Northern Section Champion!

Saturday was a long day, and due to rain we moved the singles Quarterfinal matches indoors. It was against a player I practice with frequently, and though I usually do not have much trouble, he serves and hits huge and can be fairly dangerous at times. The indoor surface at the facility is the most unique I have encountered. It is the slowest and grittiest I have ever seen, and I was having a difficult time adjusting. I was way ahead and early on several shots and making a lot of bad errors. That, combined with my opponent playing better than usual, I ended up going to a tiebreak and was really frustrated and in disbelief. To top it off, I hurt my knee on a slide, and with 2 net cord winners from him in the tiebreak, I found myself down a set.

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The second set did not go much better, but I managed to pull it out 6-4. Finally getting adjusted and able to breathe after that enormous scare, I played well in the 3rd and cruised 6-0 while he fell off a bit. Conditions were still humid, and after a lot of tennis, I was starting to suffer mild cramps. My opponent in the semi-final would be tough, and I did not have much time in between. By match time, I was not moving or hitting well, and he came out on fire and nearly went up 3-0. I was pretty concenred with how I was going to pull it off, but I managed to hold for 1-2. From there I was just trying to hang in somehow and manage the match methodically as well as conserve energy when possible. After winning the first set 6-4, I wanted to get off the court as soon as possible and not have to go 3 sets, as I knew I would have some physical issues. I got a break fairly early, but was starting to notice the cramps get pretty bad as I winced on serves and moving hard. I was lucky however, because my opponent started to cramp as well late in the set, and much worse than myself. I ended up winning 6-1 and felt relieved. After some more time to rest, I came out mellow and relaxed and we played an excellent mixed doubles match against a very tough team and won 6-2 6-2 where seemingly we could do no wrong.

Coming into today’s singles final, I was feeling pretty good and just a little tired. As long as my knee held up, I was ready to expend every ounce of energy I had to try to get the win. I played against Brian Battistone, who many are familiar with from his unique and athetic playing style of using a two-handled racquet, as well as using a huge volleyball jump serve. He also frequently switches hands for every shot ambidextrously, and had a very good ATP singles and doubles ranking not long ago. Getting adjusted to his serve proved difficult at first, and though I was playing very well from the baseline things were just not going my way as I lost many close games and found myself down 4-0 and 5-1. At that point, I was starting to get myself into the match better on return games, and came back to lose 6-4.

tonlarsIn the second set we stayed on serve til 4-3, where I was able to get a break and hold for the set. I had to work hard on my serve, but when we got into rallies I was winning most of them. He was getting alot of free points on his serve however, and coming in on nearly everything with great volleys and smashes. The third set was similar, staying on serve til 3-3. My serve was starting to go away, but I continued good aggressive-smart baseline play. I was very tired, but this is where the training pays off to persevere through it. I had come from behind on my serve at 0-30 at least once, maybe twice, and I just needed a break. I finally got it, and every clutch winner, passing shot and long point was very emotional as I pumped myself up to get through. I knew that I desperately needed a big win after some tough close losses last year and recently, and I was so close. At 4-3 on my serve, I hit some of the gutsiest and best shots of my life, hitting down the line winners to go up 5-3. We had a close game on his serve that I fell short on, and I was serving for the whole thing at 5-4. That game went smoothly, which was nice because I dont know if my nerves could take any more after nearly 3 hours. At 40-0, I could not believe where I was at as it hit me that I was in the moment that I had been waiting for since I injured my ankle last fall and had been out and unable to train for several months. We played a long point, and after his shot sailed long, I threw my arms up and had finally did it! I could not contain my emotion and let it all out into my towel, thinking about how much this win meant to me, to overcome so much and beat such a great player.

With the mixed semis still to come back to back, there was no time to celebrate, and I was cramping even in my arms. The first set I was pretty hobbled and just trying to hang in there and recover, and unfortunately we lost it 6-4 as the other team also served big and played well. In the second set I was starting to come around, and I believe we won 6-3, headed into a match-tiebreak. We ended up going down 5-7 which was pretty scary, and on that point we had to come up with some major defense and luckily pulled it out. We ended up winning it 10-7, and so I had more tennis to play.

After 30 minutes rest, I was still feeling good with just mild cramps, and only a little tired.  We were up against an extremely tough team of Battistone and Melichar (who had won the women’s singles). Last year, this team not only won the Southwest section, but also the National and therefore played in the US Open main draw! We came out playing great, and were up a break in each set, but things just did not happen for us and we ended up losing 7-5, 7-5. It was tough to go from such a high in singles, to losing a tough final with some interesting incidents, but it was a lot of fun playing with my partner as usual. Hopefully we can try again next year!

I am super exhausted and having full-body cramps, so I will definitely take the next day or two off from practicing and hope that my leg heals up. Next for me is the Saskatoon Futures Qualifying event, where last year I made the main draw and lost first round.

Thanks for all your support everyone!

Tony

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