Playing in tournaments is both challenging and humbling. The level of play and the intensity of every player’s game is elevated from what you usually find at home in open play. The rush of adrenaline can make you sail a shot six feet past the baseline, smash an easy overhead directly into the net, or it can help you thread a shot between your opponents or down the alley for the point.
Today, Claire and I played in our fourth tournament since being rated up to 4.0. The (sometimes dreaded) rating letters from USAPA came shortly after we won a tournament in Las Vegas together at the 3.5 level. That was in April of 2016. That was the last time we felt like winners in a pickleball tournament.
Don’t get me wrong. We didn’t win a game today in the tournament in Williamston, Michigan. Not one game, but we felt like winners……or at least the closest we have come to it since being rated up last year.
Claire and I have played in four tournaments as 4.0 players in the past year. We have won exactly one game. Yes, I said one game. Not a match, but a game. That was in a tournament in December where we won one and lost two in the opening match, before going to the loser’s bracket. We lost that game too, and were done. The feeling of disappointment can’t be described.
But today…….well today was different. There is so much good that came from today’s games! Today we were so close to breaking through to the winning side!
We did so much right today.
- Our rallys were exciting, and we were not overwhelmed by our opponents.
- We were in sync, calling balls and talking to each other.
- Neither of us missed a serve all day! Now that’s something to celebrate!
- We identified our opponents weaknesses and targeted them, often scoring from the effort.
- In both matches one player hit a lot harder than the other. After adjusting to that we were able to step back and let those hard shots fly out of bounds, and became better at blocking them.
- We were able to slow down bang bang rallies several times and take control of the speed of those rallies.
- We held our focus and despite being down 2-10 in our second game, we went on a 7 point run, even though we ultimately lost 9-11.
- Most importantly, we encouraged each other, stayed connected by tapping paddles between EVERY rally – win or lose, smiled throughout and had fun, despite losing the games.
So, why did we lose?
Ultimately, the answer to that is simple. We made more mistakes than our opponents. But, we felt like we made fewer mistakes than we have in our previous tournaments. Our rallies were longer, some with fast volleys that we were able to control and slow down. Our shot choices were better, forcing our opponents into some errors as well. And, we had some great third shot drop shots. In fact, one of our opponents complimented Claire on her drop shots after the game, since she struggled to return several of them.
The competition at this tournament was stellar! Games were high scoring in the 4.0 bracket, indicating that any one of the six teams could have been medalists. The team we lost to in our first match, ultimately won the tournament. That says something about how well we played too! Most importantly, every opponent appreciated good shots and acknowledged them with paddle claps, smiles and kind words. That’s sportsmanship and what makes this game great!
So today was a winning day for us. We know that we can compete at 4.0, and we will keep trying. It might take a little while longer, but it will come.
I am so thankful to be able to play with Claire, but those days will come to an end after the US Open Pickleball Championships in Naples in April. After that, Claire will go back to teaching golf lessons full time and playing very little pickleball until the golf season ends in the fall. Our hope is that when we start playing together again later this year, we will be one step ahead of where we started last year, and continue to progress from there. Maybe next year will be our year!!