Today began as a much warmer day – no moisture in the air like yesterday, which was a welcomed change. There is nothing like a beautiful sunny morning and the scent of the Mediterranean to inspire the best in us all. After a quick breakfast and 7:50am warm up hit, we met the Czech Republic for our match at 9am.
For those of you may not be familiar with the ITF format, it is always played as 2 singles matches, #2 plays first, followed by #1, then you end with the doubles. We must decide who will be playing singles and submit that line up ahead of time…the doubles allows changes up until the time of play. In order to maintain integrity with the singles strategy, you must play in order of ranking. (i.e., you can not play your #1 ranked player in the number 2 spot ever. You can, however, play your #4 ranked player in the #2 spot, then any of the remaining players could play in the #1 spot, make sense?) You win two of these matches and you take the match for that day.
Tom Schlack led us off with a very solid start at #2 singles. Ken’s fiancée, Megan, gets the credit for his new nickname. He is known on our team as the friendly assassin. He is the nicest, most complimentary player on and off the court, but when he hits that wicked lefty forehand, you’d better run for cover. He had some great winners, got to the net as often as necessary to get the job done.
He said after the match, “I could just hear Mike in the back of my head, you’d better come in, you’d better come in!” followed by, “why didn’t you drop shot him more?!” I thought he did a great job mixing it up and trying to get in more, which was previously not in his natural repertoire of play. 6-1, 6-1. Great job, Tom.
Onto #1 singles played by Ken White. Ken has one of the most cannon-like serves of anyone I know in the 50’s. His predominantly base line game is very consistent and hard hit. This served him very well until we were up 4-1 in the first set. After 5 or 6 games on this surface, the balls start to change in texture and movement. That, combined with some very close line calls (see below pictures), at least a dozen deuce points on his serve, which he eventually lost, allowed for a significant momentum shift that cost Ken the next 5 games and the first set.
The second set was even more frustrating for Ken, as the harder he hit the ball, the more comfortable and exacting his opponent seemed to get with his returns. It was almost like his opponent harnessed the increased force Ken kept putting into his shots and was able to come up with more winner returns than before. The Czech Republic took this one 6-4, 6-1. So this will come down to the third and final match of the day to decide who wins…the doubles.
Ken and I paired up to play the doubles against the Czech #1 and #2 players for this final face-off. We had taken a bit of a break after the singles so Ken could regroup. He came back refreshed and ready to go. Like a pro, he put the loss behind him and brought his “A” game from the onset. We had a fast start and broke both the Czechs in each of their first service games, along with a strong hold at love by Ken. The momentum was with us! My service game was a bit disappointing the first time around, it was close, but I ended up getting broke to put us at 3-1. This turned out to be a minor set back, however, as we got another break, Ken held his serve, then the Czechs held, then I held to take the first set. 6-2.
There were some great points with some crazy back hand volley winners and lots of great footwork on both sides of the net. If there’s a decent chance to poach, I will take it, so I took a few opportunities to end points that way. We made a solid team, got on top early and stayed on top. The second set was essentially a repeat of the first, and we got our win for the day 6-2, 6-2.
Now I am going to go take a walk on the beach with my wife before our team dinner, where I’m sure we will have lots of spirited conversation recapping today’s match (at dinner, not on the beach). It’s a fun group to experience this with, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to move on to the next match. Bring on the Italians!
P.S. US teams had mixed luck today with their matches. Teams that won today were both Men and Women’s 55’s; Men’s 35 and 40 both lost today. Not sure about the others yet, will try to find out details at dinner.
P.P.S. Just for fun, let’s play a tennis version of “I spy with my little eye” that my wife came up with. Look through her photos and see if you can spot the following:
1. A doppelganger for a young version of the Godfather.
2. The player with the highest toss I’ve ever seen.
3. Our teammate that most resembles former Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney (with maybe a dash of George Hamilton).
4. The best, most playful name on a jersey yet – can you find it?
5. The shot that my wife deemed “shot of the day” AKA “down the middle…the best shot in doubles.”
That’s all for today! Stay tuned for results from our Italian match.