Friday, 24 May 2013

Nationals: Day 4

With everyone being able to check the draws online here, I'll keep this recap to the things that may have surprised people about the second round and quarter final play that took place yesterday.

There was a lone upset in the second round, as 10th seeded Kurtis Cullen upset 7th seeded Eric Desrochers to secure a spot in his second national event quarter final of the season. The Brandon native relied heavily on a superb mix of drive serves and took advantage of some loose play from Desrochers to capture the match in 2 games.

This set up quarter final matchups with all the top 8 seeds (save Desrochers) for the evening matches. With some history between some opponents and the relative closeness in seeding, I thought for sure we might see some upsets, or at least tiebreakers! Alas, there were no upsets and only one tiebreaker in all four matches and unfortunately for me, the tiebreaker (and almost scare upset) came in my own match.

Having played Kurtis several times over the last few years I had a pretty good idea of what to expect going into the match. He was going to lean heavily on his drive serve and if it was on it would be a battle, if he was inconsistent then it should be relatively straightforward. Somewhat to my surprise, Kurtis began the match serving fairly well, but since the courts weren't especially fast I was able to at least neutralize on serve return consistently. This allowed me to experiment with serves and begin to score. By mid-game, I had a solid lead which I held onto to take the first 15-5.

The second started in a similar fashion, although he was mixing his serves better by this time, throwing some into the short crack and into the body. This caused my serve return to be less consistent but I nevertheless build up a lead of 9-4. He called a timeout and I think in my mind (and a huge mistake) was that I imagined the finish line. I could see the end of the game (and match) and allowed myself to dwell on that instead of sticking to the task at hand. This would almost be my undoing as Kurtis (I'm sure who could see the end coming as well) elevated his game both on serve and serve return. It was now me who was struggling on serve return and when I was able to get into the box, to score points as well. He closed my lead and after several more failed attempts in the box, took a lead of his own, he closed out the second game 15-11.

My head was spinning. What just happened? Had I actually just let him back in the match? Given him the momentum and one chance in a game to 11 to take my spot in the semis? No. This was just a hiccup. Take a few minutes to refocus and get back in there and play like you did for the first 3/4 of the match thus far. I'm reminded of the scene in "The Replacements" where Keanu Reeves' character describes his biggest fear on the field: quicksand.

"You're playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can't move... you can't breathe... because you're in over your head. Like quicksand." - Shane Falco

It seemed I was still quagmired in my loss of focus as I proceeded to go down 6-1 in the tiebreaker. I finally got the serve back and called a timeout. After a brief exchange with my coach, my sense of hopelessness had lifted, albeit only slightly. Yes I was in a hole, yes I was not playing especially well, but I was not playing poorly enough that I should be losing like this. Get back on the court and just do everything a tiny bit better. That is the only difference right now. So I stepped back on the court and put it all out there. I fought for every rally, I focussed a little bit more on each of my serves, and positioned myself as best I could for each shot. With a little help from Kurtis (who I'm sure must have been feeling something similar to what I had felt late in game 2) I clawed back slowly and closed the lead. Like a true athlete though, Kurtis refocussed himself, and responded to regain the lead and after that it was extremely tense. I was the first to get to match point and led at 10-9. Full of nerves and wanting the roller coaster to simply be over, I promptly dropped my focus and blew 3 set ups in one rally to give Kurtis the serve back. At the tail end of a fairly solid rally, Kurtis' flailing frame-shot found the front court to kill out and tie the game at 10. I held on though and was able to get the serve back and close out the match 12-10.

Extremely happy to have won, as well as both physically and mentally exhausted after the contest, I didn't get to writing this until today. I'm looking forward to the semifinals against my training partner Nathaniel Husulak and am optimistic about my chances for a spot in the final. Not only that but watching the other semifinal as well. With Coby playing as well as he is, it should be a great test for Mike and a fantastic display of racquetball.

Cheers for now,


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