Sometimes You Just Need to Lose to Win


Losing to Kasper Ruud on Thursday was just what I needed. My past successes have come as a result of my finding a way to play that kept working. Mostly I had found that maintaining presence shot by shot worked. My presence was one of using my fitness and speed to get to nearly every ball, to reduce errors to very few and to, every now and then, hit a little bigger on my forehand. I had become “a very tough player to win a point from.” That was how I defined myself. 

Playing on the slow red clay in Umag I met experienced European players who could stay with me. I felt lost as I was losing more points than usual for me. I questioned whether I was playing well. In the match against Ruud, when down 1-4 (which is the farthest I had been down in quite some time), I forced myself to change from a long time winning game plan to a style that that I knew, intellectually, was the only way that might turn things around. Interestingly, my team of Brent, Steve, Geoff and Jo Ann had been telling me all week to up my aggressiveness. To bang my forehand relentlessly, to serve and come in and to attack the backhand and approach the net. I heard it. I am not stubborn. I just was fearful that I would be giving up on what always seemed to work. Protecting. 

In his wonderful book, The War of Art, (not the Art of War) the Steven Pressfield suggests there is only one way to break through resistance. It is to do the thing you don’t want to do. 

So at 1-4 I thought to myself “I will not go down this way. Screw it. It is time.”

I wasn’t able to sustain it for the remaining 2 1/2 hours of the match but I did it. And I saw. I saw that this style would be something I could sustain with practice. And I committed to that being my work on the court going forward. 

But there was no time to practice before our medal match on Friday. I would be playing the best players I had to face this week. Petr Kolacek of Switzerland had won the World Championships and been #1 many times. A master on the red clay. 

After dropping the first few games using my regular game I made the choice. No resistance. Step it up. Win or lose. I once read that warriors lose but they never lose the same way twice in a row. OK. My story, “I am a warrior.”

I attacked relentlessly. I served and volleyed when down in the game. I stepped around my backhand and whacked service returns into the corners with my forehand. I kept attacking even though I was behind. There was no fear. No fear of losing points. Of losing the match. The only fear was that I would retreat. The disappointment of losing a match lasts for moments. Staying the same lasts forever.

When behind in the match I played without fear doing the new and leaving the old behind. Then, when serving I would back off a bit and drop serve. At 4-4 in the first set, with Petr serving 15-30, I ran down an overhead, hit a winning forehand and felt a pull in my hamstring. Told my on court coach, Brent, to call for the physio. Finished the game and was now up 5-4. The physio taped me on the changeover. Got myself mentally ready to not back down on my serve and won the game and set. 

Hamstring be damned. I will finish this match. 

It was a competitive second set. Very close. Serving at 4-5 I was down love 30. Got to 30-40 and a set point for Petr. No fear. I went for the big serve of the T, believing  he would be looking for the serve to his backhand. Missed it. Second serve, set point down. “Do what you need to do.” Served out wide, took the short ball and hit hard to his backhand and drew the error. And then won the game to 5-5. Broke his serve playing aggressively. Enjoying it. Free flowing. When he served at 15-40 I stood way over in the alley, daring him to ace me up the middle. Drew the double fault and then up 6-5. 

Kolacek didn’t go away. I came in on the first point and he passed me. Missed an aggressive forehand to go down love 30. Never a thought about the score. Just keep playing without fear. Staying the same lasts forever. Can’t really remember how the next four points played out but I know that I never stopped playing without fear. And then victory came. Arms up. Huge smile. I won. The loss to Ruud led me to this win. Led me to the realization that I had wonderful work ahead of me to become this new player. 

I had just clinched our team victory (along with Geoff Moore, who by winning his match gave me a 1-0 lead for the team.) Bronze ball for the USA. To me it felt like the Gold. So many wins. A new me on the horizon. Sharing victory with my teammates Brent, Geoff, Steve (and of course JoAnn who never stopped propping me up) and all the other USA age group champions from 65-85 and over. Assuring the USA a high seeding in next year’s World Team Championships in Majorca, Spain. The incredible hug from Jo Ann. What a week. How lucky I am to have tennis. To experience something special. To have something in my life at which I can continue to use to grow myself as a person. 

Thanks to the Boulder Meadows Club players Ken Moy, Pete Walters, Curt Corrigan, Jim Bray, Xinlin Li, Neil Kearney and Jake Thamm for practicing with me. Thanks to Helen Grigg, Kevin Reichlin and Kirk Anthony for working on my body and fitness. Thanks to Lloyd Emanuel and “the committee” for all of the ongoing support from New York. To all of you who follow along and send messages of love, support and suggestions.

Until next time, signing off.

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