Losing and learning

I double-faulted on the first point, but put the next ball deep in the box. It kicked high to my opponent’s backhand. I raced forward. He muscled the ball back over the net. It hung lazily in midair. I rose up, smashed it deep into his forehand corner, 15-15. I ended the next three points in similar fashion to even the score at 1-all.

I wouldn’t win another game until the middle of the second set. My opponent shut me down 6-1, 6-1, brutalizing me with a powerful two-handed backhand. He was driving it deep cross-court, ripping it down the line, and spinning it through every angle in between.

I continued to serve and volley until the bitter end. I hit too many double-faults and stoned some easy volleys, but my level of play wasn’t poor enough to explain the thrashing. The guy was just too darn good.

Even so, the match was a victory of sorts. I vanquished the mental gremlins. Maybe they took the day off when they realized that, short of kneecapping my opponent, I had no chance to win. But I think it was the serve-and-volley game that kept them out of my cortex, a strategy that I decided to adopt after last week’s loss.

The attacking game is instinctual. You’re always moving forward, trampling your anxieties into the asphalt like a stampeding elephant. I had no time for fear or doubt.

Unfortunately, serve-and-volley is also a difficult game. You rarely see it on the 4.0 circuit. (“I was surprised by the serve and volley. It’s like a lost art,” my opponent marveled after the match, as if I’d just finished a reading of Aramaic verse.) I’m not sure I have the skills to make it work, at least not yet, but it suits my head.

After my match, I watched the second singles court. Both players were pushing the ball. I got anxious just watching. Eventually, one of the players would try to bring the torment to an end, sometimes with a go-for-broke groundstroke, more often with an ugly failure of nerve–a dropshot that fluttered into the net or a no-pace, no-spin forehand that floated just beyond the baseline.

I was disappointed by my loss, but not as despondent as I would have been on Court 2 in this spectacle of nerves.

I felt the same way Sunday, when I watched Federer and Nadal in the second set tiebreak of the Madrid Masters 1000 Series. At 3-all in the tiebreak, Federer planted himself on the baseline, determined to trade groundstrokes with Nadal and wait for the error. He’d abandoned his all-court virtuosity.  Instead of Mozart, he was playing Chopsticks. It didn’t suit him.

As the rally extended, I could feel Federer’s anxiety emanating from the TV.  His forehand found the net. A few points later, Nadal won the tiebreak and the title.

I’ve been there. I won’t go back.

–A. Clarke


6 responses to “Losing and learning

  1. This is beautifully written Andy!! And so well put! I will try to remember this on Wednesday when I have to play an important match—but this also means I’ll have to develop a volley!!

    Keep these stories coming!!!

  2. Hey, thanks. Good luck on Wednesday. I hope your mental game is stronger than mine.

  3. Wow, that’s great! You will be able to do whatever you want now. I love the comparison of chopsticks v.s. Mozart with Federer.

    Best of luck in your next match.


  4. Good stuff, man. I follow USTA pretty closely and I was expecting the score to be a lot closer. He’s a pretty tough player though.

    • Thanks a lot. He said afterwards that he usually doesn’t hit his backhand as well as he was that day. THe score may have been closer if I’d played the entire match from the backcourt, but I doubt I would have won, and I feel like I’ve got to develop more of an attacking game, even if it sets me back a little at first, to reach my potential.


  5. Pingback: Closer . . . « The Eastern Forehand

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