This is one of the oldest and probably the largest tennis club in south Florida. The weekend of April 14th saw their club singles championships in three levels: 3.5, 4.0 and 4.5 â€“ 5.0
I played in the last group and was seeded #2 in the bottom half of the draw, with club owner, Craig Bouchard being seeded #1 in the top.
Friday nightâ€™s first match started at 6 p.m. against a young (35-40ish) Andy Roddick-like hard hitter: big first serve, good spin second serve, and big inside out forehand. I had never seen him play before; and in the warmup, he â€œplayed possum,â€ just giving me loopy shots to hit.
In the first set, he served a ton; and broke me one time, taking the set 6-3.
What I learned was: like Roddick, he really didnâ€™t like to hit his backhand; and he didnâ€™t appear to be in great shape. So in the second set, I was able to block most of his serves back (like Federer does against Roddick) and take control of the points to move him around a lot a get to his weaker backhand.
Second set to me: 6-2.
How slow can you play?
He was really a very, very slow player anyway; but when he got tired, it was way over the topâ€¦ taking an inordinate amount of time between his service points, keeping me waiting on my service points, and taking 4-5 minute breaks on the changeovers (no officiating).
Even though he knew we were scheduled to play a full third set, he said he was exhausted and suggested we â€œjust play a 10-point tiebreaker.â€ I declined.
I tried to tell myself to ignore the â€œfatigue factorâ€; because 1) he could be mostly faking it and 2) he was almost half my age and could push himself if he really wanted to.
He did push himself and broke me at 2-2 and was serving at 3-2. But he really was getting tired and I was able to break backâ€¦ holdâ€¦ break againâ€¦ and serve it out at 6-3; for a first-round victory in something over two hours.
The next match was just 14 hours later on Saturday morning. This was against another younger guy I never met or saw play. His stokes were solid off both sides, with a fairly consistent serve. But he looked to be a little over weight; so I questioned his staying power.
Again, I went down an early break in the first set and he was serving for the set at 5-3. I had three break-back points at 0-40 and said to myself, if I could convert one, he was done. It appeared he was tiring; so if I could break back and eventually win the first set, I thought he didnâ€™t have enough to fight moreâ€¦ or to take it to three sets.
As it turns out, I did NOT convert any of those break points and he took the set 6-3. But as we came to change over, he said his back was really hurting him and he had to default!
In the other half of the draw, club-owner Craig did win both of his matches in straight sets. With my match ending early, I had a chance to watch the end of his (and to rest my legs!). What I saw was a 52-year old who is tall and moved very well. But seemed to play a very conservative retriever-style game (which is different from how he hit the one time I had played him in doubles). In fact he won his match 6-3, 6-1â€¦ but it took TWO HOURS!
So we squared off Easter Sunday morning at 10 a.m. before a holiday crowd of 30+ people. Per Brad Gilbert, I had written down my â€œKeys to victoryâ€ for this match:
1) Be patient
2) Donâ€™t back up on his loopy shots
3) Get a high % of first serves in
4) Hit topspin backhand crosscourt
In the first set, we had several long games where he broke me and I broke back; but with the score at 2-2, his loopy shots gave me trouble and I made just too many errors (uncharacteristic of my game).
The games were long and close; but he ended up winning the set at 6-2.
The second set
In the second set, he continued his strong play â€“ and me, my errant ways â€“ and he went up 0-4. That was eight straight games that he won!
But I repeated to myself, â€œI am NOT going away! I am NOT going away!â€ and was able to break the string and finally hold.
At the start of the second set, I again listened to the advice of Brad Gilbert and asked myself, â€œWho is doing what to whom?â€ and analyzed it this way: I had stood my ground on the baseline against his loopy shots; but they were still bouncing up above my shouldersâ€¦ and I was making errors. So I decided to play standing INSIDE the baseline and take his balls on the rise.
After still losing those first four games, the change in strategy finally started working. I was able to break him while serving at 4-1. And I held to change over now down just one break at his serving 4-3.
I keep standing in and putting more pressure on his shots and was able to break again and served at 4-4!
The momentum was on my side and I went up 40-love. But then (in retrospect, I realize) I started thinking ahead to holding, him serving down 4-5, my breaking, and taking it into the third set â€“ where I felt my conditioning would give me the edge.
The kiss of death!
I got sloppy and blew the lead and the game. He served instead at 5-4 and we had a tough, close game (with several long points)â€¦ he prevailed.
So, while I am very proud of my strong will not to give up being down 6-2, 4-0â€¦ I am disappointed in loosing concentration when I had the MO on my side. Martina Navratolova said: Play each point in the â€œnowâ€; not what you did before and not what it will mean laterâ€¦ but NOW. Good advice.
And thanks to Bill Beverly for hosting a good event!