Re: Johnny Groove vs. Gabriel Blanco, Plantation Men's Open R64
The first match was beyond epic.
First game, I serve, I am beyond nervous, but he is even more nervous and I hold 1-0. Then he holds 1-1, as he is less nervous, but I am still nervous.
At 1-1 I serve, 30-30, and move him wide left, and miss a forehand up the line winner at the top of the net. 30-40, the exact situation, he is way wide on the forehand, and I have the forehand winner down the line but again miss, this time over the net, but wide. He leads 2-1, and then holds for 3-1.
I tell myself that I need to calm down and play better or I’ll be out of here quickly.
At 1-3, I steady myself and hold for 2-3. The rallies are tough and I can see his serve speed start to decrease. Only like 5-10 mph, but enough for me to get a hold on it. He is serve and volleying roughly half the time. If I slice the backhand return, unless it is a really good slice, I have lost the point. So I must drive. This is a weakness. I make some, I miss some, it is crazy. He holds after several deuces for 4-2.
At 2-4 I hold for 3-4. At the changeover, I can tell the heat of the day and the heat of the match is getting to him. Ever so slightly.
But he holds for 5-3. At 3-5, I focus and am able to hold. He serves for the set at 5-4, and on the changeover before, I tell myself I am going to break him.
I win the first point, 0-15, I win the 2nd point, 0-30.
“Take this, take this,” I say to myself.
He wins the next 2 points to 30-30.
“Next point” I say to myself.
I win that point and get to 30-40. He serves again into the backhand. I return inside out. His forehand volley is deep, but slow, and I am able to run over there and rip another backhand down the line. He volleys cross into the open court to my forehand, lunging heavily and off balance. I see the forehand down the line and seize the day and hit the winner right out of his outstretched arm lunging back the other way, roughly 1 foot inside the baseline and 2 feet inside the sideline.
“YEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!” I yell, at the top of my lungs. “VAMOOOOOOOS!” God that felt good, to get back into the match there. In that moment after the winner, I began thinking of the nights, of all the training.
And my concentration is off. I am broken for 5-6. Fucking rookie mistake. Terrible, terrible lack of focus on that 5-5 game. Sure he hit some good shots, but my focus was off. At 5-6, he wants to go to the restroom.
“No, no, no,” I tell him. “After the set.” Twice before I’ve had guys try to take a bathroom break right before trying to serve an important game. October 2011 vs. a player named Serguy Serdyuk in Cooper City 4.5 tournament. I don’t know which East Europe country he was from. The first set he won 7-5, and after I hold 4-4 to 5-4, he wants to take a bathroom break. 3 years ago I didn’t know, and I let him go. And he went. And went. And kept on going. For way past the time. The bathroom was also far away. I could do nothing. He got my off my game. He came back, held to love for 5-5, broke me to 6-5, and served it out the win by 7-5 7-5.
Then another time was in Sunrise in March 2013 in a 5.0 tournament vs. Scott Wolff. A similar but different scenario. This time HE was the one who was leading. He was trying to serve out a set at 6-5, but wanted to go to the restroom first. After the Cooper City experience, I hesitatingly let him go, as the bathroom was really close, like literally outside the court. He did not take toooo long in there, but certainly more than 90 seconds, and despite my jump roping, as I tried to keep warm, he ended up holding for 7-5, and winning the set.
“I’ve had guys try to do that to me before,” I say, firmly. There was no way in hell I was going to let him take a quick break before trying to serve out the set again because he knew I broke him the last time he tried to serve out the set.
“But I have to go now, I have 90 seconds” was his reply.
“You can’t make it there and back in 90 seconds” I said, and it was true. If we were on the court I played on 2 weeks ago vs. Jakhoukh, okay, but we were 2 courts over.
“You might GET there in 90 seconds” I said, smart alecky.
“Who says how fast I can get there?” He snapped back.
“Me. I say!” I say.
He mopes. He realizes he has wasted at least 30 seconds arguing with me and now there is no way in hell he is going to get there and back.
“Fine” he says, and goes to get ready to serve. Maybe I fired him up, but he held to 15 for 7-5 and took the bathroom break. That’s 3 times now guys have tried to take bathroom breaks late in sets vs. me and 3 times I’ve lost the set! Still need to figure this particular puzzle out…
As he takes his time, I regroup. I tell myself that I have him right where I want him. He is definitely fatigued, I had seen that since midway in the set. I am just as good. If I keep up the intensity, I came make a patented comeback.
He comes out and he is like a zombie. He is running to some balls but letting some go easily. I am shocked at how badly he is playing. Is he injured? Is he THAT fatigued? Is he tanking to conserve energy for a final set?
I am to 4-0 before you know it. At this point, he pulls a Michael Chang on me vs. Ivan Lendl at Roland Garros 89. He is standing right there not even midway between the baseline and the service line. He is standing midway from the service line and Michael Chang! He is standing at the service line like it is the baseline!
This completely throws me off, and he starts slicing up my serve! What the hell is going on here!?! Droppers, net clippers, tricky deep slices. I must serve better, I tell myself. Don’t let his rope-a-dope strategy work. I start to fire the serve more. Now he is missing easy. He backs up a few steps to Chang position. I try to slice wide and go for the corners. I am making errors and he is shitting on 2nd serves. He breaks for 4-1. Now he has energy out of nowhere? I think to myself.
He does, and holds for 2-4. At 4-2, he again returns in Chang position. He gets a few break points, but I am able to find a big serve when I need it to save those points and eventually hold for 5-2.
At 2-5, again he is as if without energy and he semi-tanks the game and I break for 6-2 and the set. I head to the desk to get the new can of balls for the 3rd set and take my own bathroom break.
I get back and announce that it is a full third set. Some tournaments play 10 point tiebreaker in the 3rd, but Plantation always, unless weather, or influence by the elderly referee, play a full third set.
“Full third?” He asks, not believing. “No 10 point tiebreaker?” Aha, so he WAS tanking.
“No, no, full third,” I say, grinning.
“Okay then” he sighs, and gets himself ready for the final set.
But again, after the high of winning the set, I have a lull at the start of the third. He breaks me to start, Chang position some points, but backing to regular position on others, serve volleying on some points, staying back on others. He breaks for 1-0, then holds for 2-0.
I serve at 0-2, and he is exploiting every weakness of my serve. I am down 0-2, 0-40.
“What can I do?” I say to myself, after he puts away another volley from his return and volley game.
“Serve better,” I answer myself.
And so I do. A big one wide, his return halfway up the net.
“That’s one” I say to myself, trying with all I can to focus as I know if I lost that point it was virtual match point with the momentum of the match.
At 15-40, another serve, this time wide to the forehand side, again the return in the net.
“That’s two” I say to myself, getting some energy, knowing that if I can save this third one, I can change that same momentum heavily into my side.
At 30-40, he retreats from Chang position and takes normal position. We have a rally. Eventually he draws a short ball from my backhand and again approaches there. I run over, lung, and throw up a ridiculous slice lob that lands just inside the baseline, over his head, to save the 3rd break point!
“YES! GREAT LOB!” I yell. “That’s how you save fucking break points man!” I say, loud enough for me and possibly him, but no one else. I try to get pumped but still not expend too much energy to make sure I have some for the next point, it is a tough line to tread.
Deuce, another first serve, another rally I dictate, and finish with the forehand winner.
Ad in, 4th first serve in a row, dictate, draw the mistake.
“YES!” I yell. “STAY IN THIS!” as I hold for 1-2. I could get pumped then, as I had the changeover to get my energy back level.
He still ends up holding for 3-1, but 1-3 is like nothing of a deficit to climb from, I tell myself before holding serve for 2-3. I had come back from 1-3 in the first and almost took it, why can’t I do it again and finish it off this time?
That’s just what I did. I break him for 3-3, and the quality of tennis is at such a high level. At some point I reach some sort of nirvana out there. My legs feel a high like being ever so slightly tipsy, but I am sober, and in control of it. It is a tough sensation to describe. But with this you play your best tennis. I hold for 4-3. At 3-4, I have some chances. He is trying to serve to my backhand, and at this point, anytime I slice the backhand, I lose, and driving it is 50-50. So now I am trying to run around for the forehand to hit inside out. But his serve is too good. I can never step around and hit that forehand return well enough inside out for the winner. He holds for 4-4.
Maybe he is in nirvana mode as well, I think, probably is.
At 4-4, we go 15-15. Then we go 30-30. And I come up with 2 good first serves and win the rallies to hold for 5-4.
At 4-5, he serves the first point, yet another epic rally. Eventually he comes in on my backhand. I throw up a lob. He hits an overhead, but not good enough. I am able to somehow, with some grip, shank a forehand “lob” back and again he retreats and again hits a weak overhead. I run to hit the forehand, down the line for the winner. But it is not good enough. He is there for the backhand volley cross. I sprint over there, and reach it just in time to hit a slice down the line winner just out of his reach!
“Yes, yes, yes,” that’s a great start, I say to myself, getting pumped and staying level at the same time.
At 0-15, he hits a double fault for 0-30. Now I really think I’ve got this. At 0-30, another rally, and he seems done physically and mentally as he is unable to go more than 8 shots without the error. At 0-40, I finally am able to get that forehand inside out winner on his serve and volley play in the ad court into my backhand, the one shot I was trying to hit all match!
“YEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!” I yell, in exaltation and triumph. Another epic match, though this one only 2.5 hours. Another comeback from a set down, and from a break down in the third, with drama, controversy, a high level of play, tactics, just an incredible match.