Through to the Semis With One Rough Patch 128

Through to the Semis With One Rough Patch

I defeated a tough opponent, Mike Dahm, in today’s quarterfinal. He is always a tough out as he has defeated many of the top players in the age group. Last September he was my opponent in the finals of the National Grass Championships. I had beaten him that day in a very competitive match. He always comes on the court with a lot of confidence.

Right from the start I brought a good version of myself to the court. I got a quick start with an early service break to go up 2-0 and then, the next game took my foot off the accelerator, dropping my serve. In a blink, he was up 40-15 on his serve. I knew it was a key moment and I refocused, cut out my errors, sprinted through the next four games for a 6-1 first set. I was intense without tension throughout the set. I was making sure to stay in a state of acceptance about any errors, mentally letting them go instantly. I had a short memory today about the point just played. This is a great way to play one point at a time.

I got an early break of serve in the second set, going up 2-1. I made the mistake of relaxing a little too much on his service games after that and he started to play better. We both won our serves for the next six games. I had let him into the match by slightly losing focus on the importance of each point on his service games. Despite controlling the points in all of the games of the first set, I didn’t keep my foot on the accelerator for his next three service games. I won my games, but he won his. Regardless I was still in control, scorewise, when I got up to serve at 5-4 for the match.

Match game is always the toughest game. Closing can be complicated as your opponent is often playing freer to fight off the loss and the finish line being in sight often creates a little future tripping of thoughts…thoughts of victory. Thoughts of the future are a great formula for internal tension, an enemy of high performance. Many great players have struggled to close out matches when it looked to others like the ending is not in doubt. I focused in, knowing that this game was crucial. If he broke my serve the match could easily have gone into the third set and the 6-1 first set would be a memory. We both played well to 30-30. I didn’t want to get into an extended rally as Mike was playing fearlessly and looking to attack. For the first time in the match I came in right behind my serve and knocked off an easy volley. Match point. I decided to do it again. Got another easy one and missed it because of a brief mental trip into the future. A thought blew across my mind as I saw the easy volley. “You’ve got it.” Back to deuce. I steadied myself knowing that as long as I don’t lose two points in a row, I can’t lose the game. Won the next point. Match point #2. I wanted to serve and come up but wasn’t sure. Too much thinking…double fault. Steadied myself. Got focused. Played a good point. Match point #3. Serve and volley. Do it! I did but Mike came up big hitting a passing shot. Back to deuce. I took my time. I thought to myself before I got up to the line, “this is what I love about this game. That I am forced to react in abnormal ways to get what I want.” To have to maintain cool. To find focus when it feels like things are slipping away. To welcome the difficulty. I love that.

Forehand winner. Match point #4. Right now. No doubts. This is the moment. I love this. I smiled as I thought that defeating my own nervousness would be the win. Serve. Short return. Running up and hitting a cross court forehand and closing on the net. I drew the error. Game, set and match. On to the semis.

The big takeaway from today’s match: having a lead doesn’t mean that I can cruise, even for a point. Keep my foot on the accelerator at all times. I will need that tomorrow as I will be playing current #1 Larry Turville. He beat me in the finals of the last tournament 6-3, 6-0 in a close match, despite the set scores. I have the advantage of having lost. When you lose and play that person again pretty soon, you make some changes. The winner usually plays the same. I have some changes in mind. I don’t think ahead in a tournament, taking it one day at a time but I did know that there was a chance we would be meeting. Larry has been on the perimeter of my mind and the new tactics that I have been developing were put in my play for my match against him.

I have nothing to lose. Can’t wait to play tomorrow.

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