Freedom from Pressure Leads to a Gold Ball Victory 302

I wrote early in the week about my worries and doubts. By writing about them I was able to see them as self perceived and, basically, not truths. These thoughts and feelings were all self perceived. 

Over the years I have trained out thoughts that don’t give me what I want. I have trained out thoughts that make me feel bad. As with anything, practice has always been the key to making changes in the direction of improvement. Tennis matches are a wonderful place to practice as counterproductive thoughts are always waiting in the wings to drop into my consciousness. So I see matches as practice to free myself up. So that I can play free. 

All week I played mostly free. Sure, some thoughts creep in. But I see them early and let them go pretty quickly. I let them go by identifying them, reminding myself that they are not helpful and putting my mind on the task in front of me. It might be taking a deep breath or shrugging my shoulders or deciding where and what serve to hit or where I am going to hit my return.

Each day I did better and better and today’s match, the final, was an opportunity to be at my best. It was a hard match and I had to let go of thoughts frequently. Throughout the week I was serving and returning really well. Today’s opponent made it more difficult so I had to work extra hard at not getting stuck on many missed returns because of his big serve and aggressive net play. I couldn’t get stuck on not getting free points off my serve as he returned almost every serve I hit. 

I have been pretty dominant on grass courts having won my last 27 straight grass court matches. Steve Radigan was unfazed and attacked me over and over again. The first set featured four straight service breaks. I felt confident each time I broke his serve but he immediately broke back. I needed to serve at 3-4 and was down love 30. As was the case in the semis yesterday I needed to hit the shot I didn’t want to hit. A serve to his forehand. I did what the best in every field do. I hit the shot that was the right shot even though it was hard to do. I managed to escape trouble, won the game, and then broke his serve. Serving at 5-4 I did what people watching expected. I won that game and the first set. I was not as sure as those watching and thinking, “oh Bob has got this set.” 

The second set was the ultimate grass court battle. Both Steve and I were unable to make any inroads on each other’s serve games. The defining moment was when I lost my first two points serving at 3-4. The way he was serving, these felt like set points. I had no worry thoughts. I focused on my choice of location of serve. Two points in a row I served my least favorite serve to his strength. I caught him off guard, got to 30-30 and then served out the game. I sensed his letdown. I demanded of myself to put my returns in play and to count on my speed to run his shots down. After making no progress on his games, I broke him at love. His head dropped. His shoulders drooped. Sitting on the changeover I knew I still had a long way to go. It is never easy to win the last game of a match, especially a National Championship match. 15-30-40 love, I now had triple match point. I had just won 11 points in a row. Should be easy now. He didn’t cooperate. He made a great return and I missed my volley. He made a return and passing shot. Now 40-30. I was unfazed. Free from pressure I went for the serve to the forehand. Fault. Second serve for the championship. I felt no pressure as I decided what I would do without concern of how it would turn out. I hit a second serve and came in to volley. Made the volley and drew the error. Game. Set. Match. Championship.

I can now say what the biggest self perceived pressure was throughout this whole tournament. I have been undefeated since winning this title last August. I was in the midst of my best year ever. The pressure of staying undefeated was not heavy but it has been floating in and out of my mind match after match. I never really let it take root. I stayed with my process. I believed in my training. I accepted the normal ups and downs of the game. Nothing interfered. The victory was sweet. The biggest victory was overcoming the thoughts that only would have interfered with my playing free.

Thanks to all of you who have followed along and sent messages of appreciation for my writing and for your support. I feel like I play for all of you. My blog friends who I know and the many I don’t know. My Tennis Congress connections. My New York and Boulder friends. My family. Jo Ann, who watches every match with a coolness that I draw from. My workout trainer, Kirk Anthony. My body workers, Helen Grigg and Kevin Reichlin in Boulder and Bobbi in Philadelphia. My practice partners: Jake Thamm, Peter Braun, Graham Casden, Brad Bernthal, Lexi Bernthal, Ken Moy, Luke Silverman, Neil Kearney.

And thanks to my doubles partner, Michael Beautyman who supported me and carried me to the finals of the doubles when I had nothing in the tank. He put up with me pushing him to play the game as I wanted to play it, adapting over and over again. A great partner and friend. We got the silver ball. Not bad. Next time we will get the gold.

I will be back with blogs in mid September as I will be off to Croatia representing the USA in the hunt to win the senior Davis Cupid the World Team Championships. Red clay courts are waiting.

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