Ok, so I played on a 6.0 mixed team at State (or districts, our district is just the state of MS). It was my first USTA playoffs. Had a fun time, figured I'd write up a little recap. I don't know if people will actually find it interesting, but it's fine if you don't and just click to the next thread.
So our team had very limited options as far as people who could make the trip, and I ended up playing every match. As a 3.5, I could only play with one of two 2.5 women on the team, but they were both in attendance. Actually there were only 3 women on our team there for most of the weekend. One of the 2.5 ladies is pretty likely to get bumped up to 3.0 come November, while the other is more of a 'true' 2.5.
First match was 8am Friday morning. I'm playing with the weaker 2.5 lady. She doesn't like to play the net. Her groundies don't have much pace or spin, but can be fairly consistent as long as she can get to the ball and set up. She's not especially mobile. It quickly becomes obvious once the match starts that neither of our opponents has any intention of ever hitting the ball to me except when I am receiving (not entirely unexpected), and they they can both out-rally her (I won a couple matches with her during the regular season in which she was consistent enough to frustrate some mediocre 3.0 guys, but this guy was a good 3.5 and the woman sure seemed good for a 2.5 as well). Not good. I start trying to poach more when I'm at net, but the guy especially seemed to have the ability to hold the ball until late and then just direct it behind me if I made a move to poach. I asked my partner if she felt at all comfortable playing the net. "No." I asked her if she ever served closer to the middle hash (with the idea of trying some signaling, etc), but she hadn't so I dropped that idea. I kept trying to get involved, but ended up stretching myself too thin and trying to do more than I'm comfortable doing. It wasn't a long match. 1-6, 2-6. Our other 2 courts didn't win a set either, this team was really strong. Welcome to the playoffs. My thoughts after the match where that I wasn't sure what I could have done that would have worked, but I did decide that I needed to play more within myself, because I did really overdo it trying to play the whole court on my own at times.
Our 2nd match was around noon that same day. Our captain made the decision to switch up the pairings and have me play with the stronger 2.5 lady. She doesn't hit with much spin either, but she is more mobile, and better able to deal with pace/topspin, and can place her (mostly high trajectory) groundstrokes better, and she can play the net (hallelujah!).
I could tell right away that this team we were up against was more like the 6.0 mixed I'm accustomed too. Really, this match had more to do with nerves than strategy in the end. I think my partner and I both sensed right away this was a very winnable match for us, and we both wanted it so bad after that first match in the morning, that we weren't every really able to settle down and play like we could. I started slicing my forehand alot, which is what I do when I lose confidence in my topspin forehand. Still, we managed to eek out the 1st set at 7-5. We had some chances to break early in the 2nd, but didn't, and at 2-2 the wheels just fell off. Our errors added up quickly, and they seemed to quit missing the shots they had been missing, and the next 4 games were gone quickly, 2-6, before I was even sure what happened. The 3rd set tiebreaker was just back and forth. They were up 6-4, we made a run to go up 9-7, they came back to tie it at 9-9. I was tight as a drum, but apparently I wasn't the only one, as, after continuing to trade points back and forth, the opposing woman proceeded to double fault when they were down match point and give us the tiebreak 12-10. *Phew!* Our team split the other 2 courts, so that tiebreak ended up getting our team the win. Still, the team that had beaten us in the morning had also made short work of their 2nd opponent, and as only the top team in our 5 team group would move on to the finals, we thought we where likely playing for 2nd place.
The next day we played at 9:30. I played with the same partner as the 2nd match, and we played together for the rest of the weekend. I think was the best either of us played. We played a 3.0 guy who actually had nice form but seemed to lack confidence to consistently hit his shots. I still hit alot of slice forehands, but this time it was more strategic, as I noticed the woman tended to catch my slices a little late, which often resulted in a weak floater to my partner at net, which she handled nicely. We won 6-1, 6-1. Again the other 2 courts split, so we moved to 2-1 as a team overall. On the courts next to us, the team we had lost to in the first match lost to the team we had beat in the 2nd match, which meant that we still had a chance at winning our group. However, the tiebreakers (courts, sets, games, etc) weren't looking to be in our favor at all, so I wasn't internally optimistic.
Our last round robin match wasn't until 5pm. Even in the warmup, I was concerned about the guy we were facing, as he had some very nice groundstrokes. Nice topspin, good pace. He could often outrally me from the baseline, and my partner was fighting her best to hang with him, but it was tough. His partner stood right up on the net close to the alley, but made her volleys when it was hit to her, and let him cover the rest of the court, which he could do fairly well. When at the baseline, she played the ad court, and actually had a surprisingly good backhand crosscourt, even if not much else. Luckily for us, this guy had a fatal flaw: he suffered from a rather extreme case of doublefaultitis. He didn't hold serve the whole match. It still wasn't easy (did I mention his groundstrokes where quite good?), but we grinded through a 7-6(0), 6-3 win. Without the double faults, we likely would have been in significant trouble.
We were the last ones to complete our match, and upon finishing, we were informed that our win had actually put us into the finals, as the other 2 courts had split before us, and the other 2-1 team (the same one that killed us in the first match) had lost their last match, leaving us as the only 3-1 team in our group. I'm glad I didn't know that while I was still playing.
It was a very cool feeling, and quite unexpected. Oh, and looking back, that 12-10 tiebreak also made the whole improbable thing possible to begin with.
The finals were the next day. Unfortunately for us they didn't go so well. I don't feel like my partner and I played that badly, but we still lost 6-1, 6-3. The woman we played is also on a 3.0 women's team that is going to nationals, and the guy has also hardly lost a match all year in tennis link (other than a couple in various playoffs, I don't think he'd lost a single regular league match in 3.0 mens or mixed or combo doubles all year). They were just tough. My serve was about all we could win, and even that was a struggle. I felt like the guy was also just having a really good day, he was putting topspin forehands withing 3-4 feet of the baseline on the regular, and I'm not convinced he can do it like that match in and match out, but he sure did for our match (it seemed like with his form it may have a tendency to fly on him, but again, it didn't for our match, they were dropping in). We still had a couple chances to make that 2nd set tighter, but they just came up with a few too many quality shots. Our other 2 courts also lost, so that was that.
Overall though, I really enjoyed the experience. I never ran into any problems on the court. I felt like the line-calling was pretty straight up throughout (actually the team we played in the finals probably gave us a couple balls they should have called out). And I just really enjoyed the competition. Fun weekend. I hope the team that beats us represents Mississippi well at sectionals.
Did you read all that? If so, I think you deserve a cookie. In fact, here's one!