Here’s proof that miracles do happen: I won a supertiebreaker! More importantly, it gave my 40s team a 3-2 season-opening win at Great Bay. Yes, it came it third doubles, but why rain on an all-too-infrequent parade?
The team match started off as a cakewalk, as Adam and Mark Guerringue (his longtime partner from the North Country) obliterated a couple of bumped-up 3.5s in less time than it will take me to write this post. As GB had come in last in their 18 and over 4.0 flight, we began to expect a similar lack of resistance on the other courts. That was a near-fatal mistake. The remaining four matches were played simultaneously and the hosts took both singles decisively in straight sets. Jeff Hannum couldn’t shake a case of the flu which threw him off his game, and Rick just no answers for a big-hitting net rusher. Chris Mc and Jeff Siegel cruised at first doubles, so that left it up to me and the recently promoted John Duckless on court 3. We should have known something was afoot prior to the match when we overheard the GB captain telling a young, athletic-looking guy: “We’re going to use you on court three just for today”, which is classic stack-speak. Once we started playing, it quickly became clear that this guy, whose name was Dan Witham, was GBs best doubles player, hitting two-handed bullets off both sides and covering vast stretches of court behind his older partner. John hits big first and second serves, is fearless at the net and competes extremely hard, so even though he has some major weaknesses in the rest of his game, we hung in to take the first set 6-4. I was playing pretty well and hit two spectacular shots, the first a back-to-the net lob to counter a great opposition lob where my momentum carried my into the back fence (we ended up losing the point, alas). The second came on set point (0-40, to be fair) with Dan serving. After a long crosscourt exchange of hard shots with Dan, I came in to return a low, angled slice and pushed a running slice backhand around the net post and past the opposing net man, Don, before he could react. We were pumped, but unfortunately we lost a 40-0 lead on my serve in the next game and our opponents got back into the match. Dan’s serve was weaker than the rest of his game, but his returns were on a par with Ian Hastings’s two-handers. Don got his first serve in, lobbed effectively over John and called anything close to the lines out. John held serve consistently but bricked several easy volleys and missed far too many returns. And I was playing well but couldn’t close out a few service games from ahead and when returning went mano-a-mano with Dan a few too many times rather than change the direction of the ball to find his partner. All that added up to a very even set, but I was broken in a long game at 4-4 and then Dan held (his only hold of the day) to force a supertiebreaker.
These guys’ serves were even weaker than mine, so I was a bit more optimistic than I might otherwise have been. But given my supertiebreak record of late, that’s not saying much. Luckily we started well and, at 2-0, caught a major break when Don’s “out” call on a ball that hit the sideline was overruled by a GB singles player standing close to the line on the adjacent court to watch after finishing his own match. From there we stayed ahead thanks to some inspired net play from John and finally claimed a 10-5 win.
I felt my performance went up a notch both physically and mentally from previous 4.0 matches. I hit the ball cleanly and accurately most of the time and communicated often with John during the points, which minimized the gaps that we left unguarded. I still need to swallow my pride and stay back on my serve on occasion if a returner gets hot against me, especially if my net man and/or the receiver’s partner is shaky. And I have to stay positive with my partner. I did that for the most part here but did throw my racket once after he missed three easy volleys and I dropped my serve from 40-0. So obviously there’s still room for improvement. Luckily John is a resilient and competitive guy who played his best under pressure, and I stayed positive and built some much-needed tiebreaker confidence. Our team got a needed win but we’ve got to get a few more reinforcements in order to make it into the top two of our tough six-team league (currently after round 1 of 10, Hampshire Hills has 5 points, we have 3 as do Mountainside, and Executive and GB have 2). The fact that we struggled to beat what will most likely be one of the weaker teams shows just how little margin for error we have.