Well, this is the last day of competition. And three months of conditioning (+ a double dose of Aleve every morning and night!) seems to have really helped; because I am only modestly tired and nothing hurts. The morning’s clinic was given by doubles specialist Rick Leach on The Volley…
• The most important part of the volley is the stance: you have to be on the balls of your feet, not on your heels
• You need to use the continental grip for the volley; so you can go either way easily
• You always want to catch the ball in front of you to use your opponent’s pace and you will see the ball better
• Do NOT look where you are hitting the volley; but watch the ball into the racquet
• Keep the racquet head above your hand… even on the low volley
• “short backswing and strong foreword punch”
• Most lower level players swing too much … picture an imaginary wall three feet out in front of you; and stop your swing before you hit it.
• On regular volleys, you want to have a solid grip; but on drop volleys, you want to “soften your hands”
• You only want to hit a drop volley on lower, softer shots
Then we started the “Championship Thursday” matches against the Newk’s Kangaroos, needing to beat them to win the championships (if we did, both team’s would have a 2-1 record; but we would have beaten them head-to-head, the first tie breaker).
Last year at an exact same situation, I had an Epic Struggle with veteran Marty Judge for nearly three hours. This year, my Epic Struggle was against 51-year-old Tim Ruark, who owns the Simsmore Racquet Club in Connecticut — and who Emmo described as having “young legs.”
With Brian Gottfried coaching me on the court, my strategy was to:
• Play with Controlled Aggression
• Hit my open faced forehand deep to his backhand corner
• And get to the net as soon and as often as I could
While we both had several break point chances in the first set, we had eight straight games on serve. Then at 4-4, Tim double faulted on a break point; and I was able to serve out the first set.
In the second set, it was just the opposite… we traded several breaks of serve; but at about 3-3, I really started to run out of gas. I was still trying the same strategy; but I didn’t have the footwork to successfully pull it off. He won the second set coasting at 6-3.
He then took a very long bathroom break (since there was none close by) and I tried to catch my breath to push during the 10 point Champions Breaker to come. Sucking wind after every long point, I tried to follow Brian’s urging of “get to the net” and was able to bring an 8-7 lead to my service rotation.
Brian was standing right behind me and pushing me on. I served deep to my opponent’s backhand in the ad court, came in behind my serve, took the volley inside the service line, and volleyed deep to his deuce court; but his “young legs” got him there for a winning lob over my head.
At 8-8, we had a long, long point, which I ended with a running forehand from deep in my deuce corner to deep in his deuce corner for a winner.
He then served at 8-9 and I had very little in the tank. Brian said, “Hit to his backhand, come to the net, and watch for his slice backhand down the line.” I followed his instructions, rushed the net and edged over to the sideline, which made him push his slice backhand just wide.
I then sat down for the first time in nearly 2.5 hours as a very tired victor.
For the morning’s matches, Newk’s Kangaroos had a very commanding 13-6 match lead going into the afternoon’s matches.
In the afternoon doubles matches, Emmo decided to shuffle the lineup and moved me up from #4 to #2 doubles to play with The Big Boys, teaming with Rambo vs. the very tough team of Jim Whiting (teaching pro from Connecticut) and Jim Capito from Columbus.
As I expected, they tried to play as much as possible to me – even if the shot wasn’t there. That was one of the reasons (the other was how well Rambo and I both played) that we took the first set easily at 6-2.
They came back to take the second in a hard-fought one break set; to bring us to another ten point Champions tie breaker.
Rambo and I continued our effective poaching, faking, and Aussie lineups to take the breaker 10-7. As I sat on my chair really exhausted, I had another “Fantasy Camp Moment to Remember” … Opposing coach and doubles specialist, Rick Leach came over to congratulate us and said, “George, I am really impressed with your doubles skills.”
But our victory was not enough to carry the day and Newk’s Kangaroos repeated as Champs this year. Congrats to them!
After Happy Hour that included fresh shrimp from the Gulf and dinner of fish and lamp chops (yes, we did eat very well all week long), there was the Awards Ceremonies. As Steve Contardi said, “This will be the longest awards presentation you will ever see!”
There were thanks all around to the Legends who made our week wonderful, the great ranch staff of young pros and in the kitchen, and to Steve Contardi and his whole family who arranged it all. Then there were plaques and pictures for people who won all their singles, all their doubles, (Rich Tarantino winning both), Rookie of the Year, MVPs, and several special awards including three inductees into the Fantasy Camp Hall of Fame (including me!).
The official ending to a truly fantastic Fantasy Week of tennis with the Legends was Roy Emerson leading all the Aussies in their rendition of “Waltzing Matilda.”
Friday morning, we are skipping the two hours of morning drills; and AirBerry flew our Naples crew back to Pelican Bay (and I will rest to get ready for doubles on Saturday morning).