When I first decided to write this blog, I made a promise to myself that I would steer clear of self-congratulatory pieces praising my kids (and myself) for their accomplishments. However, today I’m giving myself a “pass,” so please bear with me!
The path to success is usually pretty twisty and hilly – there are good days and not-so-good days, days where you’re on top of the world and feel indestructible and days where nothing goes your way. When your kid is on that path, and you’re just the observer and facilitator, it’s a tough place to be. You have to watch as your child struggles with failure, struggles with losses, struggles with injuries, struggles with self-doubt – all the while, continuing to love them and encourage them toward their goals.
This past weekend, I got to witness just the opposite. My son played in an 18s tournament, a local one, playing up for the first time (he’s still just 15). The weather, after having been very mild all season, decided to take a turn toward full-on winter, with temps in the low 30s (20s with the wind chill factor) and high winds with a few snow flurries tossed in for good measure. When I tell you that these conditions have never worked in my son’s favor, I’m being very understated. He has always HATED playing in the cold and wind and, in the past, made every excuse under the sun for why he could never win in those circumstances. I was bracing myself for more of the same, especially since there was absolutely no pressure on him as an unseeded 15 year old in the 18s draw.
His first match was at 8am on Saturday – a brutal time in the best of weather, but in the freezing cold it’s just tortuous! Hubby and I bundled up in our warmest ski gear and stood courtside as our son quickly won 6-0, 6-0, beating another unseeded player. The wind was whipping and the snow flurries were blowing, but somehow my son found a way to a quick win, making 100% of his 2nd serves even in those rough conditions.
His 2nd match was at 2pm that same day. The weather took a turn for the worse (as if that were even possible!), with the winds howling. My son had to play the #2 seed, but quickly put him (and hubby – I was playing my own match that afternoon INDOORS) out of his misery, winning 6-1, 6-1 with just one double-fault. Somehow, he figured out a way to play quick and effective tennis so the wind and weather were taken out of the equation. Though I wasn’t there to witness it myself, hubby gave me a full report, saying how amazed he was that our son was able to pull out the win so fast. My son told me the tennis wasn’t pretty but it was effective!
The Final was scheduled for the next day at noon. My son had to play the #1 seed, a kid he had never played but who had some very good wins on his record. It wasn’t quite as windy on Finals Sunday, but it was even colder than the previous day. Hubby and I bundled up again and braced ourselves to watch a tough match.
The players didn’t disappoint! They each held serve for the first 6 games of the first set, but then the other boy broke to go ahead 4-3. My son was showing some frustration, but he found a way to break back though he wound up losing that set 7-5. In the second set, my son pulled ahead quickly with 2 breaks of serve, going up 4-1 and serving to take a 5-1 lead. But, his opponent found his way back into the set, breaking my son’s serve then holding then breaking my son again to tie it up at 4-4.
If this match had happened 6 months ago, I would’ve said it was over at this point. My son would’ve checked out mentally, making all kinds of excuses for why he couldn’t win. But, he didn’t. He stayed tough, competing even better as the match progressed. Both boys continued to hold from that point forward, eventually reaching 6-6 and a tiebreaker. His opponent went up 3-0 in the breaker, and hubby and I were feeling pretty stressed out watching our son struggle. But then he found another gear, mentally, and climbed out of the hole, winning the set 7-4 in the tiebreak. That was a huge momentum shift.
Because of the extreme weather, the boys were told to play a 10-point Super Tiebreaker instead of a full 3rd set. My son’s tiebreak record over the past 6 months is pretty solid – he’s only lost one 7-point breaker during that time and has won 100% of the 10-point breakers he’s played – so I’m guessing he was feeling pretty confident down there. His opponent was looking a little shaky, stretching his quads and calves after each point, taking the pace off his serve and, basically, just pushing it in to get the point started. At one point, maybe due to the wind, the opponent hit an underhand serve a la Michael Chang, and my son unleashed an inside-out forehand return winner which put an end to that tactic!
The boys kept trading mini-breaks then holding serve, keeping the score in the tiebreaker very close. At 10-all, hubby and I realized this match could go either way. Both guys were playing very solid tennis, working each point, making very few errors. Over the next few points, each of them had a chance to close out the match, but then other would come up with a winning shot to tie things back up. My husband, who is usually a pretty cool character, was jumping around like a jackrabbit, muttering “c’mon” under his breath, trying to keep our son motivated to fight. Finally, at 14-14, my son pulled ahead and had the chance to serve for the match. He hit a huge body serve to his opponent who was unable to handle it, netting the return. My son had won 5-7, 7-6, 16-14. His first 18s tournament and his first 18s tournament championship – wow!
I know it sounds cliche’d, but it really was a shame that one of the boys had to lose that match. They both played high-level tennis for almost 3 hours in very tough weather. They both continued to compete, staying mentally strong and going after every ball. They both wanted to win and were willing to stay out there all day to do it. In the end, it came down to a big serve and an even bigger heart. I couldn’t be prouder!