The Club One Racquetball Singles “A” Championship was last night. I was in the finals against Tyrone, a player who just one year ago was playing in division “C.” He’s only been playing 18 months, but he is rapidly improving and challenging the best players in the club. He made it to the finals because Aaron, the No. 1 ranked player at the Club, hurt his back last week and had to pull out of the playoffs. Tyrone got a bye, I beat Steve on Friday, so the match was set at 6:00 last night in front of about 20 folks who came to watch. Dorian, another morning racquetball friend, put the odds at a 10-to-1 in favor of me. That sounded about right. Tyrone had never beaten me before, but I knew anything could happen in a finals. I also knew I tended to play poorly when others were watching, and sure enough, I got off to a pretty shaky start, missing some shots I should have put away, leaving the ball up for Tyrone to easily kill, and generally not playing very sharp at all. We stayed fairly close in score and then Tyrone jumped to an 8-to-4 lead. Then his lead was extended to 13-to-8 when he called a timeout.
I was calm but discouraged. I was the reigning club champ and this was supposed to be a brutal beating. Instead, I was on the ropes in front of everyone. I concentrated on relaxing and taking deep breaths. I focused on playing one point at a time and letting my shots naturally come together. My feeling was if I could just stay out of the way of myself I’d be in a lot better shape. Still, in the back of my mind, I was nearly conceding the first game to Tyrone and the added momentum that went with it.
After the timeout, Tyrone served and I put the ball away. Then I served and scored 3 points in-a-row. Now it was 11-13, a much closer game. I lost my serve and Tyrone served again, but I put his serve away and started feeling a little more confident. At 13-13 Tyrone called another time out. It didn’t help. I won the last two points (the final point being an unforced error on Tyrone’s part) and managed to take the first game 15-13.
That took a lot of momentum away from Tyrone. I changed my shirt (I’ve started to do this in important matches to psychologically feel fresh and it works!), kept on breathing and drinking Gatorade, and tried to get into my typically dominate playing position when playing Tyrone.
It didn’t happen in the second game. He kept hitting the ball hard and low, getting some great shots and making me run all over the court. I was sucking wind pretty badly ten minutes into game two. Tyrone scored the first 4 points. I tried slowing the game down by lob serving to his backhand, but he cheated by hitting forehand return lobs on the left-hand side (I’ll exploit this more another time, the way Tiger did with me for years). I finally got on the board, but before long it was 4-7 for Tyrone.
Then I really slowed things down. I really took my time with my serves. I concentrated hard and slowly started playing some good racquetball. When I tied the game at 7, Tyrone called a time-out. I was dead tired. I did not want the game to go to a tie breaker. I realized I had underestimated Tyrone and should have prepared for what was happening on the court. I tried to relax but by this time I was getting fatigued, which means my accuracy is the first to go. What I needed to do was put together some tough serves. After the time-out, I finally caught a burst of energy and started putting the ball away. Tyrone was leaving balls up for me and I was burying them. I was also placing some smart shots. One shot in particular that I remember as being fun and slightly sneaky was when I was hitting the ball back and forth, back and forth in the corners to Tyrone. When he was on the left-hand side, I acted as though I was going to hit the ball to the right, but I hit the ball down the left and Tyrone wasn’t expecting it.
Suddenly the game was 11-to-7 in my favor. I lost serve a few times but didn’t allow a single point. I took the next four points and won the match 15-7. It was a really hard-fought victory for me. I wish I didn’t choke as badly as I do in big matches, but by some miraculous feat I was able to make the proper adjustments and keep Tyrone at bay. The folks watching said experience won the day for me and that Tyrone didn’t make any adjustments after I had made mine. That’s a good thing to remember, especially at the poker table. Make adjustments once they’ve made theirs.
Anyway, I felt really good about the victory and hope to 3-peat in the summer! We’ll see if I can do it!