This Saturday, I play in the USTA Georgia State Adult/Senior Championships(300 points) in the 30s group. It's been a good while since I've gotten into tournament play, and I'm looking forward to the challenge. My opponent, Christoph Vogt, is going to be a handful. I know how in shape he's in, so I'm not going to wear him out like I wear everyone else out. Time to get crackin.
But before I do that, let me regale you with a story about some of my stupid forays into tournament play.
I'm a midwestern boy from Illinois...Quincy, IL in fact. It's a small town of about 41,000 people, and has that down home feel mixed with a wee bit of city life. Basically, it's one of those places where the tiny farm towns around it think it's a metropolis. Anyway, every year, we had this tournament called the Dame and Hurdle tennis tournament(now called the Illinois State Tennis Championships). Dame and Hurdle was our local jeweler in town, and they ponied up the cash for the tournament every single year, which brought some of the best tennis players from about fifteen states to this little town in Illinois. Crazy thing too, because USTA wasn't affiliated with this tournament. I guess it had a solid reputation.
I played in this sucker for three years, and I won exactly ONE GAME in those three years. Yes, you read that right...ONE GAME.
Now why was that? Was it because I was this incredibly horrendous player who didn't belong on that court whatsoever? Not even close. I was still the ungraceful, unathletic goat who rumbled on the court and somehow got to every ball, but I wasn't horrible.
No, my problem was simple.
I signed up for the open division every year.
Everyone and their uncles knew I wasn't anywhere near open level talent...except me. My gusto was the equivalent of the eighth graders who wanted to be cool and smoke across the street after school, knowing that it was JUST out of the principal's jurisdiction. Simply, I thought it was cool to go full blast into the top divisions, even if those players moved like gazelles and I moved like a penguin with its feet tied together.
And my three years went about as well as you could expect.
Year 1 - Sayeed Ali - #1 player in Quincy High School. Skinny as a post-it note(guy couldn't have weighed more than 130. I even weighed more than him), but was probably one of the top ten players in our state. Got doubled bageled, as could be expected, but it would end up being the best tournament match I'd ever have. Ended up getting 21 points off the guy, which meant I took him to advantage 2-3 times. I wondered how I did so well off of him, even if I got the double donut(Did find out he had knee problems over the years, so maybe his knees were bugging him, who knows).
Year 2 - Bill LaTour - #1 player in Quincy, #3 in Illinois. 6'5" and 260 pounds, give or take five. Big huge powerful serve. I was like that stick of beef jerky to a grizzly bear. 6-1 6-0 was the final. Wanna know why I won one game? Double faults and a couple errors. Actually took the first 1-0 lead and lost the next twelve games.
Year 3 - Todd Willing - #2 in Illinois(I believe) - Forget about it. He was always in the finals, or in contention every single year. 6-0 6-0.
You knew the tournament officials were laughing when they saw my name, and they threw the lions at me to get me out of there. I realize the craziness of my decisions, but I guess that's what makes me tick. I don't fear going out there with the lions, even if I'm about to get mauled.
I believe that's what motivates me now, as it has motivated me these past eighteen months. I remember the foolishness of my decisions, but I also remember the swiftness in how they wrote me off and threw me to the side, and how they had every right to think that way. I wanted to get to that top level so badly, but I hadn't worked for it like everyone else had. I continued to play the same gutsy, balls to the wall, man on fire, clumsy as an ox way, and everyone else had worked on everything all year long. I didn't deserve it that time.
I will start deserving it right now.
This Saturday, I once again have a formidable opponent. But this time, no tournament official knows me from Adam, and I'm going to be more ready. I could easily win, or easily get wiped off the court, that's the way the game goes.
This time, if I do get wiped off the court, I'll know what I did wrong. I will train even harder.
And the next time, I would be ready.
But enough about that. I'm ready to win.