My match was scheduled for today at 9AM. I love playing early. Years of giving early morning tennis lessons trained me in being alert on the court right after getting up so, for me, the earlier the better. Of course, I always try spin things in a positive way, so if I have a later match, that is fine too. I get more time to sleep in, stretch and prepare. Whatever the situation, it is always helpful to find the good in it so as to have the best possible mindset for competing. It is hard enough as it is, so starting off negatively is a bad move. For years I have been writing my gratitudes as way to always know that life is good no matter what is thrown at me.
Today, in the round of 16, I played someone who I had played in singles once before. He has been ranked in the top 10 many times and he had no preconceived notions about playing me. In fact, the last time we played I escaped with a 7-6 in the third set win. So he and I both knew that this would be a competitive match. Despite knowing how important it is to treat each match as a tough one, there are times when you just feel certain about the likely outcome. That wasn’t the case today.
I started playing cleanly with a clear strategy to play to his backhand on most shots and got off to a 4-1 lead. I was not missing and was forcing him into errors. I slipped up mentally when I thought that this was going to be pretty routine. In a blink it was 4-4. During the three games that he got back into the match I started to revert back to where I was during practice earlier in the month, getting negative and over exaggerating my errors. Jo Ann was watching and was encouraging me to stay calm. I wasn’t agitated but I was confused by the errors. Well, tennis is a game of identifying what is going on and problem solving. I took my time between points and thought about why. Why errors now? I realized a couple of things. Firstly, I had gotten a little tight, being in my first match in five months. Even though I had been playing well, a little doubt crept in. OK. So I can deal with that. Stop overplaying. Stop rushing the point. Let the play come to me. I also realized that the court was very damp and that the balls had picked up a lot of the moisture. When that happens the ball gets heavy. Heavy enough so that some shots don’t make it over the net or land shorter than intended. So into the net errors and attempts to keep the ball deep turned into long errors. Got it. I can correct that. Let me turn the negative into a positive. Keep the ball short in the court and draw him in. That worked. No more errors. No more overplaying. I got the first set, 6-4.
Once I had that set in hand, I felt much more relaxed and I rolled from there, winning the second set 6-0. I really found my rhythm in the second set. I had good balance between when to defend and when to attack. I played aggressively to conservative areas of the court, taking chances but hedging risk by not going to close to the lines. I played patiently and opportunistically. Overall a good first match of the year. A little wiggle and a good job recentering myself. It felt good. I know I can play better and that is what I need to do in a tournament. Play better and better as the matches goes on.
The high point of the match was a small seemingly insignificant moment. Serving at 4-4, deuce, I missed my first serve and the ball rolled to the adjacent court. The player on the next court rolled the ball back just as I was about to hit a second serve. My opponent, though it would be to his disadvantage, especially at such a key moment, told me to take a first serve over because of the distraction and break in rhythm. Tough and classy decision by him. Pleased to say that, despite wanting the first serve, an advantage to me, I moved the ball and hit a second serve. Hard choice. Good choice. Both of us, after the match, commented that this is one of the reasons we love to compete. It forces you to make choices to be a good person over the desire to gain a competitive advantage. Best point of the match.
Quarterfinals tomorrow. Heavy rain tonight.