01 January, 2008

Tennis Report: Midwest Hardcourt Tournament

Ah well. The tennis tournament is over now. That's the worst part. Those of you who were with me immediately after my loss on Sunday might wonder whether getting a little tennis vacation might not be a good thing for me, but I just love hitting that silly ball, even when I do it wrong so often.

For those of you who missed it, here's a quick summary of my performance. I would love if anyone who watched me wanted to add amusing little tidbits to whatever I tell.

The Midwest Hardcourt actually did draw people from all over the Midwest, and I got to see the best tennis Ohio has to offer. That was very cool. And the 6 other people in the Men's 35 singles came from as far as Kentucky to compete in this tournament. They truly were some of the best 35 year-olds I'll play all year. I knew that going in, knew it meant losing was probably in my future, and signed on the dotted line eagerly. We do this stuff to measure ourselves against hardship, not ease, and I certainly got my taste of hardship.

I could not have been more nervous for my first match, but eventually it started. Phew! I stepped out with Ben, and two thoughts went through my mind within about 30 seconds. 1) Bummer. This guy can't play tennis, and 2) Ah good - I'll get to win one in front of all my buds. He literally could not hit the ball straight during the warmup. That's always a bad sign.

But after 4 games, the score was tied at 2-2. I have lost many matches like this to people just like Ben, so I began to get a little nervous. But I avoided panicking and finally figured out his bizarre shots and spins. I won the next 9 games in a row before falling asleep on my first match point. I took the next game, though, since Ben just never was able to confidently return my serve. I won 6-2, 6-1.

On Sunday, I knew the match would be much tougher. Tim was the #1 seed of the tourney, and I went in with a strategy I had only used one other time in my life - Saturday against Ben. After losing the first set and falling behind in the second set 0-4, I thought that maybe I should change strategies. I figured I should maybe go back to my old strategy. That was a pretty solid decision, and I won two more games before it was over to only lose 2-6, 2-6. That was nice, because it meant I had not been beaten by Tim as badly as I had beaten Ben. Small consolation, but we take what we can get. Those who were there know I was not easily consoled immediately after the match.

Against Tim I learned I need to improve my serve. I either need to get more accurate with it or hit it faster, because he returned almost every serve I hit. I also learned what I need to do to improve my backhand slice. I need to quit trying to hit it so low. I need to figure out how to hit it with more margin for error. And finally I learned that if I don't take more chances and hit the ball wider from time to time, I'm just giving my opponent target practice.

And today, on Monday, I learned more things (translation: I lost again). Chris lost his semifinal match by the thinnest of margins on Sunday against another Chris, and that other Chris beat the guy that beat me 6-2, 6-2. In other words, the guy I lost to on Sunday was not the best player in the tournament by a long shot. It meant Chris could destroy Tim who had just destroyed me. I had much less cause for hope against Chris than I had against Tim.

That got me kind of excited.

Against Chris, I started with my old strategy since my new strategy was obviously not ready for prime-time yet. And I tried for more with my serves. And I hit the ball a little riskier. At 2-2 he began reading my toss. I didn't realize that was what was happening until later, but at 2-5 I figured something was going on, and I experimented a bit. I tossed the ball for a serve to the left, then hit it to the right and he was baffled. Hmmm. Add that to the "lessons learned" category. If I steer my serve with my toss, these guys are going to know everything I'm doing. Anyway, it's risky to start serving in a whole new way in the middle of a match, so I ended up losing that serving game and the first set.

I had tried changing to the new strategy at 2-4 to see whether it might work, and he ate my lunch, so for the second set I decided to keep going with what I know.

My newly educated serve helped me to win the first game of the second set, but then he took the next 4 putting me behind 1-4. Chris changed strategies in the second set to the attacking strategy that had failed for me. I could see why it was so effective, and how it should really be executed. Nothing like seeing a strategy performed correctly from such close range to learn what it's really about.

Along the way, I found a good answer to my serve problem, and really concentrated on taking some chances and held for 2-4. He took the next game, but not before I noticed something. When I hit a ball hard to his forehand, then made him run to hit a backhand he missed with the backhand shot. His running backhand was weak. Ah! I had a target. I had something to focus on attacking. I was behind 2-5, so it was a little late to be finding a target, but that's what being a beginner is all about. You have to crawl for a little while before you can walk.

At the same time I learned something else. I need to roll my backhand grip just a little further and strike up on the ball just a little harder to create that little bit of extra margin for error. I hit several good backhand shots in the last two games of the tournament after figuring that out.

I took my new-found knowledge and turned it into another game win for 3-5. I could tell he was actually thinking a little bit about the possibility that I might begin to offer him some competition. So, he stepped on the gas and pretty much destroyed me in the last game.

That's OK.

I learned how high the bar is. I learned what I have to be able to do with my serve, and why I need to work on getting more of my body into every shot to get that extra 10 mph that's going to win me those free points. I learned that my new strategy of attacking tennis and rushing the net can work with a little practice. I learned to adjust my strategy a little sooner. I learned how to adjust a stroke under match pressure. I learned how to spot what the opponent is doing to me. And I learned to see a weakness in my opponent.

That's not bad for my second tennis tournament ever, and my first after having received my first-ever coaching. Both of the guys I lost to have been playing tournaments and being coached for years. If it didn't take a little work for me to catch up to their level, it wouldn't be a sport. I'm willing to pay my dues to do something I love so much.

Bring it on.

Now, I just have to wait 4 months for the next tourney. [Growls.......]


Oh yeah. And I finished 4th from a field of 7 and won $25 cash money. Finishing in the money and in the middle of the pack ain't a bad way to start either. I'd say things went OK.

Thanks for all your support!


Milly said...

It sounds like you did well and had a good time. Way to go!

Kansas Bob said...

I liked this:

"My newly educated serve helped me to win"

..maybe you can educate us in a way that we can serve better :)

codepoke said...

Milly, if you'd been there on Sunday you'd not have thought I enjoyed living, much less playing tennis. Still and withal, I do love the sport. :-)


Oh yes, by all means. To serve best, make sure no one knows what's coming!

Kansas Bob said...

Know what's coming? I have a hard time knowing what happened the day before yesterday!

There was a time when I could have beat you in tennis CP.. like when I was 20 and you were 5 :)