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Fig 1)
My opponent, Pierre, serving.

Fig 2)
Me hitting my classical jumping forehand. I'm sure that it would have looked pretty epic, were I in focus. Next time I'll record in HD with a camcorder that I didn't drop while rollerblading.  I also already de-interlaced this footage — you can see the luminance ccd is offset a little lower than the color sensors, so the camera is having trouble focusing.

Fig 3)
a professional artist depicts my spectacular return-of-serve…

# Road to the US Open 2012, Tournament 1

I figured that I would chronicle my journey to the US Open (tennis) both because if I make it, this would be a good place to start recording, and if I either don’t or forget about it, it’ll be another “one of those humorous things that Beracah entertained but never followed through on”.  As in “Remember that year that you thought you were going to make it to the US Open?”  “Yeah, that year, the one you embarrassingly posted on your blog”.  Well anyway, this (USTA Woburn 4.5 Mens Singles) was my first competitive tournament (I mean, “real” competitive, not “tennis team/IM competitive”) since high school, and I really had no idea how to get to the Open, how to get ranked, or where I was laying relative to other competitors.   I really had no idea what “4.5″ meant either (besides the NTRP level descriptions here).  Based on my own self evaluation and prior experience, I’m probably a 4.5-5.0 player.  Inconsistently 5.0 though.

So at 7 in the morning on a Saturday, I found myself out to Woburn, which even though its only 15mi away, it still took 45 minutes to get there in a rental car.  My first match was at 9AM (I misread the sheet and thought it was at 8AM) with a french guy named Pierre.  I was a little tentative about what was going to happen, largely because my stomach (intestines) was behaving strangely despite my plan to only eat lactose-free foods the day before.  I wanted full energy and a stable internal system to compete with, instead I had no sleep, spent the night in the restroom, and was super bloated and full of gas.  Seriously, i spent most of the time up til match start in the restroom, which didn’t bode well.

Anyway, the match started, and my opponent Pierre (Fig 1) was a flat hitting lefty; a bit of a nemesis for my heavy topspin down-the line forehand (Fig 2) and cross-court backhand.  Basically I was hitting into his forehand each time.   His flat left forehand resulted in down the line returns that skimmed the court, well below my knee bending ability.  I also couldn’t run to catch up with them, despite wearing my “high speed” shoes.  That said, I also quickly realized that he had weaknesses in his crosscourt returns, in his backhand, and in lower shots.  Nonetheless, I still had trouble modifying my habits on the fly and so I gave away a lot of points by handing it to his down the line forehand.  So in the end, I lost$6-1$,$6-1$.  Which is funny because it makes it seem like he swept the floor with me, but I lost for failing to convert breakpoints (and on return of serve) in an otherwise pretty close game that hung out at deuce many games and took 1.5 hrs.  So that said, I learned alot, both about my own game, weaknesses, tournaments, etc.  But I didn’t really learn what I wanted to learn by entering this tourn.

What I had really wanted to learn was about my own “potential” in the face of far superior competitors.  At this tournament, everyone’s average was pretty much within 1 stddev.  i.e. it wasn’t the case that anyone would seriously beat anyone else.  For instance, my “good game” probably would have had me win the tournament, my A-game would definitely.  But there was definitely an A-game for Pierre as well that he wasn’t using either, so there was a wide capacity for improvement.  But at my current age, I don’t have the luxury of playing safe, growing, etc; I basically want to know [if] when I lose, if it is because of age or skill, and if I can overcome it.  So I wanted to know what my stress induced positive variance was.  I didn’t find that out.  Instead, I found that I could pay \$40 to play with people who are about my own skill, and who mostly think that they are pretty great.  The age range at the tourn was pretty wide, with the youngest being in college, and the average being post-doc (28) age, so it wasn’t the case that there were just 14yr olds running around beating everyone.  But anyway, I could have given that money to charity and played with my normal people.  From that perspective, I thought that the tournament was a bit of a letdown — there was no pressure for me to bring out my A-game and then to make it my average game.

What I learned, by the numbers:

1. My return of serve is nonexistent apparently.  Not sure how it happened, that I was in the right position, swinging, with the ball hitting my racket and then… falling on the ground.  Here’s an artist’s rendition:(Fig 3) .  I must have lost exactly 48 points that way; half the match.
2. I didn’t choke for once, but psychologically, I think I still have trouble converting break points.  I need a better understanding of which points are the most valuable and the coordinate my game around winning those points; not around thinking “oh well, I’ll get it back”
3. That said, I’m still emotionally used to winning when I play that I still think I’ll come back from behind and win; like seriously, how often has that actually happened?  I need to play to win right from the start.
4. The second match I really warmed up and started hitting hard, but I still think about how I’m playing from a 3rd person’s perspective, rather than being directly engaged in the game.  Once I engage (warp 9 number 1),  then I really start kicking ass, but I spend too much time thinking “am I playing conservatively?” “I’m playing too conservatively”
5. Scoring; I need to dissociate myself from the line judging/calls; If I make the wrong call, I’m not trying to cheat someone, errors happen all the time, so I don’t need to give away points just to insure to myself that I’m not a cheater.  And each point is different.
6. Finally, I think I learned the most important point from the college student competitor who I didn’t play against.  He was all good, expected to win, came in, played, and lost, and then immediately went home.  He didn’t stay around for the “consolation match” with me.  That really made me realize that we were there to play the match, not the consolation round.  By training himself for that, he learns to focus all the energy at the right time, rather than allowing himself consolation.  I think that for training to win, that’s a subtly important trait that I had never picked up or learned in my life.

So hopefully there will be more exciting matches to come — I learned that the tournaments to compete in are the ones with prize money, or labeled “Open”.