Edged At the Finish Line 38

Yesterday was one of the most dramatic matches that I have participated in. I have played big ones but rarely one that created so much pre match interest. A big crowd turned out as my match against an unseeded dangerous floater in the draw had pre tournament buzz. People on site wanted to see how I would do playing in the desert after so many years aways. And they wanted to see how Carl Armstrong, new to the age group and winner of the two warmup tournaments held this month in Palm Springs would fare playing against my experience.

The short story is that we had a wonderful battle with huge swings of momentum over 3 plus hours in the midday desert sun. Rallies were endless with each of us blinking just when it seemed that the match was in control. The mutual respect we had for each other was apparent from the first few games where it was obvious that it would take a lot to take the other down.

In the end, needing 5 match points, Carl was able to cross the finish line in front of me. 7-6, 4-6, 6-3.

I play for matches like this that not only challenge every mental, emotional, physical and spiritual fiber of my being but also conclude with two warriors sharing a bench on the side of the court throwing compliments to each other. Carl and I are bonded for life having shared this experience.

My plan for the match was to be the best Bob I can be. To play a sublime match. To stay even emotionally. To continue to be ok with whatever the outcome might be. As the favorite in the match that can be tougher because of expectations of others. I did well. After the match, comments that, in the past, might have triggered a defensive reaction, bounced off me. No longer. I felt amazing when done. I was pleased with how I processed throughout the match. I fought off the one moment where I, mentally, was about to quit on myself. That was huge. I fought to the very last point never losing belief in myself. And doing all that makes me a better player for the next time. Others often just look at the result saying “tough luck or I thought you were going to win.” But I did win in so many ways.

I love this game. Every match challenges me to be a better version of myself and I feel blessed that I have found this path of competition. It keeps me young. It helps me grow.

Of course, there is are tennis takeaways too. I look back over the last two years of competing and know that I have lost my last three, three set matches. Three set matches are, often, less about shots and more about physical and mental conditioning. Physical conditioning is pretty straightforward. I tired in these matches. Just enough to not be in great position at some key moments. To be just a little too winded when getting up to serve at a big moment.

I need to spend more time, going forward, on my fitness. I have gotten just a little lazy about it and it has cost me. I have been kidding myself in thinking that a strong mental can overcome a dip in fitness. I need to think about if I want to make that commitment because without it I am less than I need to be.

Mental conditioning is many things and I have no doubt that it is my greatest strength. But it is also about being in the fire often. In my best days, result wise, when I would win almost every three setter, I would be playing no less that six tournaments a year, thirty or more matches. Not practice matches but real ones where there is greater accountability. In the two years I have played only three tournaments. Around twelve matches. Carl Armstrong played more matches in the last two weeks than I played in the last two years. He didn’t blink. I think I did.

I still have the doubles to play with Charlie. After my match I had about one hour to recover before we had a match. My body was saying no, but as soon as I got out there, the pain and stiffness went away and I was fine. We won and have another match today.

I am so glad for that.

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