As I stood there watching the 4A and 3A teams duke it out in epic matches, (both went 5-4, with the 3A school, Asheville High, sweeping doubles to come back from a 2-4 deficit) I thought back to last year. The 2008-2009 team had been stronger than this year's team, though we had not advanced as far due to missing our top player during the second round playoff match last year. Standing there with my friend, who played 3, I looked at him and said "this is our year." He nodded, and shortly after we got on court.
Going into this match, we were fully aware of what was going to happen. Mount Airy had its team planned so that they could win three singles matches, since their doubles teams were strong. In fact, two of their players had defeated my partner and I in the individuals 1A doubles championship a week ago, and their #1 player had captured the singles title. Though we were the underdogs, our coach knew that we were in fact stronger overall in singles, and that we could take singles 5-1 and walk off the court as champions. Even if it went 4-2, Mount Airy's #3 doubles team was weaker than ours, so we would be able to eke it out if that happened.
The match pairings couldn't have been better. Our #1 faced off against the state champion, though everybody knew he didn't stand a chance--he was there to be a placeholder, a tough spot to hold during such a crucial match, but somebody's got to do it. At #2, I was facing the better of the pair that had defeated me a week ago, and I knew I could beat him in singles. Our #3 was looking for redemption, as he had dropped both his close matches last year in the second round that we had lost, and he was definitely stronger than his opponent. #4 and #5 were juniors, newcomers to our junior-senior only high school team. #4 had had a rough season. He came in looking like a very strong player, but as the months rolled by, he started losing and his mental game deteriorated. We were all optimistic though, for coming into this match he looked stronger than ever. Being our team's biggest hitter, he was matched with a big hitter for Mount Airy at #4, and we had confidence in him. Our #5 was solid, and our #6 was confident, and they were looking to take the match easily. Things were looking good--we could go 5-1 and go home.
It was a rainy day today, and we were all hoping that the rain would hold off. Since 3A and 4A doubles were still going on when we were scheduled to go on court, the 1-3 matches were fielded first.
The first bit went exactly as planned. At #1, our player took a hard loss, being simply outclassed. He was off the court quickly, and took to cheering myself and the #3 on. I took the first set 6-3 quickly as well, and looking over at court 3, I was delighted to see that my friend at 3 had taken the first set 6-3 as well. At this point, the rain started sprinkling down, and matches 4-6 were put on, though at this point I didn't know it.
The rain continued, and slowly but steadily the courts started getting saturated. My match continued as planned, though it was tougher the second set around--my opponent had adapted to my unorthodox game play, and in the second set we were on serve, at 4-3 in my favor. Still though, I was confident that I could grind the match out.
And then bad things started happening, the first two incidents occurring almost simultaneously. At my first break chance to pull ahead for a 5-3 lead, I slipped on the wet court while trying to change directions too quickly. Ouch, I have a rolled... no, sprained ankle. Shit. As I look up, I see my friend at #3 packing his bags. I'd forgotten about keeping up with his score, since I had been so focused on my own match. I was elated that he had gotten off the court so quickly before he too could have an injury, but then I took a look at the score cards. After winning the first set 6-3, he had dropped the next set in resounding fashion, winning only a single game. Later, I would learn that he had folded during the 3rd set tiebreaker, losing 10-3.
At this point, the pain in my right ankle was killing me. After losing that point where I injured myself, I went on to lose the next 9 points, allowing my opponent to win the second set 6-4. Things weren't looking good, and the rain was continuing to fall. I could barely move, and my opponent knew this.
During the two minute break before the third set tiebreaker, I just kind of sat there, hating my ankle. I really wanted to call it quits just then, but then I happened to look up. 4, 5, and 6 had gone on court, but everybody else was there, watching me. Our coach, being a man of few, but important, words, just nodded at me.
The rain kept pouring down, and I ground through every point in the tiebreaker, bringing myself up 6-4 before the match was finally called on account of rain. This was such a good thing for me, as at that point I could barely walk, not to even think about running. As I got off the court, my mind was racing. We were down 0-2, and that meant that our chances of taking this in singles had gone down the drain, and with my current situation, our chances of taking the match 4-2 (without it we'd lose, remember) were in danger. However, upon hearing the scores for the three other matches, I was in better spirits. Our #4 player was up 3-0, and was simply demolishing his opponent, and #5 and #6 were both up a break at 3-2. Things were looking good: if the four of us could take our matches, we could still win. Of course, this put all the pressure on me and my freaking ankle, but I've always been good at handling pressure.
The rain had stopped, and after a good half hour the courts were ready to go. I limped back onto court, and feeling better, went up 9-6. The match point took forever, with both sides playing offense and defense. Finally, it came down to one call--he hit an approach shot that I saw go out, and so I called it out, happy that I had taken our team's first match. However, he argued that his ball was in (who wouldn't, given the situation) since it was a very close call. Fortunately for me, the official watching the match at that point wasn't a line judge, so my call stood. He was angry, but politely walked up to the net to shake my hand. For this, I have to give him mad props.
I hobble up to the second floor observational deck, where the rest of the nonplayers have gone to cheer on 4, 5, and 6. What I find isn't all that pretty. Somehow, our #4 had gone from being up 3-0 to being down 3-4. Though he was on serve, something that is very important in competitive tennis, he was throwing errors and double faults everywhere, and his return games were not much better. On court 5, our player had taken the first set, but was immediately broken 0-1. Court 6 was having a fierce battle, with the score being 5-4 in favor of our player.
The matches finished in a blur, and I don't remember too much, just that I threw out my voice cheering. #5 walked off the court first, having come back from a lot of long points to take the second set, and even though the opponent at #6 cheated a game out of our player (he won the game at 5-4 after about 15 deuces, then immediately started switching sides, saying the score was 6-5 in our favor), our #6 won the first set in a close tiebreaker and went on to take the second set. So it all came down to #4, but he had lost the first set 6-4 and was down a break at 4-3 in the second, and was playing absolutely terribly. My doubles partner and I knew that we had to prepare for the inevitable, so we headed out to warm up.
We lost the 4 spot, and the match was split 3-3. At #1 doubles, my partner and I knew we were outclassed. We had lost to the Mount Airy doubles team during individual finals when it had been the 2 and the 4 (admittedly, both of us played poorly that day, but it is no excuse) and now the #1 team for Airy today was going to be their singles-champion #1 and the #4. #2 doubles for Airy was to be their 2 and 3, against our 4 and 5, and #3 doubles was Airy's 5 and 6 against our 3 and 6. This looked bad--our 2 doubles had had trouble all year, and hadn't been looking good recently. Keeping optimism though, we hoped that they could win their match, since we were still confident that our 3 doubles could deliver.
My partner and I started off by losing the first 12 out of 13 points, going down 0-3 in the blink of an eye. At this point, my ankle was swelling, but I ignored it through adrenaline. We made a good comeback, bringing the score to just being down one break at 4-5, though afterward we lost a few close games, and the score was 8-4 in the favor of Airy. It wasn't looking good.
And then our #2 team lost, going down with terrible play 10-3, I believe. #3 was still looking good, since they were up 8-3 against Airy, but at this point we knew our fate was sealed.
My partner and I tried our best, but we lost the next two games as well, and our #3 doubles team was pulled off the court right before their match point at 9-4.
A 4-5 loss, in essence. Sucks, doesn't it?
During the awards presentation, I could barely stand. My ankle was going to give out soon, and I just wanted to sit down.
So why is this story bittersweet? Well, first off I went undefeated throughout the singles season, and only lost that one doubles match that mattered. Yeah, yeah I know you can now officially call this a "brag blog." Have at me. Secondly, this event allowed me to put into perspective how far we had come as a team this year. Even though our #3 and #4 failed to perform, and we couldn't pull it out in doubles, nobody was placing blame upon an individual. You win as a team, or you lose as a team, and today just wasn't our day.
The third thing? My ankle is officially sprained, and swollen heavily. I can barely walk right now, having to hop up the stairs to get to my room after getting back home. So now I lay here on my bed with an ice pack, leg propped up as my good ol' Boy Scouts training has taught me, wrapping up this blog. I'll be bedridden for a while, but this simply...
Allows me to spend more time on TL. Cheers people. + Show Spoiler +
I wonder how many of you will actually read this.