A Zone Never Approached Before 253

I have been playing tournaments for 36 years and have had many exciting moments and lots of wonderful results. For the last 18 months I have hit a level of result success that has amazed me. These results have suggested to me that I have found confidence like never before. I know my game, what I can do and I do it when it counts. I have not been feeling an old feeling of “I wish I could play when it counts the way I play when it doesn’t count.”

Today though was different. While playing for the USA (our names are never referenced in these matches as we are simply known as USA), in a huge match (we had lost the first match of the day and I was carrying the perceived pressure our the team being eliminated from a chance at the finals) against an amazing player, Denmark’s Casper Ruud, a former top 50 player I hit a zone never approached before. 

I was down 1-4 in the first set and being handled easily by Ruud. He had me off balance, rushing points, uncertain about what to do. But I dug deeply. I realized that I could not win this match depending on my speed and not missing. I was playing well and still losing point after point. I realized that I needed to play aggressively. What does that even mean when people say they did it or needed to find the way to do it? To me, today it meant going after my forehand without fear of missing. Holding nothing back with that stroke. Still playing steady but jumping on the first opportunity to take lots of risk. And to attack Ruud on any short ball. And to serve and volley. And to hit drop shots. None of these are part of my normal game. The game that has been winning lately.

For about one hour I played with courage that I didn’t know that I had and found myself leading 6-4, 2-0. But the score was not in the mix for me. I had found that zone of shot by shot. Nothing else mattered to me besides executing a style of play that, until today, I had never unleashed. It was as if I was playing someone half my level who could do nothing to deal with my onslaught. And it wasn’t coming easily. Each game was a battle. I was down break point in every service game. The game to win the first set included three break points and five set points. Ruud would not go away challenging me to continue to play aggressively and FREE. The feeling of how I played was not even present for me until I would sit on changeovers. 

I lost the match 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. I wasn’t able to sustain it. I missed a makable volley at 6-4, 2-0 15-30. It would have given me a double break point to go up two breaks 3-0. A little blip as he escaped that game. I backed off just a hair. I took my foot off the accelerator. I didn’t notice it until I was down 1-4, 15-40 in the third. I was a point away from Ruud being up 5-1 for the match. And then I had a moment. I may lose but I will lose being aggressive again. I will not just try to stay with him. So I broke him. And then I held. He now had to serve at 4-3. Stay fearless. Stay aggressive. There is only one way right now. He played too tough a game and held. 3-5. Needed to hold to get one more chance to break him. Staying with the confidence that going after it was the way, I did. But Ruud was too tough in that game. He got to 30-40 match point. I missed my first serve. Play free, Bob. No fear. I decided that serve and volley on second serve, match point down was the way to go. Win or lose. Go big. Missed the serve by a hair. Double fault. Match over.

I learned so much in this match. I learned that I can play free in the biggest of moments. I discovered that I can serve and volley on a clay court. I learned that I could serve to places in the box that I tend to avoid. I learned that even a great player like Ruud will get put off by being attacked over and over again. 

I will be playing again tomorrow against another #1 player, my sixth in a row this week. The Swiss #1. Not Roger. But still a Swiss #1. I am so jazzed to get out there and play this game again. 

My game is about to hit a new level. It may take some time to find the balance but I cant describe how excited I am to experience the new change. Some of my tennis buddies have written me to counter my comment yesterday that I feel badly that I let my team down. They have reminded me that you never lose if you learn. I agree. This match has been one of learning. What a win!

I am so proud to be doing this on a team that has been bonding and supportive in our joint effort to win the gold. We will be playing off for third or fourth place tomorrow. Not bad at all when we look at the level of teams and players. We are all so lucky to be playing this wonderful game.

Apologies for any typos or any other errors. I am exhausted and don’t even have the energy to proof read this entry.

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