Sticking With the New Game Without Fear of Losing 263

Sticking With the New Game Without Fear of Losing

What an exciting tournament for me. I came into the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix with big mental challenges. I showed up on a 22 match winning streak. I had enough ranking points to be ranked #1 in the USA even if I didn’t play this event. My biggest toughest opponent, Brian Cheney was playing and, even though a loss to him wouldn’t have changed my year, I was hoping to win one more against him. He forces me to be the best player I can be. 

The biggest challenge that I had, as I often do in my blogs, was announcing my intention to plan a new aggressive style even if faced with big match moments where my regular game would be my safe go to. I had decided that safe and certain may not work and I wanted to take the risk of going for not certain. I wanted to fight against my fear of trying a strategy that was new. I have won many matches by outrunning and outlasting my opponents but it frequently feels like I am not taking it to them. 

Would I, in the biggest moments, be able to be more aggressive than ever before, even if it felt unknown. Would I go back to the safety way? I had spent the last month doing the reps of playing this new way in practice with my buddies in Boulder. But the risk was not the same as playing in a tournament.
Happily I was faced with these moments a bunch of times this week. First I practiced with a great player, Larry Loeb, one of the top 65’s players in the country. Very competitive set. When serving to win the set at 5-4 I went down 0-40. Missed a first serve. Thought about this being the moment I had been playing for. I went aggressive, served and volleyed my way out of the hole and won the set. A process win. Well, ok, it was still practice.
In my semifinal singles match I played a guy who had lots of confidence and played really well against me. I played my new game throughout the first set and held the lead throughout the set but then dropped serve. I served again at 3-4 and before the game sensed that to play my more typical way was not bothering him as much as going after it. Coming in. Attacking him. But I had a moment thinking “I have won every match this year playing one way. Maybe I should stay with it.” But that was my ego voice that was scared to lose by trying something new. Nope. Was not going to listen to that voice. I have a new story. “I am an improvement machine. I search for opportunities to grow.”
I went for it. Go with the new. The win will be the expanding my capacity. Points be damned. I held serve aggressively, stayed aggressive by attacking and cruised to win the match. On to the finals. On to the biggest challenge for anyone in my age group. To play the most winningest player in the age group over the last 35 years. 
Side note. Brian and I are really close friends, frequent senior Cup teammates and doubles partners. We have won seven National doubles titles together. I was staying at his house this week, driving back and forth to matches and playing the doubles together. On court it is all business. Off court we are brothers. We played a doubles match after both winning our singles semifinal matches, knowing we would be on opposite sides in the finals the next day. When one of our doubles opponents said, “so you guys are playing against each other tomorrow” I said “we are playing with each other tomorrow. After all, if I were setting up a game for a Saturday morning, who more would I want to play with than Brian.” And, honestly, when playing with him I would of course want to win but would be fine with any outcome.

We show up to play the finals and, wouldn’t you just know it, I am wearing an all black shirt, shorts and hat and he is decked out in all white. Really, our personalities, couldn’t be more different on court and now we were looking like we had planned this.
Going into the match I truly felt ready for whatever the outcome and, with him especially, I would be accepting the outcome with dignity and class. That line is in my tennis mission. He taught me that over the years. It is about the match, not the result. I felt peaceful as I have never felt so confident in myself as a player and person as I have felt over the last year on court. I believe in my game. I trust that I can deal with the normal ups and downs of a match, that if something is not working I can engage in problem solving, that I am free of so many thoughts that used to interfere with me playing free. What will be will be. I will just be Bob and that will have to be enough.

It was a winning formula. Playing my new way, with no fear of losing, I won the first set and after a little wrinkle at the beginning of the second when I lost serve and went down 0-2, I ran five games. I know this guy and was sure that he would not go away. That he would play a strong 2-5 game. That he did and I got up to serve at 5-3, match game. I thought to myself “wow, I am going to beat him three times this year.” No! Stop thinking that. That thought is a formula for losing the game. I let the thought go, focusing on making a first serve. Which I didn’t and in a blink it was 0-40. Just like my practice earlier in the week. This is just what I had asked for. To find out if I could let go of wanting to win to improve. Could the cost of losing be to great for me to try the new? I missed a first serve. Ok Bob this is what you wanted to find out about yourself. I served and volleyed and won the point. 15-40, another missed first serve. Another chance to grow. Another serve and volley. Another point won. 30-40. Served fearlessly to his forehand and aced him. Deuce. Two more serve and volley points and victory. 

I won in process. I won in results. The greater joy was the choice to not stay the same but to go into new territory. What a feeling. I am proud that I defeated my doubt, my fear, my worry. This is why I play the game. The final line of my tennis mission is that “in every match I grow as player and a person.”

Thanks to Craig O’Shannessy for his data that has breathed new life into my game. There is always room to improve. Thanks to my practice partners Andy Chernaik, Ken Moy, Donnie Martin, Rex Vedder.Peter Braun, Adam Kahn and Neal Kearney.And to Jo Ann for always supporting me, listening to my processing, providing me insights and helping me stay humble.

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