Explosions on Court
What started off as a dreary morning with a light drizzle and overcast skies ended with all the theatrics of a 4th of July Fireworks show on court C-4! As a reminder our matches in Turkey are all being played on red clay. Red clay is not common in the US and pretty much non existent on the west coast. The surface is slower than the hard courts we are more used to in the states. It also lends itself to longer matches as we experienced first hand today. I was told our match was one of the longest ITF matches played…8 1/2 hours from start to finish! We needed a victory to keep our hopes alive of winning our bracket and reaching the semifinals. Every day is a new battle.
The match was against Romania who had on the prior day upset the #8 seeded Great Britain 2-1. Willie took the Court first and found himself down 5-3 in the first set before he found his rhythm. Willie not only broke back but won the first set 7-5. The Romanian player jumped on Willie in the second taking a 5-1 lead before Willie closed the gap slightly to 5-3 but the Romanian was too tough and won the set 6-3. The third set looked like it was going to be a quick one for Team USA when Willie jumped out to a 5-2 lead but after several tough games and a 5-5 score, Willie finally closed out the match 3 hours after he started, 7-5! One very much needed point for the USA.
Carsten played somebody who is a top player here in the 40s (former top 200 player) who looked nothing like a young 40s tennis player (part of what made him so deceptively good)! The "Wizard" as we affectionately call him (several other names we had thought of would not be suitable for this post) could hit a driving winner or impeccable drop shot from either his forehand or backhand side almost effortlessly. Carsten was trying to rekindle his childhood in Germany where he played on clay but was down a set (4-6) and 1-3, love 40 before he dug deep and fought back against the Wizard to win the next 6 games to win the second set 6-3 and go up 1-0 in the third set. Unfortunately the Wizard was too wise and closed out the match 2 1/2 hours after they started 6-2.
Tied 1-1, the match went to the decisive doubles match. I had been coaching Willie and Carsten on court for the prior 5 1/2 hours and had to loosen up as quickly as possible. Our opponents included the Wizard so we knew we had our hands full. We got off to a rough start as they broke me right away (got strong words of advice from Tarango later at dinner on not having the playing captain who just sat on court for the prior 5 1/2 hours serve first in the sun on clay!). We quickly broke back and after a tense several games won the first set 6-4. Although our confidence was growing, the Wizard did not look worried and after another very long and competitive set the Romanians took the second set 6-4.
The entire match came down to our one set of doubles. We had tremendous support not only from our immediate 40s team including Willie fairly animated coaching us on court, from the entire USA men and women’s contingency but also other members of other countries who were surrounding the court akin to a Davis Cup match! At 1-2 break point for the Wizard hit a lob over Carsten’s head that I was able to run back for and lob it deep back in their corner which ultimately ended with us putting the ball away. Break for USA, up 3-2. As we battled back and forth and after a tough game the Romanians broke Carsten’s serve and we were tied again at 4-4. Momentarily deflated the cheers from our teammates got us re-energized and we broke the Wizard again to go up 5-4. As we changed sides and I was preparing to serve for the match I heard a USA Teammate (Debbie W40) yell out Go ‘Eaters (referring to UCI Anteaters). This was perfect as it made me laugh and reminded me of the days Carsten and I played doubles together in college at UCI. 4 first serves later we won the game, set, match and team match! 2 1/2 hours after we started. Definitely one of the most exciting and exhilarating matches I have been involved in. Was even more special given all of the support we had from our teammates!
After the match we had an enjoyable, relaxing dinner as we started preparing for another tough match tomorrow against Great Britain. We also realized that clay courts can help you find your hip flexors, among other sore muscles!