Oh, Canada! (How I could have seen Andy, Rafa, and Novak for Free)

The Montreal skyline and Jacques Cartier Bridge seen from my hotel in Longueuil.

The Montreal skyline and Jacques Cartier Bridge seen from my hotel in Longueuil.

Nadal and Verdasco warming up for doubles.

Nadal and Verdasco warming up for doubles.

I didn’t take a lot of time to lick my wounds over the loss to Whitey and Laura. A couple of hours after the match concluded I was heading north in my trusty CR-V to a Rogers Cup doubleheader:  the men’s pro tournament in Montreal on Monday and the women’s in Toronto on Wednesday.    I had always wanted to see the Rogers Cup (formerly the Canadian Open) and this year I took the plunge, in part because Chris McCallum and I had been unable to get US Open tickets for the super-popular Labor Day weekend matches, rendering a repeat of last year’s “Super Saturday” adventure impossible.

Rogers Cup tickets aren’t nearly as hard to come by as Open tickets. In odd-numbered years, the men play in Montreal and the women in Toronto, while the reverse is true in even-numbered years; you can order for either event (or in my case both of them) at www.rogerscup.com.  And while the Open is the pros’ ultimate end-of-summer destination, Rogers Cup is one of the most important warm-up tournaments, so both the men’s and women’s fields are generally strong.

Montreal is only about 5 ½ hours’ drive from my home, assuming the border crossing is reasonably smooth: from my tournament in New London, it was actually closer than New York City, and with far less traffic until the last few miles. After a long weekend of tennis, and with a full day of spectating to come, I resisted the allure of Montreal’s many diversions and went straight to sleep in my room at the Hotel Sandman in Longueuil, just across the St. Lawrence from the big city.

The next morning I took the subway to the tournament site at Jarry Park, where the Expos (now the Washington Nationals) had played baseball in the days before the Olympic Stadium was built. The subway system’s slogan is something to the effect of “every station a work of art”, but many of those works of art appeared to have spent a few decades in storage, so run-down and uninviting had they become.  Still, the subway was safe and got me where I needed to go, so it would be churlish to complain too much.  Despite the condition of some of the stations, the subway is a good option for people traveling to the tennis- where on-site parking is limited- and made better by the offer of a free “aller-retour”, or round trip, subway ticket to any traveler with a Rogers Cup ticket for that day (I wasn’t eligible for this deal because my ticket had been printed off the internet rather than delivered by mail).

Unfortunately the fan-friendliness of the match scheduling did not equal that of the transportation network. Play did not begin until 12:30 pm, and only two matches were scheduled on the stadium court during the day session; US Open day sessions always include three matches on Ashe Stadium, even though men’s matches there are best-of-five sets. It was the first day of the tournament and the top seeds had all received opening-round byes, so the stadium court matchups were also less than compelling: Gilles Simon vs. Andreas Seppi and Tommy Robredo vs. Feliciano Lopez.  All four Europeans are solid players, but none is particularly popular Stateside.  That’s typically the profile of guys sent to play their second- or third-round US Open matches on the Grandstand court, my preferred viewing area, and as a result I had seen all but Seppi in person.  Simon and Robredo are workmanlike, counterpunching baseliners, but neither would come to the net even to pick up a ball (they don’t have to, since the pro events all have ballkids).  And while Lopez has a big lefty serve and a nice net-rushing game, his backhand is another story.  I have a sneaking suspicion that if Feliciano Lopez and I were sent to a tennis court to exchange nothing but topspin backhands, I would win a disconcertingly high percentage of the rallies.  And while I can find any number of ways to waste sixty dollars, watching someone play tennis with a backhand like mine hasn’t yet become one of them.

Luckily I had better options. Far better options.  On one of the handful of outer courts, in fact, the schedule read as follows: a singles match between two lesser lights and then Andy Murray, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic in separate doubles matches. Needless to say, I got there in a hurry.  Court 9 was at the outer edge of the tennis complex and had a few rows of bleachers on each sideline and a much larger bleacher section beyond the far baseline.  The ushers, who didn’t seem especially demanding otherwise, must have closed off access to the baseline bleachers, because absolutely no one was sitting there.  So I took a seat in the top row of one of the side bleachers, somewhere in the vicinity of the net post, and the tennis began.  The singles match featured Sam Querrey, a hard-serving American, against Martin Klizan, a left-handed Eastern European baseliner.  Querrey controlled the match with big serves and forehands and was rarely threatened en route to a 6-3, 6-3 win.  Even in this relatively uninspiring match, the error pattern of the pros stood out distinctly from that of us hackers.  Recreational players miss some shots wide, some long, and far too many into the net, but almost all of the pros’ unforced errors are long.  They will never hit a simple rally ball into the net and just give away a point.  They also know that a short ball at that level is a near-certain winner for their opponent, so if they’re going to miss, they miss long.  I’ll try to remember that the next time I play singles, if there is a next time.

By the end of the Querrey match, I noticed that the baseline bleachers appeared to be filling up from somewhere beyond the perimeter of the stadium, although they remained more than half-empty. Meanwhile the ushers were still preventing those sitting in other areas of the court from going back there, sometimes in the face of loud objections from the fans thus turned away.  This eventually drew the attention of the couple next to me, a deeply tanned older man with a pronounced Brooklyn accent and his wife.  They seemed to know more about the situation than I did, which wasn’t difficult, since I knew nothing at all, and my “What’s going on?” query only served to aggravate them further.

“That’s free seating,” said Brooklyn. “Can you believe it?”

“It’s for people who don’t have tickets,” explained Mrs. Brooklyn “so they can come in from the park and watch.”

I was pretty sure that would never happen at the US Open, or for that matter at any professional sporting event in my home country.

“So let me get this straight,” I said, “we paid $60 for our tickets and we can’t sit in those bleachers, but someone can just walk in from the park and sit there for free?”

Brooklyn nodded disgustedly: “I guess that’s socialism for you!”

“Well, it’s not quite like you described it,” Mrs. Brooklyn, who seemed to be much more sanguine than her husband, said to me. “We can leave the stadium and go into the bleachers from the park too, if we want to.”

Gotcha.

Given that the perimeter of the tennis complex bore an eerie resemblance to the Maine coastline, I estimated that that would require about a ten-minute walk, and then I’d have to get back in afterward. It wasn’t an enticing prospect. So I stayed put and silently plotted a much less costly approach to seeing next year’s early-round action.

Seating issues aside, Court 9 was a perfect spot to spend a day, as it featured three top guys playing doubles. You almost never see that at a Grand Slam event because the best-of-five singles matches are so draining. Andy Murray was up first and had wisely elected to team with the accomplished Indian veteran Leander Paes, who has gained some weight in recent years but still sports laser-sharp reflexes and finely-honed doubles instincts. Murray in person is much bigger and stronger than he looks on TV, where he often comes across as slump-shouldered and mopey. If he had grown up in this country, Andy might have been a strong safety or a right fielder, given his size and the speed and grace with which he moves around the tennis court.  And I’ll give him credit: although he didn’t look especially comfortable at the net, he gamely serve-and-volleyed throughout the match.  His return game, of course, is one of the best in the world, and the doubles format, which is now no-ad at regular tour events, accentuated that strength by allowing him to return all of the critical deuce points.  Murray’s dynamite returns and the cleverness of Paes’s net play proved decisive in a 6-3, 6-1 rout of two big hitters, Kevin Anderson and Jeremy Chardy.  The Frenchman went the entire match without holding serve and hit a number of double faults at key moments.  It was hard to tell if he was tanking or just a terrible doubles player, but let’s put it this way: he must have gotten his serve straightened out in a hurry, because he went on to the semifinals of the singles competition…

Next up was one of the world’s most popular players, Rafa Nadal, teamed with countryman Fernando Verdasco against two huge servers, Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and American Jack Sock. While Murray had been bigger than I expected, Rafa was actually smaller, or at least slimmer, than his televised alter ego. A more cynical observer might wonder if he’s simply not taking PED’s anymore.  Regardless, he was tall and slim and put an amazing amount of torque on his forehand, which he whips across his body with incredible speed and ferocity.  It must be said that the guy is also ridiculously good looking and exudes charisma, even from a distance. If he has that kind of effect on a straight male like me, it doesn’t take much to imagine how women react.  The red-haired lady a couple of rows in front of me, who you can see in my otherwise blurry picture below, never took her eyes -or her iPhone- off him for the entire match.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because of the amazing amount of torque on his forehand, either.

Nadal's superfan (in green dress) savors his doubles win!

Nadal’s superfan (in green dress) savors his doubles win!

What most impressed me about Nadal, though, was that he gave a full effort in a situation where not all of his professional colleagues (including, perhaps, one Jeremy Chardy) would have done the same, and a full effort from Nadal is something to behold. If your eyes were only on him- like my neighbor’s, for instance, but without any awareness of the opponents or the setting-  you might have thought it was a Wimbledon singles final instead of a first-round doubles match at a warm-up tournament.   He and Verdasco played with energy and enthusiasm and they worked very, very hard to chase down the heavy shots of their taller, stronger opponents.  They may not have gone to the net much, and I don’t think they ever serve-and-volleyed, but in the end their consistency and will got the better of their opponents’ power in a 10-6 supertiebreaker win.  Nadal and Verdasco went on to win another round and then push the Bryan brothers to a 10-8 supertiebreaker before coming up just short.  I don’t think they played that one in front of the non-paying spectators on court 9.

The last match of the superstar tripleheader pitted Djokovic and fellow Serbian Janko Tipsarevic against Andreas Seppi and Victor Troicki, but by then I had found myself unable to resist nature’s call. The difficult thing about watching matches on the outer courts is that most of the time you can’t leave your seat without losing it.  On a lucky day you might have a friend or seatmate- most often a very large or otherwise intimidating friend or seatmate- who can hold your place until you get back from the bathroom or the concession stand, but saving seats is against the rules at most tournaments now and therefore unlikely to succeed for long.  Once, many years ago, I actually fitted an uncapped Gatorade squeeze bottle to my inner thigh underneath some baggy cargo shorts so I could keep my spot directly behind the baseline of the US Open Grandstand court throughout a full day’s play.  Thankfully it worked as planned and I neither soaked myself nor caused nearby patrons to call the police.  Not wanting to push my luck, I hadn’t repeated that stunt since, and so I left the stands to do my business knowing that I almost certainly wouldn’t be able to get back in.  I didn’t even try.  Instead I grabbed a bite to eat, watched the fast-serve booth for a while with absolutely no desire to take part (it would have quickly become the slow-serve booth) and then hit the road for Toronto, another five and a half hour drive, this time to the southwest.  Thank God for rest-area Tim Horton’s!

Because I have USTA and North Shore stuff I want to get to, I’ll go much more quickly through the Toronto phase of my trip. The tennis stadium there is at York University, slightly north of the city center, and the traffic is a bear (an extension to the subway is supposed to get up there within the next couple of years, but it’s been delayed several times already, so don’t hold your breath).  Play starts an hour earlier than in Montreal, the stadium court has three day-session matches, and there was no free seating anywhere that I could see.  I stayed in the stadium for all three matches, the best of which featured an upset of my favorite female player, Caroline Wozniacki, by Belinda Bencic, a young Swiss player coached by Martina Hingis’s mother.  Bencic went on to win the tournament, beating Serena Williams in the process, and though the American world number one returned the favor at the US Open, there’s no doubt Belinda has a bright future.  Murray beat Djokovic in the Montreal final, so in the course of six matches I got to see both Rogers Cup champions in action, which I’ll probably never be able to say again!

Women's action at the Aviva Centre in Toronto.

Women’s action at the Aviva Centre in Toronto.

Here are a few things that might help if you’re thinking about visiting one of the Canadian events for the first time:

-Remember your passport! It’s been a few years since you could cross the border with just a driver’s license.  Trust me, you don’t want to give the Canadian border guards a reason to be any meaner than they already are.  If you don’t have a current passport, plan ahead, because it can take a few weeks to get one, though an expedited process is available if money isn’t an issue.

-Get Canadian currency.   Just because they use “dollars” in Canada doesn’t mean their dollars are equal to our own.  The exchange rate is better if you get your money changed before you leave home, but you can visit an ATM once you’re up there if necessary.  Some places in Montreal and Toronto, including lots of tournament restaurants and souvenir shops, post signs announcing that visitors have the option of paying the Canadian price straight-up in American money.  It may be convenient, but it’s a terrible deal for us Yanks.  If I had done that I would have lost thirty cents on every dollar.

-This might seem too obvious to mention, and maybe it is, but remember that Canadian speed limits are in kilometers (.6 of a mile, for the metrically challenged).  So when you see that “100” on the road sign and start to air it out, as I did my first time driving there, think twice.   Socialism may be great when you want to watch a tennis match without paying, but it’s a lot less pleasant when you’re the one being taxed- or fined.

-If you’re going to the Montreal event, expect tournament personnel to address you in French when you’re shopping, ordering food or just trying to find your seat. I speak French, so it wasn’t a big deal, but I expect it might be a little intimidating for those who don’t.  It’s ok, though:  just smile and speak English back to them, and they’ll most likely reply in kind.  Almost everyone in Montreal is bilingual and Canadians are, in the aggregate, exceptionally friendly and helpful people (warning: this tactic doesn’t work nearly as well in outlying areas of Quebec province, where many of the natives either can’t or won’t speak English).

I’ll see you in the Court 9 free seating at next year’s Rogers Cup, eh?

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Summer 2015 Recap

This summer has been a slow one for me tennis-wise. My two main objectives were to improve my fitness, which had deteriorated sharply during a very busy springtime of coaching, and to improve my serve, which any semi-regular reader of this blog knows has been an ongoing struggle. Somewhat surprisingly, I feel like I’ve actually made progress in both areas. While I’ll never be mistaken for a bodybuilder, I have at least gotten perceptibly fitter thanks to a combination of gym workouts, practices and matches in brutally hot summer weather, and some moderately challenging hiking in the mountains north and west of my home.

While putting in the time and effort will almost certainly make you fitter, that same formula has done little to improve my serve over the years. Back in the day, it was actually something of a weapon, but those days are long gone now, and after injuring my shoulder nearly a decade ago, I’ve put in untold hours and tried many different motions without lasting success. The delivery I had used during the 2014-2015 season began with my racquet already dropped behind my shoulder a la Jay Berger or, more recently, Sara Errani, two otherwise solid pros best known for having meatball serves. My serve wasn’t great either, but against players rated 4.0 and below the rest of my game was usually strong enough to compensate.   4.5 competition was a different story: one of many reasons for my 1-12 record was that I lost my serve too often and didn’t get nearly as many free points with it as my opponents did with theirs. Sensing my frustration, Todd Toler convinced me to make one final effort at incorporating a full motion. He came up with a drill in which he weighted a towel by knotting it at one end and had me swing the towel over and over again, in an effort to get me to swing more loosely, letting gravity and the weight of the racquet do more of the work. He also got me to close my stance somewhat and put my backswing on more of a diagonal path, as apparently I had been coming around from too far to the right of my body and thereby inhibiting my motion. Then he told me to practice as much as I could over the summer, since I had more free time and empty outdoor courts were easy to find. So I became a fixture at a number of local parks and public courts, swinging the weighted towel to warm up and then trying to use the same principles to make my serve smoother. The towel drill really helped, and thanks to my strength work I could take a full swing without pain, but progress still came slowly. Eventually, though, it did begin to come. After a couple of weeks, I could make about one in four serves the “right” way. Slowly, and somewhat less linearly than I would have hoped, my ratio of “good serves” (ones that kicked up nicely and with good carry) to “bad serves” (my usual waist-high batting-practice fastball) continued to improve. If I lagged my tossing arm a bit, not raising it until my racquet had passed behind my right hip, and if I remembered to swing smoother instead of harder, and if I put the toss nice and high for both first and second serves, it really did work! That’s a lot of ifs, of course, and forgetting (or even imperfectly executing) any of those elements fouled everything up, but when I got them right, my serve was probably 30 percent better overnight.  I wouldn’t exactly say I began to look forward to going out and practicing my serve, but I did dread it a little bit less than I had.

During this time period I limited my match play because I didn’t want to fall back into bad habits for the sake of short-term results. As July moved into August, though, I returned to Colby-Sawyer College in New London for my lone summer tournament, the Chargers Classic. In last year’s “Summer of ‘Love’” post, I described at some length what makes this tournament special.   I won’t repeat myself here, but suffice it to say that all of the many positives were once again in evidence, even if the turnout was slightly lower than normal (the tournament was held later in the summer than usual, and as a result several regulars had conflicts with USTA district play). The Chargers Classic has an almost infinite number of divisions, but to facilitate scheduling each player can participate in only two: mine were the men’s open doubles and the century mixed.

My original partner for the men’s doubles was my good friend and USTA teammate Chris McCallum.   Chris and I actually make a terrible doubles pairing: I don’t think we’ve ever beaten a team featuring even one 4.5-caliber player.   But without any USTA summer playoffs this year, we both needed some competitive play, and I figured at the very least it would make for a good story, because any tale involving Chris is bound to be entertaining.   But Chris’s elbow had gotten progressively more sore over the summer, and a couple of days before the tournament his doctor told him that he would almost certainly need surgery unless he took a clean break from tennis for a couple of months. Chris reluctantly complied; having undergone three surgeries in the past four years myself, I doubtless would have done the same.  By that time, though, the draw had already been set, and the tournament committee- which to my good fortune did not seem aware of what a lousy team Chris and I made- had seeded us second behind Andy Day and Larry Barnes.   Finding a substitute partner on the eve of a tournament is never an easy task, but this time I got lucky. I knew that Alex Mezibov, a friend from Concord who helps out with the CHS tennis team as a semi-regular hitting partner, was already playing in the open mixed, and I was able to talk him into filling in for Chris too.   Alex isn’t as good as Chris, but he is a nationals-level 3.5 (he and Chet Porowski made their own Indian Wells tri-level trip earlier this year) who has also had some respectable results at 4.0 in the past.   He’s an aggressive player who takes a lot of risks, but if his shots are going in he’s very dangerous. He also has quite a bit of self-confidence and tends to play well against better players- important characteristics for this tournament, since most of the other guys were rated 4.5. The draw worked in our favor too. Only six teams entered, and we had, based on Chris’s rating, received a bye into the semifinals as the #2 seeds.

Our good luck didn’t stop there. Our semifinal opponents were Ben Taylor, a very strong 4.5 in his late 20s who may be one of the most friendly and happy-go-lucky people on the planet, and Andy Johnston, who had been a strong high school player a few years back but had since taken some time away from the game. Ben has always had a big forehand and a nice serve, but recently he’s gotten much more aggressive at the net, and with well-timed poaches he minimized the number of balls that Johnston had to hit, which was especially important since Andy was serving into a blinding sun and had difficulty tracking the path of our returns. Ben’s heavy spins and strong net play always give me trouble, Alex was missing more than he thought he should have, and as a result they destroyed us 6-1 in the first set. We made the second a little more competitive but were still down 3-5 with Andy serving for the match. Here’s where the good luck came in: after finally reaching match point following a number of deuces, our opponents came up to the net and retired (full disclosure: they had told us about this ahead of time, although you always wonder…).   Neither of them could come back for the final, which had been set for the next morning, so they allowed us to go through in their place. We certainly appreciated their sportsmanlike gesture, but in a larger sense I’m not sure about the ethics of signing up to play in a tournament you know you won’t be able to finish. I don’t object to this when you’re likely to lose in an early round, which is commonly my own situation, but when you’re a legitimate contender I think the dynamic changes. If our opponents had stayed out of the tournament completely, the draw might have been rebalanced and given a more deserving team than Alex and me a chance to be in the finals. Still, we weren’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. As my man Chet always says, “they don’t ask how, they ask how many”! Ironically, Chris’s name was still on the draw sheet (the message I had left about my change of partner apparently hadn’t been passed along), and it had advanced through the bracket with mine: McCallum/Page in the finals at last! So that night I called Chris and said “You and I just doubled our lifetime win total today. If you don’t believe me, check Monday’s paper…”

Alas, Monday’s paper would not report a tournament championship for McCallum and Page. In the finals Alex and I faced a father and son team who were summering on one of the nearby lakes and had just beaten Andy and Larry in a supertiebreaker. The father, Matthew, is a few years older than me and lives and works in Hong Kong most of the year. I learned later that he played Ivy League tennis at Brown back in the day. Max, his son, is a teenager who trains at a high-powered junior academy in California. Matthew had relatively flat strokes and great hands at the net, while Max was quick around the court, with a heavy serve and an excellent topspin forehand.   Going into the match, I thought Alex and I could potentially get blown out if we were off our games, and we went down two breaks in a hurry, which seemed to confirm my worst fears. But we were going to the net aggressively and we got one of the breaks back by winning our share of those bang-bang net points where all four guys are volleying. They ultimately served out the set at 6-3, but we had been competitive and both of us seemed to gain confidence from that.   I was returning well, serving adequately and sticking my volleys, and Alex hit some big down-the-line returns and closed well to the net. We stayed on serve throughout the set and even had a chance to go up 5-3, but Alex pushed an easy volley wide on break point with a big section of court open. They ended up holding, and at 4-4 we lost a long deuce game on Alex’s serve. He tends to struggle with closing on short sitters, and in that game he missed a swinging volley and also let a slightly lower ball bounce a foot or two from the net and then missed an easy forehand. I’m not selling him out: if I had a better serve and had served first, that would have taken the pressure off him, and in any case I might have moved more to try to help him hold. However it came about, the end result was unsatisfying for us, as our opponents promptly served out the match at love.  Still, we had put up a good fight, which is more than many observers would have predicted following our semifinal match, and I don’t think either of us was disappointed in our play. I do admit, though, to occasionally wondering what might have happened if Chris had waited another few days to see that doctor…

While reaching the men’s open final, however dubiously, had been a pleasant surprise, my expectations were higher for the century mixed, where Lynn Miller and I were the defending champions. Last year’s matches hadn’t been particularly difficult, but in this year’s four-team draw our semifinal opponents quickly got our attention, breaking me twice en route to a 4-1 first-set lead. Barry, a finesse player in his 60s with good hands and an unorthodox game, dug out lots of balls and his partner, Diana, who was slightly younger, hammered her groundstrokes with both pace and precision. Lynn, who knew them both, hadn’t thought we’d have much trouble, but she was out of sync early in the match and I pressed in an effort to compensate and missed a number of easy shots.   We kept waiting for Diana to miss and she never seemed to (I found out after the match that she was rated 4.5, so it was probably just a typical day for her).   Luckily neither of them had a great serve or an overpowering net game and that allowed us to find the range and work our way back into the set.   We started communicating better and I became more aggressive at the net, while Lynn just got more balls in play. At 4-4 I held for the first time and then we broke them for the set. After completing that big comeback, Lynn and I were much more comfortable, and we led throughout the second set en route to a 6-2 win.

Our biggest challenge was yet to come, though, as in the finals we were matched against the father-daughter team of Whitey Joslin and Laura Joslin-King. The Joslins are NH tennis royalty. Whitey, a longtime teaching pro now retired and approaching 80, ran the Racquet Club of Concord along with his wife Sue when I was a teenager, and in later years became the owner of Mountainside in New London. All of their children were good tennis players, but the best was Laura, now a strong 4.5 player in her early 50s, who has teamed with Whitey to win a total of 11 National Father-Daughter tournaments over the years. Despite their impressive resumes, and even more to their credit, Whitey and Laura have always been nice, genuine, down-to-earth people. Make that nice, genuine, down-to-earth and extremely competitive people! Our match would turn out to be a classic.

Lynn and I had based our game plan around making Whitey move and taking advantage of the openings that that created.   It wouldn’t be easy to do. Whitey isn’t the typical senior player getting by on slicing, lobbing, and metronomic consistency. He regularly hits some shots harder than I do despite being thirty-plus years older, and although he plays primarily father-daughter events now, he could still hold his own in most men’s 4.0 matches. Laura plays a lot of 8.0 and 9.0 mixed doubles, and she’s far more comfortable at the net than most women, but she’s also short, so Lynn and I thought our lobs would be effective too. Their game plan, or at least the strategy they ended up using, seemed to revolve around minimizing my touches and overpowering Lynn with hard-hit groundstrokes and volleys. This wasn’t immediately effective because Lynn began the match playing at a very high level, and as a result we got off to an early lead and made it hold up throughout the opening set. We broke Whitey in all three of his service games en route to a 6-3 win, drawing an uncharacteristic racket throw from the legend as the set concluded. It was our serve to begin the second set, and I should have gone for the jugular and insisted on taking the balls. I had held comfortably in both of my first-set service games while Lynn had had more difficulty, often resorting to an underhand second serve, with varying degrees of success. But the sun was again a major factor, and we both would have had to serve into it if I had gone first. So she began the set, and Whitey and Laura quickly got a break which put them right back into the match. They went to the Australian formation on their own service games and, while it didn’t really bother my returns, it did take some of my crosscourt angles away. Even more importantly, it seemed to give them renewed energy, and Laura began to regularly control the points on Lynn’s return side with strong net play. We rallied back to 4-4, though, putting us just a hold and a break from winning the tournament. We would get neither. First Lynn was broken to 15: her underhand serve lost its potency as the Joslins dialed up the pace on their returns to take control of the points quickly. Whitey then held serve, and in the blink of an eye we had fallen from the threshold of victory into a dangerous winner-take-all match tiebreaker.

Whitey and Laura have much more experience playing together than Lynn and me, and now the momentum had swung their way too.   This combination would be too much for us to overcome. Whitey set the tone on the first point, chipping a hard crosscourt forehand return into the alley past my outstretched racquet. I remember it vividly because it was the only time all day I had missed a first volley behind my serve, and the timing couldn’t have been worse (I’m not sure even Tim Duncan could have reached it, though, given how well it was struck)! We hung around for a while and made the second switch in the Coman tiebreak format down just 3-2. But Whitey and Laura came up big in the middle of the ‘breaker and built a lead we couldn’t overcome. The final was 10-5. Lynn was disappointed because her level off play had dropped considerably after the first set, but in truth I could have done a lot more to help her. In future matches I need to serve first more often (always?) regardless of the sun, and hit my groundstrokes harder. When I lack confidence in them, I tend to resort to the “slice-and-hope” strategy of chipping balls, coming to the net and hoping for the best. If my approach sits up too much, however, we’re in big trouble: even though I can get most hard-hit passing shots back (in doubles, at least), the play leaves my partner a sitting duck. While better strategic play could have helped us bag a huge win, we certainly gave Whitey and Laura a battle, which is something they rarely get in local century play. Lynn and I used the experience we gained to our advantage a few weeks later, as we won four matches- some of them hard-fought- to take the century title at Loon Mountain, just north of Plymouth. Whitey and Laura didn’t make that trip, so a rematch will likely have to wait until next summer. In the meantime, though, there’s lots more tennis to be played. Stay tuned!