A Little Longer But Even Sweeter
One thing that is unique to playing tournaments is that you are playing each day and that helps you make adjustments day by day. You start to see what you are doing well and try to do those things more. Those parts of your game that are a little dodgy, you are able to try to clean up.
Yesterday’s match had a few wrinkles, like missing some forehand service returns from the deuce side, some randomly selected approach shots that I hit towards the forehand and a few shifts in the rallies off to my opponent’s forehand when the play to the backhand was working well. It is always interesting when there is this tendency to change a winning strategy in order to keep your opponent off guard and from getting grooved.
So before today’s match I thought about those parts of my game and committed to better focus on the forehand service return, hitting my approaches to the backhand and sticking with my tactic of playing my opponent’s backhand.
My opponent, Les Buck, is definitely one of the best in the age group. Last October he won the World Championships in doubles. We had never played and I was ready for a battle. Some matches, like this one, I feel a little fear before playing. It is not a fear of losing. It is a fear of not playing each point with a sense of urgency. If I don’t feel this sense of urgency I can be a little too casual and my focus can be flat rather than laser like. So I started with the urgency on the very first point. I played steady and as soon as I sensed an opportunity to attack I was all over it.
It all came together in this match. I took him out of it early by, often, getting the lead within the games and getting him to press as he had to play from behind. I served big on my first serves and with solid locations on my second serves. I moved really well, getting my racket on all but a couple of shots. When I am moving well I am able to maintain patience as I know It is tough for players to win the point against me. When I am feeling this way I can attack effectively because I do it on my terms.
After winning the first set 6-2 I relaxed into the match and kept the sense of urgency. In some ways it was similar to yesterday’s match. I was not going to give anything away. I kept playing like Nadal, treating each point like the match, competing with Les for each point like the fate of the universe depended on my effort. Second set 6-2.
Great win for me. I have come so far from feeling like I had lost my game one month ago.
Tomorrow is the finals, the 14th straight finals I have been in over the last two years. I am up against a true champion in Larry Turville. He is a five time World Champion, two in singles and three in doubles. I have one win over him in a National Championship final. He has four wins over me, including three on clay, the surface on which we will play tomorrow. At 6’8″ he is a tough out. I am so psyched to play him. It has been a couple of years since our last battle. I love the challenge. I will bring my A game tomorrow for sure.
I will read my mission in the morning and commit to living it from start to finish:
To be an extraordinary competitor who plays, in competition, at the high end of my skill and talent. To love the competition more than I love to win and to accept whatever the outcome with dignity and class. To compete in the moment, avoiding past and future tripping. To compete for each point. To compete with effortless effort. To be non judgmental of myself. To enjoy myself. To be enthusiastic. To be forgiving of myself for my inability to achieve perfection. To see the perceived pressure moments as the sweetest moments. To have every match be an experience where I grow as a player and a person.