Sunday, April 24, 2011

Slipping Away (3-6, 2-6)

I love tennis, but it's that clich├ęd love hate thing and today was a perfect example.

We did our standard one hour of instruction, getting warmed up, rallies in the service boxes, rallies at the baseline, some basket drills and warming up our serve. That was the aperitif, nice enough, and I was having an OK sort of day, helped by the glorious weather. For once we had hazy sunshine, a light breeze and it was neither too hot or too cold. Perfect conditions for tennis.

Now comes the match.

The instructor divides us into teams, and I'm happy to be paired with the best player in our group - 20 years old, she's got a really nice serve and some deadly powerful ground strokes. With my strength at the net, we should be just fine.

We win the toss, and ask our opponents to serve with sun (slightly hazy though it may be) in their eyes. We win the first game. My turn to serve. I'm serving well, particularly on the deuce side, and go 40-0 up. Then my serve disappears and I serve three double faults in a row. There are a couple of deuces, and then I lose, 1-1. The first doubts start to cloud my mind.

Our opponents serve again, and we break them to win that one. My partner serves, she's got the sun at her back and a beautiful technically correct service action that the rest of us players can only dream about. She holds and we go 3-1 up. If we can just win this next game we'll be 4-1 up and barring a huge catastrophe, we'll win the set. It's a close game but our opponents win to stay in contact, 2-3.

My turn to serve. It's hopeless. My 1st serve has just gone. Double faults, weak second serves and some good returning pulls our opponents level at 3-3. My partner is cross, I'm furious, and we manage to lose the next game too. We're now on serve, trailing 3-4. My partner's serve deserts her too, and our opponents are really playing very well, especially the weaker one, who is playing as well as I've ever seen her. The thought crosses my mind that's it's not our day out here today...

It's 3-5, and our opponents are serving for the set. It's a close game but some outrageous shot making and some terrible errors on our part give them the first set 6-3. Oh dear.

We still have 20 minutes left, and propose a second set. Me to serve. I decide to take something off my serves, and try and get some consistency into my game. It doesn't work. We do all play tennis to a certain standard, low as it may be, and our opponents eat up my weak puffy serves with spoon. My partner is really down now.

Our opponents win their service game, but my partner holds, although we're having to produce our best tennis to get any kind of point at this stage, as our opponents are inspired. We're trailing 1-2, and soon it's 1-3 as they hold again. I consider faking an injury or smashing my racket or something - it's just horrible, playing as badly as I am now. I hate this bloody game. My turn to serve. I lose my serve, again. It's just gone. I can't place the ball at all, and even getting it over the net and into a service box is happening rarely. This is horrible. We're down 1-4.

They hold again, to basically seal the win with a 5-1 lead. Then my partner serves, and suddenly she's on, and I'm finally on and we have an easy hold for 2-5. Winning a game at this point seems unbelievable, given the way our opponents have been volleying and lobbing and net cording and generally playing with the tennis gods on their shoulders. Their best player is ready to serve it out.

The final game goes to four deuces, and I manage to save three match points with some inspired returning, as good as I'm capable of. We both know we've lost, and that knowledge enables us to play as well as we can, finally, and some of my bad mood disappears. The fourth match point is too much for us, and that's that for another week... I feel happy its over, sad we've lost, embarrassed at my miserable performance, and guilty at having let my partner down.

Tennis is hard.

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