played here. Most of the courts are hard courts. The ITC decided to build 5 red clay courts for the Maccabian Grand Masters players, as 65-84 year olds can play more easily for 7 consecutive days on softer courts. This is quite a consideration for which we are appreciative.
Although I have been practicing a little each day, my feeling of being at a major tournament didn’t kick in until this morning. The buzz of the event is always exciting. As I looked around and saw all of the International flags, it brought be back to 1985 when I played in the 35 and over Maccabian. I realized that one of the new clay courts is the court I played on to win the gold medal in doubles in a 6-7,7-6,7-6 thriller. That match actually helped me start to believe that I could play tennis at a level beyond my dreams.
Many of my teammates were playing or getting ready to play and I loved being able to share my pre match mentality with them.
I sent this email to them late last night…..
Read your new stories tomorrow when you wake up on the shuttle, before you step on the court and even on changeovers.
Any negativity during the match will take you on a counterproductive trajectory.
Remember that you can fight your butt off for one point, no matter what happened on the previous points.
Ask yourself before each point, “can I compete with this guy for his one point?”
You can, can’t you?
Play within yourself. If you try to be better than you are, you are likely to play worse than you are.
I always remind myself to go on the court and just “be Bob.”
Play like a champion.
Win or lose with dignity and class.
I reminded myself of these key points as well.
Regardless everyone was very nervous, including me, as the first day of playing is often different. I never know which Bob will show up.
After a two hour delay due to a backup in the schedule I walked on the court to play my Israeli opponent. As we were on the side getting our gear out, he told me that he plays mostly doubles, that he plays for fun and that winning doesn’t matter.
We clearly had different stories. I too play for fun but winning does matter to me.
He was pretty steady in the warmup. I felt good. I was not missing at all.
As the first five days are a round robin format with winners of each of the four round robin groups advancing to the semis, we play one 8 game set.
I played mostly errorless tennis. Well I made three errors. Those were the only points I lost.
He clearly was not as good as me but he kept balls in play. I played totally focused from the outset, even though I was certain of the outcome. I took nothing for granted treating each shot with respect. Even at 7-0, 40-love, I ran down a drop shot and then a lob that caught the back line, reset the point, and hit a few more shots to close out the match.
After we shook hands and hugged at the net, he asked me why I tried so hard in that point. I told him that I did it out of respect to him, who deserved my complete effort. To not try in victory against a lesser opponent is disrespectful and condescending.
Tomorrow another day. Even though it is a round robin there is no breathing room. One loss can cost me a chance at the semis.
I love this game.