The best laid plans/Winter wonderland

In Nemo's Wake

In Nemo’s Wake

In tennis (and I suppose in life too) plans will only get you so far.  The problem is, the other guys make plans too, and sometimes theirs work better than yours do.   Adam and I lost our Mountainside match in a supertiebreaker, and I’m still pissed off two weeks later because I got outplayed mentally by Richard King.  In past years, that would have been an embarrassing admission, because Richard was a big banger who didn’t put a lot of thought into his game.  However, he married into the Joslin family and began to spend more time on the court as a teaching pro, and his mental game has made a significant jump.    He seemed to have three basic strategies against us: be active at the net, chip and charge against my serve, and go at Adam with heavy strokes when possible.  He did all three of these things extremely well.  We couldn’t have scripted the beginning of the match any better, though, as I hit some good returns and a couple of perfect lobs to get an opening-game break.  We were on the verge of consolidating with Adam serving at 40-15, but he hit a couple of careless shots and just like that, we were back even.  The rest of the set was all Mountainside and ended 6-2.  King took my serve early and crashed the net behind some nice chipped backhands, and he’s an immovable object once he gets up there.  I missed too many first serves and failed to hit my spots with the ones I did make.  Adam’s groundstrokes went off the boil.  The two Richards were rolling and playing with confidence.  It was just ugly.  At any level of the game, if you go a whole set of doubles without your team holding serve, you’re not going to experience much success. 

I’m proud of the fact that we kept fighting and were able to turn the match around in the second set.  We broke King midway through the set and made it stand up for a 6-4 win.  Adam and I got each other pumped up, and we mixed up our serves and formations better.  I started giving King body serves to take away the angle on his chip, and we had some success with the Australian formation on Atherley.  And the Mountainside guys’ level dropped just enough to crack the door open for us.  Unfortunately I slammed it shut on myself before the supertiebreaker started when I said (out loud to Adam!): “oh geez, it’s gonna be tough to win a tiebreaker with our serves against theirs.”  Now technically speaking, what I said was true: they both have great serves and we both have mediocre serves, and in a shortened format that’s a huge advantage for them.   It just wasn’t the right way to approach that situation.  We had the momentum and we had been returning well and serving well enough, and I let that all slip away with a negative comment which hurt not only my confidence level but Adam’s too.  A few years ago, I liked my chances in a supertiebreaker against anyone because I knew I had the mental toughness to pull through.  My physical game is almost back to what it was then, but the mental game obviously has much farther to go.  It won’t come as a big surprise that we went down 4-0 in the breaker.  I got hot at the net, though, and we made a big surge to go in front 7-5.   We were THISCLOSE to a huge win, but it wasn’t to be.  The Richards boomed some huge serves and we dropped a couple of tough points on Adam’s serve, and before we knew it we were walking off at 7-10. 

At least our team came through with a big 3-2 win.  Jeff and Todd barely broke a sweat at 3 dubs, Jeff Hannum -who’s really playing well-came up with an impressive straight set win over Ted Mastin at 1 singles, and Rick Paquin stole one (there’s just no other word for it) against young Dan Bruzga at #2.  Dan has all the talent in the world but he shot himself in the foot with a ton of unforced errors after winning the first set easily.  Give Rick credit, he’s a competitor and fought hard to take an 11-9 supertiebreak win.  Chris and Jerry lost the other doubles to Glenn and B; they really should have won the first set and after they let that get away, the second went quickly.  So we still don’t have a real dominant number 1 doubles team, but I think whoever we put out there can be competitive against anyone.  Our first order of business is getting into the playoffs, though, and we still haven’t locked that up.  With Rick’s win we basically eliminated Mountainside, but we also have to finish ahead of either Concord or YMCA to make districts, and it won’t be easy.  There are some other matches to be played this weekend and their results will determine how many courts we need in our finale vs Concord, but right now it looks like we’ll probably need a straight-up win.  That won’t be easy, because Concord has better singles players than Mountainside and their top two doubles are excellent.  But if we go in to the match with a playoff-level intensity, we’ve got a shot. 

I’ve been practicing about three times a week since, but we got snowed out of our A-1 match last weekend by the biggest blizzard to hit NH in years.  There was over two feet of snow here at the coast and just as much if not more inland.  Parts of MA and CT were shut down for days.  We missed one day of work here (a Friday) but by Monday it was pretty much business as usual.  If I can figure out how to get pictures posted on here, I’ll try to put up some of the storm.  I got to try out my new skis last Sunday and I had a great time.  I went up to the trails at the nature center in Rye, which go really close to the water.  It was a beautiful sight, there was a ton of snow, and I surprisingly remembered a lot of my ski technique (one embarrassing face plant notwithstanding). It had been about seven or eight years since I had skied, but on Sunday I was out there for maybe three hours and had so much fun.  I need to do more of that!  It certainly beats running on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike.  I went again early this morning with my friend Maura and a couple of her friends.  Maura’s really spunky and can do just about any athletic activity known to man.  One of her friends was a steady skier and the other more of a beginner, but the trails there aren’t super challenging so it was ok for everyone.  The bad part was that we had had a couple of warm days and lots of the snow had melted, which made following the track difficult.  There were a few too many icy patches and even some bare spots, but it was a fun way to start the day.  My skis came with a pass for some free skiing (one day at each of three different areas) but it has to be used this winter.  So my next step up will probably be to go to a ski area and try my luck there. 

Back in Time!

My trusty green Honda CRV didn’t suddenly morph into a DeLorean. “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis is still an oldie instead of a current top 10 hit. And I certainly didn’t regrow my shaggy 1987 hair, however much I might have wanted to. But when I stepped onto the scale today and topped out at 190, I was almost back to my high school self in one very important way. Ok, so I was 180 back in the day, but you get the point: the D-train is on the verge of shedding its caboose! I’m continuing to work hard and starting to see and feel some positive results. Although some icy road conditions this week caused me to skip two gym workouts, I did get to play tennis three times. I practiced with Ed Lee without injuring myself, and am getting through my matches with more energy. It paid off today, as Jeff and I rallied after being two breaks down in the third set to win an A-1 matchup at Westford by one game.

I have to admit that being bumped down to a 4.0 has made a big difference in my mindset. It has given me a realistic short-term goal that I feel I can achieve with continued improvement. To be completely honest, I’m not going to work out more at the gym or practice my tennis harder just so I can hike the AT something like ten years from now, but reaching the 4.0 sectionals (and even nationals: why not!) this summer is a much nearer horizon. And we have a home match tomorrow against Mountainside which if we take care of business can bring the first big step in that journey- reaching the district playoffs- significantly closer. Like anything worthwhile, it’s not going to come easy. Mountainside’s 1 and 2 doubles are among the best in the league, and Adam and I are playing at 1 this time. Mountainside’s two teams are very different and we have the challenge of mentally preparing for both. Richard King and Richard Atherley are big servers who play the net aggressively. If we face them, we have to serve down the middle a lot (their weaker sides) with a high percentage of first serves. We also would likely play two-back when returning their serves to take some pressure off the returner. Finally we have to make them volley as both of us can outvolley both of them. That might mean hitting a hard backhand down the line return from the deuce court rather than worrying about going crosscourt. And it will surely mean keeping some points alive when they are on the offensive. But I’ve been playing with more confidence lately and feel like I can execute those strategies. Adam and I talk a lot and we aren’t afraid to try some unorthodox tactics to give us a better chance. Plus I’ve practiced against pace a lot lately and done ok. A tougher matchup for us would probably be against Glenn McKune and B Manning. Originally from Zimbabwe, Glenn is a longtime teaching pro who is probably even more consistent than me and has great hands at the net. I’ve had a lot of trouble with him in the past. B is another veteran who I’ve done better against. He hits a flat ball which is easier to volley (I like to volley) and he has some issues with his overhead (I like to lob too). He’s a really good guy: even though it’s strange that he calls himself by just one letter instead of an actual name, he’s about 60 years old so I guess he has it figured out by now. If we face them, I think we have to take more chances with our returns, try to put more pace on them rather than just try to get them back, because you can’t outplay Glenn at the touch game. We also have to focus on B and try to break down his game and his confidence. Either way I have to play with no fear and try to grow from the experience. The rest of our team is significantly better than the rest of their team and if we can win our match (we play before all the others) it will give our teammates a big lift. As my old buddy Dave Blais used to tell me: “cut off the head, and the body follows”. We get to deal with the head tomorrow morning and we have to relish the assignment and just go for it. Let’s hope we can make it happen.