During the pre-match warmup, I realized that win or lose, there wasn't a lot of upside for me in this match. If my partner and I pulled off the victory, we'd have beaten a great player, sure, but he had to cover the entire court--including the doubles alleys--while also compensating for an extremely weak partner who had to return half the points and serve every fourth game. And if we lost...well, then it meant that two of us were unable to overcome all of those advantages that I just mentioned. It's a lot like punching an annoying child--it's plenty satisfying, but you don't get the credit you deserve. But credit or no credit, it was going to be an interesting match. Could Tony really cover the entire court single-highhandedly? We were about to find out.
The tournament director put us on one of the show courts near the big windows of the lobby so the crowd could get a good look at this strange spectacle of a doubles match. On the courts to either side of us were some painfully out-of-shape middle-aged players, which made Tony's shots look that much better...and believe me, they looked plenty good to begin with.
The first set played out much like I'd expected, which was a far cry from any doubles match I'd been a part of. Tony's presence on the court took my two normal doubles strategies and threw them right out the window: (1) get to the net as quickly as possible, and (2) avoid hitting to the person to the net. Instead, my primary objectives became: (1) avoid going to the net at all costs whenever Tony might hit the ball, and (2) try to hit absolutely everything at Mrs. Tony, regardless of where she is standing on (or way, way off) the court.
To no one's surprise, Tony didn't lose his serve once in the first set. I somehow managed to match him every step of the way, holding my serve every time. But watching our partners serve was absolutely hilarious. Mrs. Tony's serve was slow enough that we were able to get the ball past Tony at the net, but he started playing back at the baseline, standing right next to her when she served and then poaching cross-court to try to keep her from hitting any other shots during the point. Poaching at the baseline was something I hadn't seen before, but we managed to get enough shots to her that we broke her serve every time.
When my partner served, the points played out very differently depending on who was returning. When Tony's wife returned, the pressure was on me to hit a winner on the first shot off her return, otherwise I'd have to immediately retreat to the baseline, where we would inevitably lose a ground stroke battle with Tony. Luckily I was able to put away almost every ball she got over the net. But Tony's returns were a whole different story--I mostly stayed back at the baseline fearing for my life, since he could put the ball wherever he wanted, as hard as he could hit it...over me, past me, or God forbid, right through me.
He was very successfully covering the whole court, and we had almost no chance of winning the point when he was returning. If we were lucky, we might get a few of his shots back before watching a winner fly past us...I've never seen someone hit so many winners down the middle of the court. We easily won almost every point served to the deuce side and lost all the points served to Tony on the ad side. Unfortunately, Mrs. Tony would sometimes sneak a return over my head, and then the point was as good as gone...and sure enough, my partner lost her serve every time in the first set.
After twelve games, Tony and I had won all of our serve games and our partners had lost all of theirs, leaving us deadlocked at 6-6 and headed for a tiebreaker. My serve was actually giving Tony some problems in the tiebreaker (I'm guessing he was more bored than overpowered, but I was happy to take the points), and we managed to grab a 5-3 lead. I blew a fairly routine overhead, but we pulled out a few more points and found ourselves up a set point at 8-7 with me set to serve the next two points.
I hit a solid first serve to Tony and came into the net behind it. He, of course, hit an even harder return. It was fully within my reach, but it looked to be headed long and I let it pass me by, only to watch it land an inch inside the baseline...8-8. The next point should have been an absolute freebie, serving to Mrs. Tony. Unfortunately, I found the worst possible time to hit my first, last, and only double fault of the match. Absolutely inexcusable...we were now down 8-9, with Tony serving on set point. Sure enough, he cracked a huge first serve that I put in the net, and just like that the set slipped through our fingers, 6-7 (8-10).
The second set didn't follow the predictable pattern of the first, unfortunately. I lost my serve in the second game of the set, which would suggest that we were finished. But my partner somehow managed to win her next serve game, and we were even at 2-2...but it all fell apart from there. We played well, but Tony was hitting absolutely every shot, and Mrs. Tony suddenly figured out how to lob her return over my head on a semi-regular basis, which gave us no shot of winning my partner's serve for the rest of the match. We had plenty of close games, but the Tonys swept them all and finished us off 6-2.
All in all, it was a good news/bad news weekend:
- Bad news: we lost our match of semi-professional keep-away 7-6 (8), 6-2. And I couldn't blame anyone for that first set but myself.
- Good news: we'd made the finals! I never looked at the draw sheet, so as we walked off the court after the loss, I asked Tony when they were playing their next round. That's when he informed me that we had just completed the finals. Gotta love the four-team draws...and we would all be receiving trophies.
- Bad news: I really didn't want the trophy. Call me old-fashioned, but going 1-1 in a small tournament is not a trophy-worthy performance. And that thing will serve only to remind me of a certain missed second serve at 8-8 in the tie-breaker...
- Good news: Tony was nice enough not to kill or wound me. He had plenty of chances to absolutely murder me at the net, and he was kind enough to hit around me. I walked away from the match with all of my body parts functioning much like they had at the beginning.
- Bad news: Because they didn't have the runner-up trophies ready, I had to pose for a photo holding a place-holder trophy engraved with "Women's 3.0 Singles Runner-Up." I told them not to zoom in too close...
- Good news: I also got a T-shirt an a granola bar out of the deal!
- Bad news: the T-shirt is light blue with a yellow shooting star/tennis ball design on the front, and there's a good chance I'll get beaten up if I wear it in public.
Despite the loss, it was a fun match. It's not often you find two extremes like that on a court, with one person hitting everything 30 mph and the other person hitting every ball 130 mph. It's even less often that you'll encounter a situation where an adult can win a trophy for simply staying out of the way. Aside from her mandatory serves and returns, I could count the the number of shots that Mrs. Tony hit during the match on my two hands, and that's no exaggeration. She was the first to joke after the match that all she did was get off the court.
This Friday, it's back to league tennis and the start of the summer season. Let's just hope I remember how to play normal doubles after this one..