Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rocky III

So from last post you can see that I survived a tough three-setter last Saturday to get to the semi-finals of the club tennis Plate championships. It was so tough that I aggravated a mild tennis elbow pain somewhat into a more painful injury. The semi-finals were scheduled for tonight.

On Sunday I had a usual Sunday morning doubles fun match and it was obvious that the tennis elbow was sore and also my muscles were still aching generally. Yesterday I did a medium 300 calorie workout on the gym treadmill to help my aerobic fitness and also some mild sit-ups. I avoided any arm exercises and later got some deep heat and other cream to help the tennis elbow.

So tonight I had the semi finals. The guy I was playing had just wiped out a fairly good player in the quarter finals (6-1; 6-2). My opponent was older than me (for a change!) and his style of play is very much error-free tennis and great placement. Certainly not a super fast guy or even a big hitter. But he would frustrate the soul out of you by keeping rallies going forever until you would make a mistake, tire out, or he would place the ball very well to beat you. He is notorious for giving good players a lot of trouble.

Anyway my plan was to hit harder and come into the net when appropriate to volley and shorten the rallies. After rubbing plenty of deep heat cream into my sore elbow we got going. The first set was tough and long but after a lot of concentration and effort my strategy largely paid off and I took the set 6-3.

I was feeling good now and that's not always an ideal emotion. He took a nasty lead in the second set to go 3-1 up. Mentally I was now struggling with self belief. I had to try to psyche myself that I could successfully hit big shots. I knew raw power with good placement could trouble him. I gradually got a bit better and went into a 5-3 lead and I was serving for the match. I blew that opportunity and he was serving at 4-5. With a bit more self belief and effort I managed to break him back and won the match 6-3; 6-4. It was long for a two setter at about 90 minutes.

So, I'm in the finals on Saturday...yippee!!! I don't even care if I lose the finals now, it's a great thrill to get this far. But I'll give it a good try anyway!

I also know who I'll be playing in the final...a very tall and fast lean guy who is about 6 years younger who loves to volley at the net. He's not a very big hitter and his serve is quite average. He is very tough though with his long arms at the net and his mobility and good placement. We shall see! At least I'll have a bit of finals glory with spectators watching and a party afterwards!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rocky II !!!

From my last post you will see that I was whipped in the first round of the club tennis championships by the classy No. 2 seeded player.

BUT......the club had organised a Plate competition for all the first round losers. Mmmmh...rebirth?

So I had my first round match in the Plate competition today. Up against another much younger guy, who is also a fast fit gym rat and a big hitter.

We played in today's hot midday Sun for well over two hours. It was gruelling. I felt I needed to win the first set to have a chance as my fitness is not too high lately due to pure laziness in avoiding the gym and I reckoned I wouldn't last a three setter. Well I made the worst of starts, I LOST the first set 4-6. Not good news!!! I was a bit dejected. But it was a close match and I felt I'd room for improvement.

I won the second set 6-2. But I was tiring, the games were long and close. We then swapped games in the third set to get to 3-3. At this stage I was very burned out. My legs wouldn't respond as well, he was firing shots past me. The age and fitness difference was catching up as we now were about two hours into this marathon match. I was looking down the barrel of defeat.

My mind picks up interesting messages when I'm in trouble. Another idea from boxing came into my head....your punching power stays longer than your legs....a puncher always has a chance. I decided to hit harder shots, go for it more, if I can put him under pressure I might have less running to do! It was pushing myself to the limit but I gave it a go. It was risky and even sloppy at times, but it did start to slowly make a difference. I pulled it off to win the final set 6-3.

So, I'm heading into the semi-final of the competition, yay!! Stay tuned for more!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Stand up and fight until you hear the bell!

When do you know that you're licked, past it, a has-been? I've trouble admitting it sometimes and it was very tangibly manifested to me recently in a tennis match.

Now I'm a late-comer to tennis. I only joined a tennis club in my late 30s and at the time I couldn't hit an overheard serve to save my life! I've improved a lot since then and today I win singles matches more than I lose them against good quality club level players. So it has almost been a flush of youth seeing myself getting better and better at tennis even as I visibly aged....like a good wine or the picture of Dorian Gray in the attic!

However, being realistic, I'm 52 and overweight and I've no right to expect too much from my tennis skills. Recently I entered our club championships and in the first round I was unlucky to be up against the No. 2 seeded player in the club! Now this guy grew up on tennis courts, coached all the way. He's also half my age, fit and athletic. Listing our statistics side by side you would laugh and Paddy Power would make you a millionaire from a €1 flutter if I were to win.

The sad part is that I genuinely thought I had a shot at beating him. I even hit the gym for a few days before the encounter to improve my speed and fitness.

An optimistic start took place in the match. We had two long opening games and we each held serve. After that it was all downhill! I tried really hard and we had loads of very close games where I reached deuce or my advantage. I kept him really busy for an hour and twenty minutes. Sadly, but hardly surprisingly, the score ended 6-1; 6-1 in his favour. He complimented me afterwards and said he had to really concentrate to win.

I do recall several thoughts flashing into my head after each point which this great young tennis player won....

There was something Muhammad Ali had said after his loss in his last ever fight against Trevor Berbick..."I could sense his youth during the fight!"

Or the reply from the mother in the movie "The Goodbye Girl" when told after a tough rehearsal that the local dance group were looking for someone younger...."Okay" she panted. "I'll work on it!"

Why did I beat myself up thinking I could win this match? When I'm out on court a competitive streak kicks in and I just give it everything. I get annoyed with myself if I play badly but I never get annoyed with my opponent.

So when do you decide that you are past it? I'm not ready yet to admit it I'm afraid. I'm tempted to go back to the gym and get ready for next year!!

I'll borrow another quotation from boxing, this time from George Foreman who was knocked to the canvass during a fight against Ron Lyle in the mid 1970s. He told himself as he lay on the ground..

"What are you doing on the ground, George? Get up and win!"

He did get up and then knocked out Ron Lyle in the next round to win the fight. In fact George Foreman went on and on to prove what older athletes could achieve by regaining the World title when aged in his forties.

Get up and win! What a simple and effective motivating phrase to repeat when you seem down and out. It's a phrase I've tried to use all my adult life.