Another title under my belt after a fun and hot week of good competition at the Aquatennial Tournament!
Day of the SemiFinals
After getting up at 5:30am for a work meeting, I had my semi-final match at noon. It is starting to get really warm here in Minneapolis, as it was up to 97 degrees today!
My opponent was a college player who has been on the Wisconsin Green-Bay team. With a big serve and nice looking strokes, I knew I would have to focus especially on returning today so that it would not get too interesting, and that is exactly what I did. I played overall very well from start to finish, with the main factor being my returns both consistent and aggressive. From there, as well as after my own serves, I was finishing a lot of short balls with putaway forehands. It was pretty smooth sailing as I won the match 6-1 6-0. Lots of friends came out to support today along with a good sized general crowd, which makes this event more fun.
Tomorrow is the final again at noon after I teach a little bit in the morning. It is supposed to be hot again, and I will be against a good player who I have beaten in 2 finals already this summer. I believe this will be the most dangerous meeting of the 3, as this surface will help his aggressive game and limit the need to move a lot and play long points, as well as the 10 point tiebreaker factor where just winning one set puts you in an opportunity to win. I will need to be ready to fight because I am sure he is gunning for me after losing our previous two meetings.
Day of the Finals
Today was a tough day, but one that went really well! I started out teaching a high-performance junior group outside for 2 hours, and then had an hour to relax, eat and hydrate before my match. It was again very hot, around the mid-90’s mark and humid.
Lots of people came out to watch, which makes it lots of fun. I knew going in that with the court conditions and format (a tiebreak for a 3rd set) was going to be dangerous for me playing my opponent. I started off the match really well holding serve easy and getting into a deuce game on his first serve game, but ended up losing it. From there I was serving and hitting fine, but not feeling like I was really doing as much with the ball as I would like. He did a great job of serving well and consistently, putting a lot of pressure on my returns which is the trickiest part of playing on that type of court. I was having a little more trouble than usual on the return, and he was also playing smart and aggressive. He kept the ball low hitting through his forehand and also utilizing the slice, so I was not able to tee-off on higher forehands like I normally do.
We broke each other mid-way through the first, and after lots of close games on his serve I finally pulled away at 5-4 by hitting a couple winners to take the set 6-4. The second set did not get off to a great start, and I found myself in exactly the situation I did not want to be in. I got broken at 1-1 to go down 3-1, but held serve to stay within reach at 2-3. Fortunately, after a couple pretty good games I was able to get it back on serve and go up 4-3. With more chances on that next game which went to deuce, including a ball hitting a dead spot where I whiffed, and a ball going literally dead where I had a chance to hit a drop shot winner (after I missed I could squeeze the ball all the way through), I lost it and we were at 4-4.
While I was up 5-4 on his serve, I tried to focus hard to break to close it out. I put more returns in play that game than I had been making, and we had another deuce game. He came up with some great plays as he had been with good serves and forehand winners, but on match point I hit a down the line forehand winner to win the tournament! In my acceptance of the check I was able to talk to the crowd and thank everyone, and had the opportunity to say how much respect I have for my opponent as a player and a sportsman. I regard him very highly as I have mentioned before, as about 7-8 years ago we played a few matches where he completely dominated, and I wondered if I would ever come anywhere close to his level or being able to beat him. It means a lot to me to have made the progress I have, and to see it by playing someone again now that I have considered a legend.
This weekend I go right to Dubuqe, Iowa for another prize money open event. It will be a lot of matches and possibly more hot weather. My finals opponent that I expect will be very tough, so I will see what I can do and hopefully improve upon my performance in Saskatoon as I have recovered from my injuries at the moment. Time to see a movie and celebrate a little for now though!