The second match was a war. It ended up being me vs. Akash Israni. A kid who plays for Lynn University, the #3 Division 2 school in the country. He battles to play in the 6th spot there, so he is just on the fringe there. Every tournament is a small step up the ladder…
I had previously played him in the semifinals of a tournament in Delray 6 weeks ago. I had injured my shoulder pretty bad on a shanked overhead in the previous match before, and was considering giving a W/O for him into the finals. But then I thought, no way. I have to go out there and play. In the SF of a tournament? Can’t be done.
I went out there a shell of myself, unable to serve, to play aggressively, and was underhanding serves by the end of the 2nd set. I was able to break once in the 2nd due to straight guts, but lost 0-6, 1-6.
I was determined to get revenge, or at least play better. My shoulder is continuing to improve, but it is still not at 100% range of motion and power. I am strong, yes, flexible, yes, but there is a discontinuity in my shoulder. The kinetic motion from my legs into hips and core and into shoulder are ok, but from shoulder into arm and into wrist is where I lose power and control. My Rhomboid muscles are to blame for this injury I’ve been dealing with since 2/14/2009. I must finish healing this shoulder this coming week…
But, I could play today, and play I did. Even before the match I could tell I could maybe get him mentally. He was complaining to the referee that that 10 point 3rd set was a bit muggy. “It should be a full third set. The tiebreak is too flukey.” In my mind I agreed with him, but at the end of the day, you gotta play whatever the tournament format is. I said nothing, only listened.
Then, once we finished the warmup, he won the racquet spin and chose his side. I should have chose to receive, seeing as the sun was in my face, but I always like to serve first, so I chose to serve. So stupid. Live and learn. This is a mistake I will not be making again.
As I go back to serve, I hang up my towel on the fence as I normally do, and he complains. “Ah, your towel is right in my face. I can see it when you are going up to toss your serve.” Huh? What the fuck? Was what I said in my head. “Oh, the towel? I’ll just move it down,” was what I said aloud as I dropping the racquet from the fence to the floor. “What the fuck difference does it make?” I thought to myself. This guy has got some weird ticks.
Anyways, I served in the first game. Maybe my mind was on his ticks or the sun was in my eye, but I broke myself to love with two double faults and 2 rally errors. Immediately I am behind the 8 ball. As I walk to the other side, I realize my error in choosing to serve. “Just get the break back,” I tell myself.
Him serving at *1-0, we have a solid game. His serve is harder and spinnier than any of the 4 players I had beaten in the last 2 tournaments. Still, I am able to return them and get into rallies. He focused mostly on attacking my one hander. It was me digging out balls and having to find his backhand to draw a relatively short ball that I could then attack with my forehand inside in to his forehand. Eventually in this game, he holds after 1 deuce. Ok, I can return his serve, and I was close to breaking. Now I gotta hold, damn it. Again we go in these rallies. It is green clay, and the rallies mostly last a good 8-12 shots before one of us takes control and/or draws an error. I dig out from 15-40 back to deuce, but he breaks me anyway. Now he has a 3-0 lead and serving.
But in this game I break back finally. I miss a BP at 30-40, but make amends and break after a single deuce. At *1-3, I serve, and again am down 15-40. This time I again save 2 BP, but manage to hold after 2 deuces. Vamos. We are running each other around now, ragged, and he complained again about some bullshit. “You are taking too long in between first and second serves,” he says. “You miss it, and then you move the ball out of the way, and I am waiting and waiting and waiting,” he continues. One part of me wanted to call him out for all this petty bullshit, but I remained calm. “It is hurting me more than you,” I said. He looked at me with a face that said “You kidding me?” But I remained steady, and he said nothing more. He knows I am right. If I miss a 1st serve into the net, and spend a few seconds removing it, that distracts me more than him, as I then have a delay in between serves, where a DF is more likely to happen. And he knows I was right, as he did not bring it up again.
Now, he is serving at *3-2. We have another mammoth game, and I blow 2 BP before converting a 3rd. Vamos. Now we are *3-3 in the first, I am about to serve. The 7th game of any set is very important, and this one was no different. After 3 deuces, he breaks me. I miss some 1st serves and he was able to take advantage and control of the rally on the final 2 points of the game. I had save 15-40 in this game again, and a 3rd BP Ad out, but couldn’t save the 4th one. So now he has *4-3. In that game, as I come to the sideline and take text notes, I write down that I felt a small lower left glute pull. This is an extension of my left leg injury. First a left knee in July 2007, then a left ankle in March 2010, I think it all stems from the glute not being strong enough. The knee and ankle are better now, but this glute I think I need to heal to heal all the rest.
At *4-3, he holds to 30, a somewhat routine hold by our standards. I break myself to 30 in the next game, tossing in 2 DF to give him the set 6-3. I couldn’t really explode from the left leg without some minor pain, so in the 2nd, I slowed it down but got a better percentage in. On the rallies, the glute was bothersome slightly, but I was still able to run very well. I wasn’t able to get to every ball though. I am in great shape and have the beginnings of an 8 pack, but I have still got some fat to shed, and a lower left glute to strengthen. I recall specifically in the 2nd set a couple of drop shots and a volley that I was just unable to reach due to the glute not being as full explosion. I’ll be in the gym next week working on that, you can bet your ass (pun probably intended).
In the 2nd, it was much the same as the first. He held to love in the opening game. I then respond with a hold to 15 myself. But at 1-1, him serving, a big time in the match. I have love 40, 3 break points to get an early lead in the 2nd set. The first point at 0-40, we have a rally, and it ends up with me hitting a stinging BH pass crosscourt and him placing a delicate volley short and out of my reach. This is one of the shots that, if I was stronger in the glute, I’d have gotten to and maybe flicked it for a winner. As it was, I got to it just as it bounced twice. This is my fault. I must get stronger.
At 15-40, he hits a serve into the body, jamming me on the forehand. I was unable to get out of the way in time, and my return hit the net. My shoulder, had it been stronger and more together, could have been able to get that return back. My left glute, had it been stronger, could have propelled me to the left faster than it did, allowing me more room for a more normal forehand. As it was, the return found the net. At 30-40, during a rally, I shank a ball off of my backhand that lands well out. This is the one that I am most upset about. Sure he hit a very good deep ball into my BH corner, but it wasn’t SO powerful for me to shank it. I just didn’t get down low enough, didn’t get my shoulder across the ball soon enough, little things, man, and I could have broken 3 times in this game. Gotta get my glute and shoulder right. At deuce, he hits an ace down the middle, cleaning the line. I wanted to investigate and call it out, but I knew it my heart it was good. He kicks a ball up to my BH and volleys the weak slice return to close out 5 points in a row, and the game.
After that game I was rattled. I allowed my mind to think about those 3 missed BP. This was the only time in the match I allowed it to happen. 95% of the time in the match, mentally, I am Borg. 100% of the time I look like I’m Borg. Never any expression when losing a point, but a few vamos when I win some tough points. In fact, when I hit a shot out midway through the second, it was close, but out, and I knew it the second it left my string, I made no expression either way. He must have thought I thought it was good, so reminded me it was, indeed, out. “I know, I know,” I said, but my body language was tough to read. I try not to give anything away. But in that game I allowed my mind to wander. Plus I was fatiguing just a bit, and my glute/shoulder weren’t getting any better. 3 DF in that game at *1-2, and he now had the break and served at *3-1.
But I didn’t allow myself to give up, to give in. I break him back in that game after 3 deuces, again blowing 2 BP, but converting on a 3rd. I never give up. I carry that momentum and hold to 30. 3 all now. He then holds to 15 and leads 4-3. At 3-4, I serve and have 30-0. 2 DF and a FH error later it is 30-40, and I save BP with a fine serve. But on the ensuing deuce point, we have a rally and he outlasts me. He hits a ball I am simply unable to reach, and does the same on the break point against. Gotta get this glute better. I must have looked funny. All in the 2nd set, I was stretching and massaging my left glute while his eyes were away, and snapped back into warrior mode when he turned around. I did not want him to see my impairment. It was funny. He hits a 1st serve, misses and walks up and knocks the ball away, and as he walks back for the second serve, I massage my glute for a few seconds, and he turns around for the 2nd serve and I am ready to return!
At *5-3, serving for the match, I have a BP at 30-40, but he saves it with a clutch serve wide to my BH, a short reply, and he puts it away. I save a match point, but he holds after 2 deuces, as I commit an error on another ball I was late to. We walk up, shake hands, and decide we will definitely train together next week. He is a good dude, and I will improve my game by playing him more often.
As we give the score to the referee, we and another player discuss his chances in the final. I tell Akash he will win for sure, and I am 110% sure he will, and pretty easily, actually. He won a 4.5 a few weeks ago, and will probably win this one too. Anyway, I was talking to him and divulged my tennis plans for being the GOAT, and of course he said: “It’s impossible man, it’s not gonna happen. These guys, they are so good, if you played Nadal or Djokovic, you’d win 2 or 3 points, maybe. If that! It can’t be done.” To which I smiled and responded: “It’s a good thing I don’t believe that!”
Next week will be all about getting into better shape with the glute and the shoulder, dropping some weight, training with Akash and some other guys, and my next match will be most likely Friday afternoon up in Palm Beach Gardens, a USPTA National Men’s Open Event. This next one is a big step up, and I’d like to at least win one round. Oh, there is also a pro-am next Sunday morning I’d like to play and make like $50 to almost cover expenses.
Another week, another rung up the ladder…