My friend and frequent doubles partner, 40-year-old Marc VanDam sent me the following great write up of his matches in the 4.5 (no age) singles bracket in the Naples City Tournament. The month of May in Naples is one of my favorite months of the year. The weather is beautiful, work slows down to a snails pace, and aside from missing my good friends who all leave for a few months, it is time to play and enjoy our beautiful beaches, watch for dolphins and listen for manatee “snorts”.
It also is the month of the city tennis tournament. A month of fun and fierce competition, and a tournament that truly draws all of the top local players.
This year I had my best run ever in the 4.5 singles. It was a large draw with 32 players. 14 of these players also played the 5.0’s.
So last Saturday I had a 10:00 semi-finals match against the number 1 seed and the winner for the past three years in the 4.5 and the 5.0’s. (except for last year, when he lost in the finals of the 5.0’s) I felt really good to be in the semi-finals. I was part of a great crowd of players. Gerd Franke, John Jerome (teaching pro) and Jim Harris, the 5.0 player that George and I lost to in the doubles.
My opponent is Gerd Franke and is 35. He is the guy to beat in town. When George came and saw my quarter final match (in which my opponent defaulted after I was ahead 3-0) he asked him what I needed to do to beat Gerd. His answer was simple and short; pray!
Gerd is such a tough opponent because he has a beautiful slice game and a wonderful topspin power game. Like me he is also a lefty. Like Peter Burwash says, “when you meet a player that can finesse it and blast it, I offer you my sympathies”
George has taught me “you must have a game plan”. So here’s what I came up with for my game plan. (I just didn’t want get blown out 1 and 2 or something similar) I’m a lefty just like him, that has to be a bit of an equalizer I thought. He has a double handed back hand for both topspin and slice. So I decided to hit high topspin shots to his backhand and low mid court, middle of the court slices on his backhand side.
As he has one of the best drop shots in town, I made a commitment to run them ALL down and take that shot away from him. Last but not least, his favorite shot is a whipping cross court topspin forehand that he sends people of the court with. My aim was to make him doubt his favorite shot (together with the drop shot).
During warm up, I didn’t watch him at all but focused on getting a groove hitting my forehand down the line.
He wins the toss and chooses to receive. He got what he wanted, broke me right of the bat. Surprisingly â€¦..I stayed very very calm. I returned well, and broke him right back.
My game plan was in my head but I did not stick to it, after 45 minutes or so, I was down 2-5. Surprisinglyâ€¦â€¦..still very very calm and FOCUSED. I held my serve and during the game focused and executed my game plan. I could not break him again and lost the first set 3-6.
Still very very calm. I stepped up my play and executed my game plan perfectly. And just like that I’m ahead 3-0 in the second set. Two things started to happen, he hit more drop shots then I can tell you, because that’s were he goes when he’s in trouble and he hit that topspin cross court forehand to take me wide.
I got to every drop shot and hitting a lot of winners off them, and every time he took me wide (to my forehand) I calmly hit it back down the line (his backhand) and got ready for more running and playing. Still very very calm and staying in the points NOT thinking about the possible 3’rd set, I find myself at 5-0.
A nice crowd was now watching us, as the rumor mill had started around Cambier that VanDam was going 3 sets with Franke. At 5-0, I smiled inside and thought of my good friend and mentor George. I have been ahead against George 5-0, and with a few handicap points, he has taken that lead away from me and even won the set. I focused and figured, he would most likely not try to hard to conserve himself for set 3. After I went up 30-0, he made errors and it was over, 6-0!
On to the 3rd with new balls. I was truly enjoying myself 😉
The 3rd set was a BATTLE. I find myself serving at 2-1, 30-0. 12 minutes later I loose that game. In hindsight, it could have meant the match for me, but I did not worry about it at the time.
Next crucial moment, I’m serving 3-4, 40-15. I had a put away of off his drop shot that went just wide. I lost that game. He served at 3-5. I fought of 3 match points. But came up short to loose 3-6, 6-0, 3-6. 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Funny how some times a loss doesn’t bother you in the least. Butâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦.I couldn’t help but think for the remainder of the weekend, how close I was to pulling it off. In the end, I earned a little respect this weekend, and that feels almost as good as getting the win 😉