This past March I played my first tournament since 2005. Open singles. Ready to go. Walking onto the court I felt the same tingles and butterfly sensations I had when playing competitive tennis many years ago; except there was one difference. Confidence. The overwhelming feeling of knowing my game isn’t what it used to be tightens my body and jolts my mind in such a negative way my heart wants to escape through my chest. I try to tell myself I have nothing to lose. These juniors and collegiate players are going for Open rankings, but me, I’m there purely for the competition and how well I can do with what I have today.
The Women’s Open Singles draw was Round of 16. A young junior walked onto the court and my heart pounded in my chest. The adrenaline rush was incredible, yet terrifying. The match started and boom, 6-3, 6-4. I thought to myself, “All right, I still have somewhat of a game.” Oh wait. And then it came. I’ve never played tennis for more than a lunch period in the past four years, and I knew what it was right when I walked off – lactic acid.
This is what I get for not training my body for something I clearly knew I wasn’t fit for. Nevertheless, an hour later lights are on, night match, and I’m going up against the third seed. During the warm-up I clearly thought to myself, “Is this person really the third seed because she’s a Muppet?!” A term we like to use in the office when we’re playing so-called “worthless” tennis. My confidence was up and I started the match with a quick 3-0 lead. I determined I was making it to the semis and prove to myself four years off didn’t faze me. One unforced error. It’s okay simple mistakes happen. Two.. three.. a few more.. WOW she’s tied it up. Boom – first set done at 4-6. My confidence dropped like the stock market of 1929. I ended up losing 4-6, 4-6 to a person I believed I should’ve fed bagels to. Nevertheless, my initial thoughts ‘You have nothing to lose’ was overcome by the distinct feeling of pure… Muppetness. Four years off had affected my mental toughness and that’s where she was the better player.
Since the disparaging confidence booster of my first tournament I have played in two more tournaments. Singles? No. But mixed doubles, yes. I’ve just come back from the Tracy Austin Doubles Tournament at the Jack Kramer Club in Rolling Hills Estates. Open Mixed Doubles. Ready to go. I walked onto the court with the same exact tingling, butterfly sensation I had in my first tournament. Except this time was different. I had an amazing doubles partner in which our on-court chemistry was a definite confidence booster.
The Mixed Open draw had a total of 8 teams. Starting in at the quarterfinals we were matched up against a competing junior and her partner whose mother was on the Board of Directors; both native players to the area. The crowd was obviously against us, but in the end we pulled away finishing the match 6-7, 7-6, 6-0. My confidence was a little rocky because of our extremely slow start, but up next was the number one seed. Due to scheduling differences, the match was agreed to be an 8-game pro set. And what can I say, we played clutch and grabbed an 8-3 win. Number one seed out and Kana and Gerst in! Onto the finals we went.
The next day, noon, clear skies, and the center court heated up to the 90s. The chair announced the start of the Mixed Open Doubles Finals. Huge serves and amazing hands from the opponents put us down 3-6 in the first set. We got pumped as the second set began. New set, new attitude, and we had a huge 5-2 lead. We were a completely different team up until then. The girl holds serve. 5-3. It’s okay. Next game we’ll hold serve and close it out. We’re taking this to a third and bringing home the bacon. Boom – they break our serve! Now we’re returning the man’s serve at 5-4. Of course the former #1 of a Division I college holds. Five all. Five all from 5-2! What?! Okay my turn. I hold serve to bring it to 6-5. All we have to do is break the junior’s serve and we’re in the third. What happens? She holds serve and it’s tiebreaker time. One right after the other we’re down 2-6. We can come back! 3-6! It’s the big man’s serve and YES! Some solid returning and now it’s 5-6 my serve. Calm down, breath, and relax. BOOM – a whopping double fault. Muppet… again.
That same feeling I felt in my first tournament of four years crept over my body and mind right on Center Court. I turned around and put my head down, clutched my hat with despair, and took it in. I hugged my partner, shook hands with the other team as well as the official, and took home half as much winnings than I wanted. Good match opponents! You were the stronger team and came back for the win.
Me and Andy Gerst - Finalists - Courtesy of Scott Varley/Daily Breeze
Overall, it was an amazing experience. The roller coaster of emotions during match play and the intensity of the crowd in the recent tournaments has brought back the competitive spirit I’ve always loved, and of course disliked as well. Even though I’ve felt like a Muppet in my recent matches, I know what I need to work on to get back in the mix of things. Whether it be in doubles, mixed doubles, and maybe a shot back into the singles game, confidence and mental toughness are a big detriment in my matches.
Can you remember a time where the match was all up to chance on whether you could pull it out mentally? Share the intensity of a win or the heartache of not getting beat by your opponent, but by yourself.