The twisty road to the playoffs

IMG_5174It was the quarter final match of the playoffs. My partner Jiawei and I were playing on the third court and were down 0-6 and 0-3. I did not want to be there and I wasn’t suppose to be there.  I was the captain of my tennis team. Because of my tender back I have not played  lately.  Although the format of the playoffs is single elimination, I the opportunity should  be given to the teammates who carried us this far. But unfortunately no one was available.

[The screenshot of the score 2-1; our regular season]

The match started out normally. The opposing captain, as usual, warm and gracious. He seemed to know my players well, he wrote their names fluidly on a scrap piece of paper. The third court was at the far end. From the get go, I played lousily. After a couple of unforced errors, the opponents began to send all their shots my way, the weakest link. They were great players and excellent pair. The ball was either passed me by or was too inconvenient for me to reach. At each change over, their giggling chatter became louder and more relaxed. Why not? They had firm control of the match. Before I knew what had hit me, the girl sent over a screaming winning down my side of the line and handed us a bagel, 0-6.

A few pix on FB [Tennis scoring ..]

It was 8:30 on a Wednesday, a dead winter night in New York. Bone chill cold would send ordinary folks home for a hot dinner, and perhaps followed by an apple pie with a Bud, sitting in their favored couch in front of TV cheering for their teams. We are different. Because we are staunch tennis nuts and bums. Leaving work, grabbed a bite then headed to the battleground. [sometime is as late as 9pm]. The cold always makes me feel like a chord than a recreational pleasure. But once with my friends, and see the court, none of these non sense matters. I would perk up and ready for a thrilling ride.

IMG_5182I was not suppose to play and I did not want to play. Glenn Close’s television series legal thriller Damages, that was noted for its plot twists, among a few others was on Netflix. I’ve just finished watching them all, three seasons. I thought of my Manhattan 2013 7.0 mixed‘s road to the playoffs, which was no less twisty. And this is for real, non-fiction.

Another reason that I was not planning to play because Jiawei had set his mind on the girl he’s recently played with who’s better than me in everyway, so I did feel a little apprehensive for being there. The second set, I quickly found we were down 0-3. It looked an easy win for our opponents. I began to think long and hard.

  • First off, the Super Sandy made our season seemingly impossible. But we prevailed.
  • Secondly, I was not health so played only two matches to fulfill the mandatory requirement to be able to participate in the playoffs.
  • Because I did not play more matches, the playoffs should really be played by the players who played a lot BUT
  • I’ve the largest number of players among all my previous teams: 21 strong AND
  • I needed to constantly begging for players to step up to fill a line up
  • Relocation
  • ACL injury with serious surgery and six months off
  • Romance
  • Tardiness that led to forfeiture of a court – a first in all my mixed doubles teams
  • On the brink of forfeiting the playoff entirely
  • gender change [on a different team]
  • Death
  • .. ..

Could I fight back?

After what we had been through, I wanted to. I did not want to let down of my teammates.

It was a long road ahead. But perhaps how we got here finally motivated me: I couldn’t lose this match. I wanted to fight for my team who fought hard the whole season to get us here. I told myself: forget about the burdens, just play. Play I did. A game by game, we inched back to 3-3. Then 4-3. 5-3 and we took the second set at 6-3. I didn’t know what I did right, except Jiawei played brilliantly, that’s motivated me, dug myself out of that deep hole. We started to have communication, and thing began to turn our way. During a game there was a shot I called it out, way beyond the base line; but the girl said, “I saw it’s on the line.” IMG_5184The court was messy – none of them got cleaned by the club before the match. How could she see it from her side of the baseline? The next shot, Jiawei served a nasty ace that landed on the T but the guy called it “net”, then immediately said to me “I’m not getting back at you.” 不打自招 (confessed); 画蛇添足 (draw legs on a snake);  越描越黑; 多此一举 (Superfluous); 此地无银三百两 (admitting their guilt)… I could go on but will stop here.

In any case, the momentum began to shift. Along the way, Jiawei was very encouraging who comforted me by saying, I didn’t need to worry, he’d cover the net. When we started our third set the super tie break which is best of 10 by winning ahead of two point, the other two courts had done. I couldn’t tell if we’d won. (Here I really wanted to commanded my teammates who are really great sportsmen. They never tried to be sneaky, giving hand signals, whisper’s .. ) We lost the first point – I netted it. What else’s new? The long and thrilling rallies continued in the tie break. It was my turn to serve at 8-5. Of course I hoped to close it out. The guy returned my serve back at me to the ad court. I was lazy to turn my shoulders, the ball did not go over the net. It was 8-6. My backhand has always been dependable but it been failing me the entire night. I walked over to right side of the court, thinking what could I do to widen the scoring gap, making it 9-6. My opponent seemed could read my mind. She pranced on my first serve. Her return was fast and furious that I had to scramble to get to it. It was a wake lob and her partner was already stationed at the net and a clean smack down. 8-7. I began to feel my age. My butt was dropping down and my belly was sticking out further, my legs were loaded with sandbags. A few more mates came. The court was so quiet that I could hear a pin drop, or my own heart beat which was fast. Not from the running but from the situation at hand: I just lost two point that could have won the match, to advance us to the semi final. I wanted to kick myself. It’s the girl’s serve. Jiawei was at on the left side of the court  (the Ad side) and won the point fluidly. At 7-9, we had our match point! She walked to the deuce court to serve to me. A match point. It was not long ago we were down 0-6 and 0-3. And just seconds ago, I lost two points that could have won the match. Her serve came and I blanked myself out. Mechanically returned it to her side – the deuce side alley with my failing backhand. For the entire night, I didn’t think if I hit a single back hand winner. Maybe my drive to dig myself out and my desire to win had move someone or something, it was a clean return landed short, and was a winner. One could image my relief. Finally I contributed something to my team. This would be the first of three play off match that was decided in the third set. The remaining two matches, up to the final of the Metro Region, were all gone to the super tiebreak. Four teammates jumped into our court and hugged us. Other four mates also came on to the court and congratulated us. Thanks for the support. And thanks for taking us thus far mates! Now I’m starting to worry about my lineup for the semi. (The following night I received a text from my buddy who just played against the same captain’s other team. The captain told him that the girl cried the whole night. Such is the cost of playing a sport: you either win or lose… immidiate brutal but honest reality, not for the faint hearts.) Tennis is a good metaphor for life. This match illustrated my experience fittingly. We are privileged enough to be in the playoff. The location of the match and the opponents were predetermined. I have no choice but to go there and to take them on. It’s the same way as I could not choose my parents and my root in that matter but to live on, learn to cope with the good and bad that come with it – being their child and live my own life. No one lives alone and we all affected by circumstance that beyond our control. We depend on others, as I depended on my partner. Our opponents were excellent players. A huge obstacle for us to over come. With the help of my partner I dug myself out of a hole. Losing the match was easy, as in life, walk way from a challenge or problem is easy. But the gratification of winning it, or solving a problem is great. The opponents elevated my game and pushed my limit. I was grateful for that. I was even more grateful to find out how capable I was to fight upward. I am glad that I gave myself an opportunity to prove to me, what I can do. What I am capable of. I am glad that I did not give up at 0-3, the long road back. How many people would have given up? How many times I had given up, in the past? If I didn’t try, how would I know what I am capable of?

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