Wednesday, July 22, 2009

SB Tennis Misadventures

(Ed. note: this is the 2nd and concluding post. Click here for part 1.)

Serving at 1-1, I went down early again. My legs were starting to go, and my serve lacked pop. I wasn't getting the free points that made holding in the first set so easy. I fought back to deuce, but Kent broke me anyway. Pissed off that I had spent myself trying to hold twice now, I decided to let the set go and hope for the best in the Match TB. Swinging away, I ironically broke Kent back to 2-all, but it didn't matter. I went down again in my serve, and then stopped trying. I would powderpuff a serve over, then Kent would whack the return back for a clean winner; I didn't move an inch. After a second such point he looked over at me, surprised, but I think he had a good idea of what was going on. I determined that I wasn't going to make an effort on his serves, but I also wasn't going to let him ace me four times in a row; I wanted to drain his energy stores a bit before we got to the breaker. I'd hit a return to the corner, or a drop shot to make him sprint, then let him hit the winner to the open court. My service games were a little tougher; when I'd try to serve my leg would start to cramp up, and my right forearm started to lock in place. Kent ran out the rest of the second set 6-2 in 10 minutes, but I used that respite to start gathering energy for the Match TB.

The short breather did me good, and I stayed with Kent in the beginning of the 'breaker. I pushed to stay with him to 5-all, and I think he was surprised and maybe put a little off-balance. Previously I wasn't running for any balls, and now I was back to rallying with him. I put together a few good points, and with a couple of teammates exhorting me from the sidelines, I went up 7-5. The pressure got to Kent and he threw in a double fault. Finally I served for it at 9-6. My body was shaky as I got up to the line, and I decided to put everything I had into a first serve in an effort to close it out. Net. The adrenaline was coursing through me so much that I could feel my arm trembling as I went into my service motion again, but I got the second serve in and maneuvered the rally until I could swing away at a forehand, and then it was all over! I won 10-7! Kent slammed a ball to the back fence but greeted me at the net with a friendly shake.

I headed out to the shade next to the courts again and the excitement really began. Two of my teammates lost in 3rd set tiebreakers so we were down 2-1. The fourth match also went to a 3rd set tiebreaker, but we pulled it out and were even 2-2, with one match still to go. It went, you guessed it, to a 3rd set tiebreaker. At this point I was sitting with my friend Yun, drinking water and yelling at our teammate still locked in battle. All of a sudden my abs locked up, and I doubled over in pain from the cramps. I flopped down onto the concrete to try and stretch it out, to no avail, and soon the Quinine Guy was running at me. Unbeknownst to me, our teammate took a lead in his Match TB, and all of a sudden there was a lot of commotion; guys were yelling for him, guys were yelling at me, and I was doing quite a bit of yelling myself.

Two minutes after the pills, the cramps in my stomach started to subside. Robin, our captain's wife and a former Registered Nurse, was by my side trying to get me to drink. I took huge gulps of an energy drink but I couldn't get fluids back into me fast enough. My leg seized up and I skinned my elbows on the pavement as I tried to move into a position to stretch it. I was channeling memories of high-school soccer preseason, where I'd encountered similar cramps before, trying to remember what I did back then to make it stop. Back then a coach knew what was happening and helped me stretch out; this time I could only give vague directions to Robin to bend my leg this way or that. My hamstring spasmed and seemingly my whole leg locked up, even my foot arched and my toes dove downward as if pulled by some invisible force. "My big toe!" I screamed, "pull it up toward my knee!" "Fuck! FUCK!" shouted my friend Yun, feeling totally helpless. I continued to try to drink and stretch out, but nothing gave me long relief. After 30 minutes Yun asked if he should call an ambulance, and I screamed my affirmation.

EMTs soon surrounded me and got me stabilized. One noticed a bruise on my right inner elbow and asked if I recently had blood drawn. I mumbled that I gave blood 4 days ago. "What?!" was the incredulous response. They strapped me into a gurney, and wheeled me out through a throng of tennis players, who were applauding the actions of my saviors. Supar embarrassing. As I was leaving I saw Kent, and I jokingly said to him "You did this to me!" One of his teammates yelled back "Yeah, but you still beat him and we're never going to let him forget it!"

I got rushed off to the Emergency Room where the doctors hooked me up with an IV. Right back into the same arm that had the blood draw. My right elbow was a purply bruised mess. Meanwhile, the roasted red pepper sauce from my earlier Tuscan Turkey wreaked havoc on my stomach. I'm already predisposed to acid indigestion, and now it felt like lava was swirling around down there. However, three hours and two bags of IVs later the cramping was gone, and I gingerly left the hospital.

Oh, and the match? Our guy held a match point at 9-8 in the 'breaker, but lost the next 3 points and the match. However, since we had won the first match so easily and barely lost the second, there was a chance that we could still advance out of the round robin if San Diego beat Temecula. That exact thing happened, and the team played Sunday, sans Jesse, and captured a 4-1 victory. See you in Sectionals, baby.

Monday, July 20, 2009

World Team Tennis Gets Ugly

This video clip is unreal. First Leander Paes drills Robbie Kendrick with a volley that fires up John McEnroe, and then Kendrick responds by ripping a serve right at Paes. I'm not too sure what set Paes off initially...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

SB Tennis Misadventures

(Ed. note: due to length, this recap is split into two posts.)

"Arrrrrrghh!" I groaned in anguish as I flipped over on to my belly, anything to try and loosen the knots forming in my abdomen muscles. I rolled over on to my back again and tried arching, but succeeded only in firing off another round of back spasms. My body was rebelling against me in response to the last 4 hours, determined to not let my brain make the decisions anymore. Someone, a stranger, rushed up to me, spilling pills out into his palm as he thrust it at me saying, "Here, take these! They're quinine!" I cast a doubtful glance at him, but asked "How many should I take?" "All of them," he replied. Desperate, I grabbed the pills and swallowed them in one gulp. I flopped over again. I couldn't find a position that would allow me to relax, and started to panic about what would happen if I didn't find it soon. Shutting my eyes against the pain, I dropped my head to the dust-caked pavement, a situation that normally would've left this germaphobe running for the nearest bottle of Purell.

Eight hours earlier, I had set off bright and early for the 2 hour trip down to Long Beach for the USTA playoffs. Our team had been drawn into a round robin with scheduled matches at 11:30am and 2:30pm, and the forecast called for a general heat wave to be sweeping across Southern California. They weren't kidding. I pulled into the parking lot at 10am and felt the heat as soon as I opened my door. We had two courts reserved at the El Dorado Tennis Club at 10:30am, and I went through a languid warmup, determined not to waste much energy before our matches started. These tennis playoff sites usually have a tennis-themed carnival atmosphere to them. The organizers find a site with plenty of courts, and a couple hundred players descend on the location for the weekend, milling around watching, eating, and playing. At 11:15am we gathered under the canopy where the organizers had set up a headquarters, replete with a PA sound system. The booming voice called out the rules and regulations, including a warning that due to the heat, frequent hydration would be very important. And then they started to call out the matches. As each pair were called out the players would step forward while their teams cheered. This was almost like high-school wrestling, where running through a tunnel of your teammates got you psyched up enough to entertain the idea of rolling around on a mat with a complete stranger. Anyway, suddenly I heard "Jesse and Bernie!", and I walked up to the front table to shake hands with my opponent, and off we headed to Court 2.

Warming up, I noticed that Bernie sliced every backhand and had a decent forehand. He also had the slightly annoying habit of grunting every time he hit a serve, even a second serve. We started the match and he surprised me by coming over the ball and hitting topspin on his one-handed backhand. Still, I was feeling pretty smooth and was able to take control of the rallies, running him side to side until I found an opening for a winning shot. My serve also felt good, and I threw in a couple of aces and kick serves he struggled to return. My normal hitting partner, Marcus, is so fast that I rarely hit outright winners and almost never ace him, so it's always a pleasant surprise when I play someone else and my forehands whistle through the court, unencountered by the opponent's racket. I wrapped up a fairly routine 6-2 opening set and we started in on the second.

I continued to cruise, feeling particularly happy with one sequence in which I chipped a backhand return deep crosscourt and followed it in to the net, anticipating his down the line response and cutting it off with a forehand drop volley. The heat was starting to get to me though. At 3-0 I started to feel overheated. I thought that I was going to need to run to the bathroom at any second, but I tried to force it out of my mind and wrap up the match asap. I did just that and got off the court with a 6-1 second set, and headed toward the shade of the nearest tree. My teammates were performing similarly well and we won the match 5-0. We headed out to Quizno's for a quick lunch, and I had the Tuscan Turkey sandwich in a decision that would come back to haunt me later.

Back at the Tennis Club, our captain was working out our lineup for the second match. We had one extra player to sub in, and the question was who was going to sit out. The captain decided that our other singles player would be sitting out to rest up for Sunday's match. I talked to him and said that I thought I had about one more set of good singles left in me. I'd prefer to play doubles for the second match due to the heat, but if no one wanted to play singles then I'd do it. As I was the youngest player on the team by a solid 20 years, he kinda looked at me and said "You're playing singles."

My opponent this time around was named Kent. A sturdily-built guy from Temecula, I guessed he was in his mid to late 30s. San Diego, the first team we faced, would be taking on Temecula at 5:30pm in the third and final match in our round robin, so that meant this was Kent's first match of the day. His fresh legs advantage was tempered by my calm; I had gotten rid of the first match jitters a few hours earlier. Kent was a step up from Bernie, although their games were very similar. Each had a deceptively punchy forehand, and a one-handed backhand. Kent's serve packed a little more power though, and he placed his groundstrokes better.

Right from the warmup I could tell that the heat would factor into this match for me. I needed to conserve energy, which in a weird way boosted my game. Instead of worrying about chasing down every shot he hit, I played more aggressively and took control of the rallies early, looking to end the point by wrong footing him on a forehand or charging in for a volley. Kent helped me out as well - his style of play seemed designed to keep points short. He held to open the match but I had chances to break him. My serve came up and happily I found that I still inhabited The Zone, throwing down a few aces and generally holding with ease. I broke him early in the set and again to close it, 6-3.

I was back to my grape Gatorade tricks on the changeovers, and I was drinking more than usual. Water too, anything to try and cool down. I could feel my energy sapping away though, and I served to start the second set. After going down early, I fought back to deuce and had to save several break points before ultimately holding serve. I was up 1-0, but had spent a ton of energy to get there. The format for these matches is best of 3 tiebreak sets, but if you split the first two sets, you play a Match Tiebreaker to 10 in lieu of a full third set. My mind started exploring the possibility of throwing the second set to conserve energy and trying to pull it out in the Match TB. Kent served and held in what felt like 10 seconds. 1-all. Excuses were just pouring through my mind at this point; it's super hot, you're used to Santa Barbara weather while this Temeculan probably wears a winter coat when it's in the 70s... you're the only one playing two singles matches, everyone will understand if you don't have enough energy to win the second one, etc. Suck it UP! I screamed at myself.

(How did things end against Kent? Did the heat beat me down like a red-headed stepchild? Check back on Wednesday for the Emergency conclusion!)