A Rookie Plays and Learns 4

I have been fortunate to play International competitions many times. I have grown to feeling comfortable and relaxed when I put on my USA jacket with the mission to bring home the Cup for our country.

My participation in the Canada Cup, an event in which I have participated, on and off, since 1992 was held on the magnificent grass courts of the Piping Rock Club early this month. Each year our good friends from north of the border compete with us for the Cup. It’s is a special competition as many of us have grown up with each other. We share the passion of competition and we share our lives: marriages, children, grandchildren and more.

As the local captain I get to invite new players to participate. Players who are of the right level but who have never played a match representing the USA. With that comes the enjoyment of watching how they manage the experience and the chance to mentor them. After all it was not that long ago that I felt like I didn’t belong in that world. I remember the pressure of playing not only for myself, but for my team and my country.

My good friend Howard Dorman was one of our rookies this year. After the event he asked me when my blog would be published. My answer: “part of your experience is to write about it and I will publish it as a guest blog on my website.” What follows is a wonderful description from a first time player.

When asked by Bob to participate in the IC Canada Cup last weekend, I was so thrilled to be part of an experience I knew I would love.

After some great practice sessions leading up to the weekend it was time for the games to begin. A little unsettled by my first trip to Piping Rock, I recall calling Bob from the parking lot so he could “hold my hand” on the way to the practice courts.

Seeing the first five balls hit to me on the grass bounce one inch off the ground did not do a lot instill a great deal of confidence, but it didn’t take long for me to make the adjustments, and a really fun Friday practice match with Bob and two of our Canadian friends made it clear that this was going to be a tremendous weekend of tennis and camaraderie.

Saturday morning had me partnered with my old mate Adam Rosen and I knew we would be a formidable team, but my lack of tournament play definitely resulted in some pre-match jitters. They quickly dissipated under Adams leadership and tournament toughness. He did a great job and despite playing two crafty opponents, we were never broken and won a hard fought but never in doubt match.

That afternoon I was partnered with a new friend, Gary Antenberg. Gary had a brutal singles match in the morning, but his fitness proved to be no issue as we both wore down our opponents with ease and had a great time while doing it. Playing with another lefty was interesting, and somehow the morning match had put me in a much more relaxed state of mind and this won was never in doubt.
My biggest challenge was getting him to stop watching the ladies singles match on the court next to us.

The Banquet Saturday evening was a highlight of the weekend, as not only did I learn more about the IC but it also epitomized the fun of team competition to me. Meeting all the guys and gals from Canada was amazing, and we all realized how great a sport tennis is to the extent that it allowed us to compete hard and “play hard” at the same time. When Bob told me in the parking lot that we would be playing together the next morning I wished I had one less beer.

While having played with Bob on many occasions we never had the opportunity to compete together. It was nothing short of a remarkable experience. I remember mentioning to him after the warm up that it was the best warm up I had had all weekend. We decided that I would play the deuce court and sure enough my first return of serve was a cross court backhand winner and we were on our way. His calming influence was profound-After a fairly important point that I butchered I muttered F#$K I muttered to myself. I clearly remember him telling me that it was not a time for F#$K, but rather time to focus on the point at hand. What a great lesson. Late in the second set our opponents stepped their games up and I found myself really struggling on my service game. I was feeling that I couldn’t serve. Bob got a hold of me, looked in my eyes and said, “Howard, are you able to hit a serve into the box? If you were playing with your wife, would you be able to make a serve?” Of course, I thought. “You are serving to your wife” Bob kept telling me, but tightness prevailed and I was broken. Sure enough, my next service game proved to be a game changer. I could have lingered in my previous games mode but some breathing and “less is more” approach prevailed and I held as we went on to break them for my third consecutive victory. Bob’s input was worth the weekend alone, and equally impressive as his play. No missed returns, 80% first serve, no panic at any time. An air of joy and lightness on the court combined with a will to win. What a lesson. After all, how lucky were we to be able to share this amazing experience!

All in all it was a weekend I’ll never forget. Great partners, great teammates, great opponents, great lessons to be learned. Can’t wait for Toronto next year!

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4 thoughts on “A Rookie Plays and Learns

  • Abbi Greenfield Neuthaler

    It was Only yesterday when I was hitting with Bill Siegel in Hampton Bays, that we had a long converstaion about the Great Neck North tennis teams, and what a tremendous weath of super stars our town had.
    I reminded Bill that team tennis means that the DOUBLES teams have to win a few to succeed….and shared about OUR “left handed partnership” and guess what, you played the deuce court then as well!!
    As I prepare for a few weeks if grass tourneys in July, I will always remember our team practices in the park and all the great laughs we all had! Toss high howard! You are a giant in every great way!