This essay is about tennis, but not just tennis. It is dedicated to anyone whose capabilities have ever been underestimated and unjustifiably dismissed.
In the first part of this tennis saga, I told the story of having been dismissed as a weak player by the Captain of my tennis team, but then went on to win a singles tournament in which not only did he play, but so did two of his “best” players (who he gave most of the playing time to when it counted).
Now, that tournament would have been enough for me. Still, as it turns out, there is a bit more that same year. I knew I would not be playing on Captain Tim’s team in 2008. I had captained USTA tennis teams before, but never tried to actually win. I had captained those teams mainly as a way to get to play some serious and competitive matches.
However, I enjoyed the success of Captain Tim’s teams, despite not being played much when it counted. So I decided to form my own team, in a different league (I did not want the sturm and drang of playing Captain Tim’s teams directly). The core of the team included me and two other guys who had been treated similarly by Captain Tim — being mostly ignored come the big matches. We should have called ourselves the “Castaways.”
Anyway, with we 3 as core, we formed a team. These guys had good morale. There were 1–2 team practices each week, which always got good turnouts, plus several of the guys would play with each other an additional 1–2x/week.
The upshot of the leagues’ rules made it so that close matches often ended up playing 1 or more tiebreakers. This is important for the following reason. Tiebreakers have a different rhythm than regular games; they are also very tense because an entire set, or match, can hinge on a handful of points. It is very easy to choke either way, by being too aggressive and making errors, or by being too conservative and careful and then allowing your opponent to take it to you.
So, we practiced. Not just tennis, but tiebreakers. Repeatedly. We played, in practice, tiebreaker mini-tournaments. We played tiebreaker king of the court. We played and played and played tiebreakers, till playing tiebreakers was a normal, comfortable thing this team did.
Because the USTA district coordinator was so disorganized, our league only played 6 team matches. We split our first four, and were in 3rd place (out of 4 teams) with two weeks to go. We were all but mathematically eliminated. To have any chance at all of winning the division, we had to beat the 2nd place team (who had already beaten us once) and then the first place team.
A team match is best two courts out of three. In the first of these matches, against the 2nd place team, our first two courts had split matches. So, the winner of the third match would move into sole possession of 2nd place, and still have a shot at winning the league. Our third court consisted of John (the co-captain), and Laszlo, a grizzled veteran of competitive play. Both had attended almost all of the tiebreaker practices. They win their first set, 7–6. The second set goes to 5–5, but time is running out. So, they have to play another tiebreaker. Which, being as prepared as they are, they win, so they win the match, 7–6, 6–5. Two tiebreakers. Few things feel as good in tennis as preparation paying off.
We then go on the road, to play the #1 team. We had not won on the road all season, but we are fielding perhaps our best team. I am playing with Pete, one of the other guys unceremoniously excluded from Captain Tim’s team. I have played with him several times now. Pete is a character, but, on the court, is all business. Big serve, big forehand, great lob, quick hands, slow feet. I don’t have the serve, but I do have quick feet, and a big backhand, and also a good lob. We get into a knockdowndragemout. Our opponents are very good at the net, probably better than we are. So we both start playing back. And lobbing. And this gave them all sorts of trouble. (I mentioned how much I love winning ugly in the prior essay). We win the first set 7–6 (another tiebreaker!). And manage to pull out the second set without going to a tiebreaker, 7–5. It was a helluva match, and I was sure it was going to be our team’s “match of the week.”
I was wrong. John and Laszlo outdid us. They were playing the only team that beat Pete and me all season. And they had lost the first set 6–2. But they got into a dogfight in the second set, and got to (another!) tiebreaker. Which they won. There were now about 14 minutes left in indoor time. The rules said that, if there were 10 minutes left, and split sets, you play a tiebreaker. But should they start a new set? And, what kind of tiebreaker do they play? A regular, 7 point tiebreaker, or a 10 point tiebreaker? The answers as per our league’s rules were: They should start a new set and play a 7 point tiebreaker
if they were still tied with 10 minutes to go. But John and Laszlo *wanted* to get to a tiebreaker; they were confident that, with all our preparation, they would have the edge. So, first they discussed it with their opponents. Their opponents were not sure of the rule, either. So, they stopped play, and consulted with both me and the other captain.
By the time that was all resolved, there were only 10 minutes left. Which meant it was time to play a tiebreaker. Which, of course, John & Laszlo won. And that match, combined with the one Pete & I won, meant that, on the road, we had beaten the #1 team, and, ultimately, won the division. Of the four sets we won that day, three were tiebreakers, and the third was 7–5. It was a helluva day.
This was all the year after Pete, John, and I were discards from Captain Tim.
I hope, gentle reader, this page gives you some more insight into why I love tennis.