Aunt Hazel had that "what the heck is happening?" look on her face. We were, as the saying goes, "getting our clocks cleaned" by a team that was truly the Odd Couple of mixed doubles, Sal and Angela!
How could we be losing to these two?
Sal and Angela both played well enough. Angela was a down-the-line specialist. Sal was all bang-bang, drill-the-net-person person.
It started during the warm-up. Sal tried to drill me at the net during the eye warm-up, smirking all the time. He hit winners during the rally segment and his overhead feeds all soared back to the baseline. With Aunt Hazel, Angela knocked off sharp angle shots at the net and drop shots during their rally.
Sal was easy not to like and Angela presented a pathetic persona, what is known colloquially as "a piece of work". And we got caught up in playing them, not their game.
All of Sals boorishness was not restricted to Aunt Hazel and me. When Angie missed an easy overhead, Sal glared at her and shook his head from side to side. Angela moved to her next ready position, ignoring Sals histrionics.
Poor Angie. Her next misdeed was an apparent sitter which she pushed long. Sal placed his hands on his hips and glared at her. Angie assumed the ready position, eyes straight ahead. Sal huffed and grimaced, but Angie wasnt buying.
Now it was Sals turn. He doubled faulted and the racquet went sailing into the backscreen, clearly Angelas fault. Sal snarled at her. Angela moved stoically to the opposite service box. Love-40.
We won that game, but it was not a good day for us. The game score was still very much to their favor.
Sal banged a return into the net tape; it hovered indecisively for an eternal split second then dribbled onto our court. Gordon Forbes1 calls this "The sly mischief of tennis".
Their shots nicked the outside of the lines. Ours missed, or just missed. "Out" calls were maybe too quick. But, as Ron Woods2 will tell you, if you think youre being ripped on the line calls, adjust your target area.
And so it went all afternoon.
The fault was ours. Instead of analyzing our game and making adjustments, we were playing them. We wanted to beat this rude pair so bad that our game poise disappeared.
Aunt Hazel tried to drill Angela at the net, hitting long to short. Angie dispatched the ball sharply into the alley, turned, marched deadpan to the opposite court.
I tried to hit deep to Sal to teach him a lesson. Too many strokes were dispatched with too much enthusiasm. Sal gleefully called them "Out!"
In turn he gave "that lingering look" on almost every line call we made, close or not so close. He was very easy to not like.
But we were at fault. We let our feelings get in the way of our game. Sal was a baseline fixture. Where was my drop shot? Angela hugged the net. Where was our lob? We didnt even try to make them move. Simple analysis would have told us they probably did not coordinate very well. They didnt seem to even like each other.
We didnt follow any game plan. We lost our patience and our poise and abandoned our discipline because we simply didnt take a moment to analyze what was going on and adjust our approach.
Thats why it is better to have a game plan going into a match even if it is just a simple mental review of some basic principles.
It sounds like a simple thing to do. Like keeping your first three shots in play and letting them make the error. Like watching the opposing net person instead of your partner hitting the ball. Or like watching the ball come off your opponents racquet and being turned by the time the ball crosses the net. Or never hitting long to short without a purpose. Like watching for opportunities to use your weapons; drop shots, lobs, underspin to change pace. All these things are difficult to do and need practice. When to employ them also takes practice. Thats why a mental preview is so important. It too takes practice.
When do you build your game plan? When did Noah build the Ark? Before the flood! You should do the same with your game plan, whatever it is.
It would have been nice to tell you that we finally won the match in a dramatic tie break after six-all in the third set. It would have been nice.
When you analyze your match after a loss, it is easy to see things. Usually a matter of one key point or two that swings a close match. This one wasnt even close. Losing to this odd couple was hard to digest, but a key lesson was reinforced.
Sal shook hands with a visible smirk and strutted off. Angela flashed a millisecond smile and vanished.
Aunt Hazel grumbled: "Im not a good loser!"
"I know Auntie," I said. "It takes practice."