Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Don't Sleep, Then I Rock

Here's a quick summary of my preparation and performance in my latest tennis league match:
  1. I don't sleep well
  2. I don't sleep well again
  3. I'm exhausted
  4. I can't nap
  5. I rock. I rock I rock I rock. I rock I rock I rock. I rock I rock I rock. I rock I rock I rock. I rock I rock I rock.

I think I'm going to have to re-evaluate the image I have of myself as a choker on the tennis court. Over the past month I have been involved in five tiebreaks and I have won them all. I have fought off countless break points, set points, and match points. I am clutch. I win when it counts. Yay me.

In my latest league match I avenged the drubbing I received (6-1, 6-0) three weeks ago at the Labor Day Tournament. I'd never beaten this particular opponent, although I've come close many times.

I'd slept horribly the two nights leading up to the match and I felt exhausted. I tried to nap for an hour before the match but I only got about 20 minutes of actual sleep. I was just hoping I would have enough adrenaline to get me through two hours of intense tennis. I think the lack of sleep might have actually helped me, because I made a concentrated effort to conserve energy on the court. I had to win with strategy instead of energy.

The first set was very close. I won the first two games, then he won three, then we went back and forth. Early on I figured out a strategy that worked really well for me. Because I have a weak serve, this particular guys stands ridiculously close to the service line on my serve. It's as if he's taunting me to try to hit a hard deep serve. A few times I was able to brush him back, but occasionally it unnerved me. So while I was standing back about to return his serve, I had a brilliant thought: Why don't I do the same thing to him? I moved up really far on his second serve, and he double-faulted. I did the same thing on the next point, with the same result. I'd rattled him. The rest of the match I changed my position constantly on his serve, moving up and back randomly. This really got in his head and he didn't serve well at all.

I had the chance to win the first set at 5-4 and again at 6-5, but he battled back to tie it. So we went to a tiebreak in the first set. The old Tim might have thought, "Okay, here is where I choke." But since I'd won so many tiebreaks lately, I told myself, "You can win this. You're the guy who wins tiebreaks." I came out to a quick 4-1 lead, and then had four set points at 6-2. Then I lost two points and thought, "Uh-oh, this would be a huge choke if I lost now." But I won the next point to take the set.

In the second set he fell apart. I started playing more like Old Tim, a defensive style where I just barely get the shots back, and he kept missing everything. He was frustrated and angry and let it get to him. I won the first four games easily. (About this time I could smell victory and thoughts started popping into my head about how I would blog about this, my greatest tennis triumph so far. I know it was completely premature and I'm lucky it didn't bite me in the ass.) In the fifth game, he was serving and we had a long game that went to deuce several times. But every time he had a game point, I would battle back to tie it. I kept telling myself, "You win this game and it will completely break his spirit." And I did win it.

Up 5-0 and serving for the match, now it was my turn to choke. We had another deuce game, and I blew one match point before he won the game. Then he won the next two games and I started getting nervous. It was 5-3 and I knew he was capable of winning six games in a row against me if he got hot. I had to get over this psychological hump and end it. In the next game I went up 40-0 and I said to myself, "Okay, let's see you handle three match points." He won one point, then I hit a nice cross-court forehand that he lunged at but missed. I won, 7-6(4), 6-3.

I was very happy. I'm having a great start to my "junior year" of tennis (it's my third season.) I'm currently 3-0 and tied for first place in the Bronze league. Two years ago I was in the basement of the beginner's league. Last year I won the beginner's league to move into Bronze league, where I was solidly middle of the pack, going 4-3 and then 3-4. Now I'm in a position to think about winning the league.

I've come a long way. At this rate I'm only about 40 years away from playing at the Wimbledon.

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