My serve was wobbly, to say the least. I wasn't hitting through the ball. I was more nervous than Mitt Romney at a Cinco de Mayo celebration in Arizona. And despite all that, Saintly Teammate Antoinette and I beat our challengers in our USTA League match at Sportime on Randall's Island, 6-2, 7-6 (5).
I got edgy during the warm-up, when you get to suss out your competition. Our Worthy Opponents had good, topspin forehands and one had an excellent, fluid serve, putting it in the box each and every time.
Meanwhile, I wasn't intimidating anyone as I played catch with myself, trying to steer the ball to an airspace near me where I might be able to HIT IT.
I had visions of double faults and blistering service returns. I started wondering whether I could safely throw up in the drinking fountain along the sideline. Will anyone notice?
Then, I remembered something. They're nervous, too.
Antoinette and I decided to keep them back with deep balls, preferably high to their backhands. I vowed to come to net when they floated balls high, and hit to the T.
But first, I had to get my head straight. I spent the match muttering "bounce, hit" to myself, to keep the focus on the ball. Between points, I observed my breath, and adjusted my strings.
Our Worthy Opponents, under the pressure of performing, hit their topspin forehands long. Their serves were not as daunting as they seemed during the warm-up. They were hard to beat when they closed the net, but Antoinette forced some errors from them by scrambling along the baseline. She also hit some great Rafa-fist-pump-inducing forehand service returns down the line.
She, too, was struggling to play this ball, this game, these opponents, and not replay her last match, especially during the much-tighter second set.
"After losing the last match and watching a big lead turn into a 10 point tie break loss, I was trying to focus on each point and not think about the game, set, match," she told me later in an e-mail. "It is hard to do because the voice in my head is saying, 'Oh, no, they are coming back!'"
My serve, though wobbly, drew return errors from the other team. They were probably lulled to sleep waiting for me to get my toss right. Ah, a new psych-out tool, my version of Novak Djokovic's incessant ball dribbling before critical serves. I even hit an ace, one into the deuce court that veered swifty away from my Worthy Opponent's outstreched racquet.
My luck ran out, though, when I served for the set at 5-4. They broke me at love. I was oddly relieved. It seemed right and just, given what I had been getting away with all night long.
We didn't do anything special in the tie-break. We just stuck to our game plan: get it back deep, take advantage of their mistakes, stay focused.
Also key: Antoinette and I reminded one another of our game plan and bucked each other up. We had talked about it beforehand, asking the other if she liked getting encouragement after flubbed shots. Some people don't.
We had positive energy going the whole match," Antoinette said.
Tennis is hard enough; why make it harder by ignoring the person who is, arguably, rooting for you more than anyone else on the planet at that moment?
Year to date record:
Me: 1. All other USTA players: 1.