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One of My Last Great Tennis Wins (Part 1)
Underdog Tennis Champion
I am good friends with a 40-year, Professor Emeritus at City College, San Francisco. Perhaps his most renown saying to his students is, “Statistics is statistics...is statistics.” It is true that there are many tennis statistics in the following article. If one may bear through the the minutiae, the reader will gain a keener understanding about trappings that undermine winning as as an underdog tennis champion, as well as momentarily reclaiming glimpses of the once--and perhaps future-- favorite seeding.
When I First Ran Into Banjo
I played long haired “Banjo” a year before, at the 1994 San Francisco City College Open. At the time, I possessed greater “accurate hit.” I crushed him donning my red bandana and pink and white, “BEST PIRATE Surf” T-shirt, 6-2, 7-6. What was memorable about that match was that my Uncle Barry watched in back of the court when I closed the demolition out with a fairly deep serve. I followed up Banjo’s return right into my eagle breadth with a surprise volley that I punched for a winner into no person’s land. I’ll always remember that serve and volley clincher because my Uncle saw the skidding zinger fly by, all alone, on the runway to oblivion.
Brief Semi-Professional Status
I had a short stint as a Southern California, semi-professional tennis player in 1990, where I waded my way into the early rounds of several tournaments while lofting looping and stratosphere-leaping topspin. At the time, I played college ball for Cal Riverside.
5.5 "A" Status, Too
In 1993, I used a serve and volley style to similarly achieve solid results. I pummeled flatter and harder, topspin groundstrokes to inflict damage in the Northern California, 5.5 “A” division. Although I could usually out-consist my opponents, I often overpowered them first by smacking the stuffing out of the ball-- right through them, as if my groundies were laden with prunes. I reached the 5th round Finals (with four victories) of a sanctioned singles competition in Contra Costa County. I remember that the three-inch trophies were diminutive in size for such an arduous undertaking. (This was no pee-wee feat!) Throughout the year, I beat multiple, current, past, and future “A” champions. Three of the four matches I lost that season were 6-4 in the third or closer. With a little luck, I could have won one or more of those three, tightrope matches. I was 30th out of 50 ranked 5.5 “A” players.
Second, Different Encounter With Banjo
But now entre 1995: I faced Banjo in the first round of a tournament for the second time.
He was a more grooved and improved player than he was the last year I played him in 1994. And my playing quality had continued to torpedo downwards-- a steady decline since 1993. In fact, Banjo was now a ranked 5.5 “A” player, and I had been lucky to win any matches with fizzling out tournament results from yesteryear.
Plummeting Skill Sets
I attribute several factors to my plummeting skill sets, many of which could have been obviated and re-ignited. At 25-years-old and about to apply to McGeorge School of Law, I was mentally tired and less than optimally motivated to train my hardest. I played competitive tennis nearly every day for 15 years in a row. Striking the ball not only was lacking accuracy for proper “zoning”; For me, it was becoming rather stale with a tattered, old hat. Talk about seemingly hopeless “burn out” syndrome!
I felt lame because my game had diminished three or four mini-levels in only two years. I felt responsible for allowing my powerful and steady groundstrokes to become far rustier than my former, semi-professional tennis status. My groundies used to be the sharpest element of my game, even though I became a big serve (and initially reticent) volleyer. While part of this “rust” was definitely a minute, physical departure from mechanical synchronicity, the bulk of the issue was mental/emotional.
After briefly notching several good results both in 1990 and again, in 1993, my longstanding confidence had been shaken and roasted. I inaccurately thought that I had lost my out-of-sync form and ability to elevate my skills to their former level.
With an improved attitude and shedding my pity party from what I perceived “should have been” instead of what “might become again,” I could have sooner reinvented myself as a high caliber player. Instead of grasping for a perfection that I was not capable of attaining in the moment, I could have “attitudinally tweaked or infused” my outlook, positively choosing to reflect upon how far my game had progressed since before high school. I could have realized that I wasn’t playing quite as badly as my perpetual “catastrophizing” was holding me back. Or, I could have taken a month or two off to revitalize and return with a more incessant vengeance. (In 2007, twelve years of sporadic, recreational tinkering after my 1995 competitive farewell slump, I served an entire level better! I attained a new perspective long after my “fall from grace,” so to speak.)
Additionally, I did not realize at the time that it is quite normal for one to temporarily burn out after 15 years of progressively improving training. Tennis is a wonderful microcosm for life on a multiplicity of levels. Still, while athletes are not necessarily one-dimensional, sports are, in some respects, limited microcosms. There is more to life than sending an entertaining, little ball to the “hither” world.
King of Comebacks
During this mostly upwards span, for good measure I made a few comebacks from the depths of despair (“Retreat from Hackdom!”). These overcome setbacks required extensive rebounding each time. The comebacks were as amazingly persistent as triumphant. Nevertheless, they could not help but partially dampen my resolve to stick out the competition indefinitely via the barrage of thwarts.
I Am No Loser
Even though I have often lost for various spurts throughout my tournament tenure, I know, deep down, that I am no loser because of all the preparation and effort expended, including the near-upsets and hard-gained wins. And, I usually strive to improve, regardless of the match results, for the sake of pursuing excellence!
The Heart of the Duel
It soon became apparent that Banjo’s recently grooved groundstrokes had clearly overtaken my rusty ones. I was valiantly trying but ending up a tad worse while trying to hang with him from the baseline. I was flailing, whiffing, and flubbing fast! With a couple of bad calls on his part coupled with my poor playing, he soon was up 5-0. I purposely “tanked” (did not try) the last game of the first set for his 6-0 goose egg. I rather bluntly told Banjo that I would be right back.
In relation to the ongoing tournament match, where on earth would I go?! Was this a thinly disguised ploy to use the lavatory or stall while I prayed?! No, my refusal to provide details of my whereabouts had to have meant that I was concocting a stealthy plan for something more than a piss call. Was I going to return with a bionic racquet with flames combusting out of the butt and rapidly escaping helium that might drag me along with the racquet, all over the court until the stick nose-dived, out of helium, with me following suite? Or might I bring back dead balls that could serve as the equivalent of spitballs in baseball?! Would I disappear for an “injury” time out and return, wrapped from head to toe in mummy-like bandages that were impervious to loss? Did I plan upon entombing Banjo to indefinitely suspend play?!
Was he in some sort of baffling trouble that he could not yet discern, but was nervously anticipating? I not only disrupted his momentum; He did not know what to expect when I returned...(To Be Continued. Please Read Part 2.)