12 August, 2006

Tennis: My Season Ends - the Playoffs Await!

It was beautiful in sunny Ohio, and the season had to end today.

My season has been very difficult. There are 10 matches in the season, and I was on vacation for 2 of them. For the first half of the season, I was 1 and 3.



I have no excuses. I was some kind of grumpy, though. In my first match I was playing #1 court, and we were handily ahead, 6-2, 4-0. I was not playing particularly well, but we were able to keep the ball rolling. Then my partner blew his calf muscle. That was OK. He was able to sort of continue, but I fell apart. I mentally collapsed. It's a part of being Kevin Knox. I do that.

My second match was against a pair who had no business playing at our level. Our third match we should have won. Our fourth match was against a superior player (and a competent partner), but my game deteriorated yet again. Suddenly, I was 4 matches into the season and had only won one in which I could find no pride.

It was rough.

Then I figured my problem out. I was thinking about hitting the ball, and you cannot do that. That first match had destroyed my confidence, and I don't react well to that. I essentially sunk into a 4 week long choke. The essence of choking is that you worry about things that can only be done automatically. To hit a good backhand, you need to coordinate almost every muscle in your body such that the racket ends up in a specific place, speed and time. (My left hand is often sore after a match, because of the way it counter-swings while I am swinging with my right.) While you are coordinating all this stuff, you are also trying to pick, repick, adjust, and decide on the right target for your opponent and strategy.

If you start thinking about striking your backhand a little earlier, you're toast. I did more than that.

Anyway, on week 5 I quit trying to think about my motion, but just trust my body. We immediately fell behind 1-4 in the first set - and yes, it was my fault. I was netting returns and trying for shots my body could not deliver. It was ugly. And then we were about to lose one more game and I finally settled into it. Their best server was firing at us, and my partner started having a bad game (which always settles me down - anyone have any clues why that helps me so much?) The opponents have 5 straight game points directed at me. I hit 5 straight winning shots. My partner began believing in me, and suddenly it was 6-4, 6-1. We had taken 10 of the next 11 games.

I love that about tennis.

As quickly as you lose your mojo, you can find it again.

In the next three matches, our opponents won a total of 7 games to our 36.

Then there was today.

We started the first set behind, but leveled and broke for the lead. I served for the set at 5-4, and we took it cleanly.

In the second set, we immediately fell behind. I broke the strings in my second racket, so reached into my bag for the wooden racket. Yes, I still play with one. When I say I'm old school, I am not kidding. :-) My partner whipped out his backup for me, but it was too powerful. I cannot play with a powerful racket - I send balls out of the court. It's not pretty. Then one of our opponents offered up his rackets. He had one that was suitably soft, and we went back to play.

We were down 1-4.

We brought it back to 4-5, and it was my serve. In moments it was 15-40. 2 set points against us on my serve, with an unfamiliar racket. 3 aces and 1 service winner later, we were lining up at 5-5. THAT was a blast. I don't pull out my flat serve until things are tight, and I feel good because you never know what the flat serve is going to do. It did everything right.

2 games later, we were in the tiebreak and down 1-4. (No, I don't know what the pattern is - it just happened that way.) At that moment I played the best point of my season. Ran down 3 balls, and stuffed a winner down their forehand alley. It was a thing of beauty, and a well deserved shout of, "Now that was a tennis point!" (Yes, I am even verbose at a moment like that.) Steve's return left me with a put-away volley and we were at 3-4. That put the serve back on my racket. 1 ace and 1 winner. 5-4. Everyone's serve went to pattern, and it was 6-7 - them serving to me.

I love that moment.

Match on my racket - returning, which is much harder, and everyone knows he's going to test my backhand.

Bring it on.

The serve was good, but my return was firm and his forehand sailed.

From 1-3 to 5-3, and finishing on a triple come-from-behind match. What a great end to a season. I think I might keep playing this game.

Oh - and Nadal is out of the Toronto Masters event, leaving Federer a clear path to the top. Gonzalez is giving him a little trouble in the second set, but he should find a way to pull through. Hopefully without a 3rd straight 3-set match. Like I said, this is tennis. There's still plenty of time to lose or win.

Anyway, that was just a fun story to tell. I don't imagine anyone actually made it this far, but I am so relieved to have salvaged that season I just had to type about it for a while whilst Roger put on his show.

1 week off, and the playoffs. (Yes, btw, I knew all day that if I didn't deliver my match today, we would miss the playoffs. It's not pressure that gets me - it's fear. I can play under any pressure, if I can react correctly to the fear.)

Have a good night!

[PS: Another thing to love about tennis.

James Blake was just asked what was his perfect match.
A: Last year's quarter final against Andre Agassi - except for the last two points.

That won't mean much if you don't know tennis. Allow me to explain :-)

5 long, grueling, perfectly played sets between two players at their peak came down to a 5th set tiebreak. 4 hours of tennis came down to the first person who could win 2 points in a row. It was Andre.

I can't help but love this game. Great answer, James.]


codepoke said...

Federer delivers - It took a third set, but he came through. What a match. :-)

Milly said...

This is why we love you because you share your passions.

Andreia said...

There is a really interesting story in today's Wall Street Journal about how tennis racquet makers are designing new racquets made especially for women. (my husband doesnt like the way I spelled that!)

I guess they aren't going over too well even those doctors say they would reduce injuries because they are more evenly balanced.

Anyway, it was interesting and I thought of you when I read it!

Andreia said...

those =though. i need spell check

codepoke said...

The Head "Airflow" series, right? Tennis magazine reviewed them, and said they even had some men wanting them. It seems to be a good racquet (spelled for you ;-), so I'm surprised to hear they are not doing well.

If they aren't it's because of their target audience. They are a high-end racquet, but the high-end player wants pure performance - not to be coddled. I gather the racquet is a high performance tool, but it might just be an image thing. Women get out there to kill the ball, and they want a deadly racquet, just like us.

Who knows. I'm sure the journal has their facts straight.