In With a Whimper

As I prepare for this afternoon’s match at Woburn Blue, just two matches remain in the NSL regular season, which began back in mid-September.   I had some other things going on and missed last week’s home match against Westford, but I later learned it was a classic case of good news/bad news.   The good news was that we took three courts for a 4-2 win (league-leading Westford helped us a bit by choosing to rest three or four of their top players), and this result, coupled with Woburn White’s 1-5 loss against Newburyport, definitively secured us a playoff position.  The bad news was that our chemistry issues continued to worsen, which I would not have thought possible.   Chris and Elias rolled on court one while Alan and Ronnie came up with a strong performance on two, but we lost three and four by wide margins, so the team result hinged on the outcome of court 5.  Frank had Bryan playing there with Bob Pallazolla, a solid veteran with a good serve and lots of determination who unfortunately has a work schedule generally incompatible with Saturday tennis.   Realizing that his own chances for success on any court were limited, Frank had put himself and his partner on four in order to give the court five team a better shot.  He was obviously stacking, but Bryan still took offense that he was playing on court five, and behind Frank to boot.  I guess he had gotten tired of writing long emails, though, because this time he simply didn’t show up to the match.   Luckily we were playing at the Willows and Frank was able to grab a teaching pro (and longtime friend of mine), Mike Roberts, who had just finished giving some lessons.  Mike and Bob had a slow start but came through in three sets, taking the final set 6-4.  It’s a shame neither of them will be with us for the playoffs: Mike is committed to the B team (the next level down in the NSL) and Bob won’t have played in the required number of matches.   But they did put us into the playoffs with a big win, and now it’s up to the rest of us to make the most of it.  Whatever our ultimate destiny, Bryan won’t be part of it: he has officially quit the team.  With guys dropping like flies, we only had two courts filled for today’s match as of late last night.  I’d better get going to Woburn now or else Chris and Elias might be playing solo today….

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I got to Woburn just in time through some late-winter snow flurries, and our team did what it needed to.  We ended up contesting four courts and won all of them against Woburn Blue, a team near the bottom of the standings with nothing much to play for in its final match of the year.  Chris and Elias won in two close, tightly-contested sets against a talented but streaky pair that caught a hot streak, and our two fill-in teams- young teaching pros Andrew Zappala and Dom Iacovo on court three and Gary Barros/Dennis Robertson, who once again came to the rescue on four- cruised.  Frank had me with Alan on two again in order to better prepare us for the upcoming playoffs (if he had put our guys in their true order of strength, Andrew and Dom, who aren’t regular team members, would certainly have been placed ahead of us).   We went up against two guys in their mid-twenties who had played small-college tennis and were now starting careers in the greater Boston area.   I already knew one of them, Tony Collins, a super nice kid who had starred at Trinity High in Manchester and later played quite a bit of evening tennis with our Algonquin team while on breaks from college.   Tony had a huge first serve and a supersonic forehand, but his consistency and shot selection were sometimes a little suspect, so I liked our chances in a doubles environment (in singles, he would have had a clear-cut edge over both Alan and me).  His partner, Kyle, had been captain of the team at Roger Williams College in Rhode Island, but had only recently returned to competitive tennis after a couple of years away from the game.  Although not big or overpowering, Kyle was quick, served well and had more variety in his game than Tony.   In the early part of the match, though, he may not have been fully warmed up, because we ran out the first set comfortably at 6-2, breaking Tony twice and holding our own serves without much difficulty.   We kept our game plan focused on getting our first serves in and attacking the net, and in trying to hit us off the court our opponents made quite a few mistakes.  In the second set, we jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead and I thought we might be in for a stress-free day, but in NSL tennis few matches remain stress-free from start to finish.  Tony held serve on the deuce point with some great shots, and after that he and his partner played with more emotion and consistency.  The next several games all went to deuce, as my volleys were a little bit off and the other guys started to throw in some chips and lobs and reflex volleys, and to use their quickness to track balls down.  We kept our noses in front until Kyle burned me with a great lob volley during a four-player net exchange on the deuce point, putting us into another dogfight at 3 games all.  The stretch of excellent points continued on Tony’s subsequent service game and we reached another sudden-victory point, which I somewhat reluctantly agreed to return from my position on the deuce court.   Tony missed his first serve and then Alan moved forward a perceptible distance from his starting point on the service line.  It might have gotten him killed if I had sent a weak return to the opposing net man, but maybe he knew what he was doing, because Tony put his second serve into the bottom of the net.   Alan then won his own service game at deuce despite some dismal volleying on my part, and two games later I was able to hold uneventfully to complete a 6-2, 6-4 win.  I had taken a week off from doing anything tennis-related and was a little rusty with some strokes, but I felt better physically too (a season of wear and tear coupled with all-too-infrequent fitness work had begun to take a toll).  Now it will be a question of getting my strokes and competitive edge as finely-honed as possible and hoping that our team gets hot when it matters most.   Winchester has overtaken Westford for the top spot, and unless we can make up some ground on third-place Newburyport next week we will be playing them in the opening round.  They do all kinds of strange things with their lineup, and a number of them don’t hesitate to make sketchy calls, but above all they have lots of very, very good players.  We have one amazing player and nine or ten good ones, but very little margin for error if someone gets sick or hurt or decides to go on vacation.  And much like an aftershock from an earthquake, Bryan’s departure continues to have harmful ripple effects.  This week Frank learned that Bill Michaud had decided to quit the team after Big B threw him under the bus following their defeat against Woburn White two weeks ago.  Bill was a solid player who with the right partner could have won for us against anybody on court 4 or 5, and his absence will further limit our options and increase the pressure on the rest of us.  One thing’s for certain, though: whatever ultimately remains of our team come playoff time isn’t going down without a fight.   Let’s just hope that that’s true figuratively and not literally…

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