Winning in a Loss 11



It is odd for me to wait this long after a match to write. Writing, for me, is as much about tennis and personal growth as the matches I play. It is through writing that I become more aware of myself. My thoughts, feelings, beliefs and stories. Stories that work and stories that don’t. I find out who I am and how I act in both good and difficult times. And from this I can raise myself to a new and better way.

I lost my semifinal match a couple of days ago. It was a long, very tough battle against Mike Dahm. We had played four times, including the finals of the 2013 National Grass and I had managed to defeat him all four times. This means nothing in these matches as he is a top player and the ball can easily bounce his way.

The match lasted nearly four hours under the hot sun of Florida. I had the lead early but didn’t hold it. I was up 6-2 and had a game point on his serve that would have gotten me to 4-1. Tennis can be a mean game as one routine miss can turn a match. To look at the score it would seem that is what happened because he won ten games in a row before I won another game. 2-6, 6-3, 6-1.

But the score didn’t reflect the match. Just as the first 12 games took nearly two hours, Mike and I battled for two more hours for the next 12 games. Each game was a battle filled with ups and downs. Endless game points that each of us found difficult to win. Neither of us would back down. No quit for each of us. Despite his gaining the lead, I never felt I was out of the match. Talking to Mike the following day he shared that he never felt that he held a big enough lead. He told me that he couldn’t stop thinking that he didn’t want to be on the losing side of a comeback from me. And throughout the match I was thinking, ” I am coming back. I am coming back.” Even down 5-0 in the third, when I broke his serve to 5-1, I believed I could turn it around.

So it was a great match. We were two warriors. Spectators were melting and tiring. I wasn’t aware of how long we were out there.

I only knew the moment. I was competing for each point as if the fate of the Universe depended on my full effort.

Even when it ended, I was ready for more.

But the truth is, my fitness let me down. I hadn’t trained for this type of match. My practice sessions throughout December and January were never longer than 90 minutes and were indoors. Not an excuse. Just the way it was. And Mike outplayed me.

There were still takeaways.

Stuff that I learned about me:

I can continue to give total effort even if the outcome seems totally against me. That the score is irrelevant to playing each point. That has always been the case in close matches but in this one, the never quit was never so apparent.

Even though I have had some feelings about getting older and whether or not singles was still doable, I woke up the day after the longest match of the last 20 years and felt great. A little sore, but I could have played another match. So my recovery was way beyond what I anticipated as I crawled into bed that night. I fell asleep while stretching but woke up young.

I can take a loss and feel happy. That, even in a loss, I can feel joy for my opponent. When I called Mike, I told him how proud I was of him for his effort. I have always been a big supporter of him. I was one of the first calls to him when he made the Davis Cup team last year and again when he won the World Doubles
Championships. Those calls are easy to make. I am happy that calling him to congratulate his win over me came just as easily and felt so good.

What I need to do better:
I need to deal with volatility in matches with better focus. As I saw Djokovic against Wawrinka and, then Andy Murray the in the semis and finals of the Australian Open with the ups and downs of leading and trailing, I witnessed an emotional stability that I did not have. I was in a state of resistance regarding having and losing the lead. i have grown too accustomed to matches going in only one direction. I am either in charge or I am not. I look forward to being in more situations where I am whipped around by volatility.

My mission includes, “for each match to be one in which I grow as a player and person.”

Another amazing experience. The story goes on.

Thanks to Jo Ann for pushing me to continue this work and for indescribable support and insights.

Thanks to practice partners Ron Kahn, Andy Adler, Jeff Snow, Scott Seaman,Todd Ehren, John Mcconnell, Adrian Chirici and Taylor Cosme.

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11 thoughts on “Winning in a Loss

  • Jim Benge

    Bob – You bring a learned and insightful perspective on ways we can go inward and grow from each challenge we face either on or off the court. Here in Seattle, we have a wonderful model in Russell Wilson who is all about believing in yourself…..”why not me”.
    See you in October at TC.

  • Edward Goldberg

    I love the idea that the score is irrelevant and playing each point as if the universe
    depended on it is the best approach to a tennis match.

    • Ed Schroback

      What a match! We need some video on these vintage points..Probably so much more entertaining than Pro Tennis which has become mindless ball bashing..After beating your opponent 4 previous times and being up a set and a break it’s not an easy loss to accept..But to come out of it with a positive outlook is a classy move..Bob, I’ll always remember your “mind” article” that i still have from 30 years ago and looked forward to your tournament blogs. Reading them was like nothing i had ever read before as if we were living the matches with you.. But after a hip operation you still put yourself “on the line” (as you always uses to say) against the best players in the world in SINGLES. I look forward to many future matches and if we can’t see them; at least read about them through the mind of a top competitor.

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