Sunday, July 25, 2021 (Court Day #396)
Monterey Pickleball Palooza – 3.5 Mixed Doubles
I left my house at 7:34 and arrived to pick up Olga, who was kindly waiting at her complex entrance for me at 7:45. Along the drive Olga shared that her husband Oleg and her father-in-law would be coming down later in the day to watch. (My wife has no interest in pickleball and was staying home with our new puppy.) Traffic was light and in a quick 45 minutes we were in the middle of rural nowhere driving into a small dusty valley that was home to the green oasis of the Chamisal Tennis & Fitness Club. It was overcast, with the temperature in the mid-50s.
As we got out of my car, the fact that I had a second pair of shoes came up. “That’s a good idea,” observed Olga. “After I had a pair of shoes fall apart for a tournament, I always bring two pairs,” I explained.
We checked in with Michael Zury, Director of Tennis and Pickleball for this club. He appeared to remember Olga. She and Jean won the women’s doubles event there two years ago. Binh and I had signed up for that 2019 tournament, but I’d gotten sick and we had to cancel.
Warm Up Game
Olga and I found an empty court and proceeded to warm up for about 10 minutes. John P. and his partner Barb S. asked to join our court to also warm up and we agreed. John soon offered a warm up game. I looked at Olga and she nodded. We took them on. It was a slaughter. Olga and I won 11-2. As we were tapping paddles at the net, John said, “You guys are ready.” What’s funny is I hadn’t even started the tournament yet I had already gotten smacked hard on my paddle hand with a ball during that game. Ouch!
Olga has said the 3.5 groupings had come via email, but I missed that detail. (My work has been really demanding lately.) We were in the same pool as other Santa Cruz locals Shawnte and Hemmie. In fact, they would be our first opponents!
There was the playing of the National Anthem and directions to the various courts—I believe there were 16 of them, great for holding a tournament! All the round robin games were being played to 15, win by 1. We’d switch sides at 8 points. Winners would not be determined by wins or losses but by the total accumulation of scored points; so if you lost all your games by one point, you might still end up in 1st place! With six teams in our pool, we’d have five games to play.
Game 1: Shawnte Hagan & Hemmie Ramirez
This was a very contested game. Beforehand, Shawnte had kidded, “I hear we have a meat grinder for a first game.” I kidded back, “I heard the same thing for us too!” Hemmie played better than I was expecting, she did very well. The lead changed several times. I hit a few lobs that weren’t deep or high enough and Shawnte took advantage, slamming the ball for a clear winner. Not my best moments. We were down toward the end, but came back, pulled ahead and won 15-13. By the time we were done, all the other nearby courts had cleared and those players were already waiting for their next games. It had been a long battle.
Game 2: Greg Salmon & Whitney Kramm
Greg and Whitney are both tall and both were sporting tennis whites. They are in their 40s or early 50s. I was worried when they pulled ahead. Soon, they had a 9-6 lead. But Olga and I tightened up our play, adjusted somehow, and pulled ahead. Once we were leading by a few points and close to winning, they seemed to make more errors. Trying too hard? Or had our 6-2 run—later a 9-2 run to win—knocked the wind out of their sails? I was a bit surprised with this win, 15-11.
Game 3: Jack Hagler & Liz Hagler
Jack, I’d met—or at least seen—before. I’d mentioned this to his wife Liz then to him when he walked up. He replied that he’d been up to Brommer Park to play. Jack is a much stronger player than Liz. She’s decent—and tall for a woman—but Jack is really good. Jack is tall, maybe 6’3” or more, with a huge wingspan. And he uses it. He is a poach machine! You’d hit a shot, intending it to go crosscourt to his wife Liz and he’d spring over and unexpectedly whack the ball—and you better be ready! We lost 13-15. I thought we should have won this one.
Game 4: Nathan Forte & Barb Raab
Barb is a Santa Cruz regular, a solid player, but I’d never seen Nathan before and had no idea what to expect. Boy. He could whip his serves. He was using the new (2021 provisionary rule) drop serve to full effect. He was ripping those things. He scored points off returns into the net or balls that sailed past his baseline. He also had a powerful forehand drive. His backhand was decent too. We needed to do a much better job getting him into the soft game. I really wish he was local to Santa Cruz, I’d love to play against him regularly. Barb played the best I’d ever seen her play. We got creamed. It wasn’t even close, nor was there much hope in this game as they went ahead quickly and never looked back. Each rally would be over in short order. We were just outclassed and didn’t compensate enough. We lost 6-15.
Game 5: Ken Ottmar & Marta Dalhamer
By this time, as the result were posted, the strength of each of the teams was getting obvious. This team we’d be playing had won every previous match, leaving them undefeated at 4-0. This would be a tough one. And it turned out to be. Yet, it was great to play in since I love playing against stronger players. You’d hit an excellent shot that would often be a winner in rec play but the ball would come back anyway. Both Ken and Marta were very good servers. (Not deadly like Nathan, but still good serves.) I hit a couple of my own serves too long. I also was too impatient and drove a dink into the net. And Olga was trying to play a hard game . . . it works fine on weaker players, but in this game, it was problematic—more patience was necessary. We lost 7-15.
The top finishers in each pool would advance to the gold medal match, though apparently, there was a bronze medal match too. It wasn’t clear to me how that worked. I was expecting to head home but soon we learned that there would be some bracket play for those who didn’t advance toward medals. Somewhere during the morning, the cloud cover had burned off and it had gotten warm and a touch breezy.
During a break between either Game 4 and Game 5, or between Game 5 and bracket play, I had told Olga that I thought she was being a bit aggressive. It’s can often be a bit touchy when giving advice on your partner’s game. You don’t want to distract them or upset them, but you also want them—and yourself—to be successful. I remember being really appreciative of my partner Eric’s advice at a tournament about how he thought we should attack our opponents. My feeling was that, while at the net, Olga was driving shots across instead of waiting for balls that she could hit down upon. And I am certainly not perfect nor always as patient as I need to be, but I’m very comfortable in a soft game.
While we were told that the bracket play would involve the two pools facing off against each other, through what I learned later was an error, we ended up playing again against Jack and his wife Liz. (We were supposed to play against a team from the other pool.) It would be would be best of three games to 11, win by 2.
Bracket Match #1: Jack Hagler & Liz Hagler
I wasn’t really into this game. I was tired, hungry, warm, drained and not playing for a medal. Maybe Olga was feeling the same. We fell behind in the first game and ended up falling 10-12 to our opponents.
Once that loss happened, it lit a fire. I wasn’t going to lose again if I could help it. And we didn’t—we clobbered them 11-1. There was still some service changes as they held us off, but it was inevitable. There would be a deciding Game 3.
For this last game in the match, we traded sides at 6. This was back to a closer game, but this time I was confident. Olga and I won this one too, 11-8. And with that, we took the match.
Since we won our match against Jack and Liz, we were moving on to play against the winner of their own match . . . as you’d expect for brackets. That team would be against Wendy Bates and Eric Johnsen.
Bracket Match #2: Wendy Bates & Eric Johnsen
Olga knew Wendy, they greeted each other by name. Maybe it was from the tournament two years ago or maybe Wendy visited Santa Cruz. It was pretty obvious that Wendy and Eric were playing a better game than we were. Oleg and his dad watched from a bench well out of the action. I had some really great shots in this game—along with a handful of lame shots, but overall good.
We lost the first game 6-11 or 7-11 . . . I didn’t note the score but that’s what Olga recalled when I asked after the second game. It had a fair amount of back and forth. The second game was much like the fist, but even longer with even more service changes. We lost this one 7-11.
And with that, our day was done.
A lunch of salad with chicken slices was included in the entry fee. I ate in the lounge area with Olga and her father in-law while Oleg was taking things in outside.
Afterward, I checked out the medal matches. I wasn’t paying close attention, but watched some points. They had a referee for the gold medal match.
By 3:10, I was on my way out and heading home. I tried to find Olga to say goodbye but she’d apparently already left with her family. Traffic was heavy so getting home took about twice as long. I iced my arm once I got back.
I really enjoyed this tournament. Lots of good play. I felt I played decently and that my play got dialed in as the day went on. Heck, I should give myself some slack. After 2 1/2 years of nearly no right-handed play, four weeks ago, I played a little right-handed for the first time. Nine total outings righty then I played a tournament. Crazy. I can’t expect myself to play at the top of my game. I will get better.
Wednesday, July 28, 2021 (No Play)
So, it’s been a few days since the tournament. My body was pretty sore on Monday. And my back is still a bit sore. So. The right elbow. The tennis elbow arm. This was a trial by fire. Five intense games to 15. Followed by five more intense games to 11. Yes, my forearm and elbow are sore. Not terrible—I have first hand knowledge of “terrible” when it comes to tennis elbow—but I’m not about to play again right-handed until it’s better. I don’t want to aggravate it and make it worse.
Olga texted yesterday and shared that she learned something new. “The soft game can be satisfying. It gives you more time to think and make decisions.” She said she was practicing softening hard balls when playing today with Jackie, Patty and Kelly May. (I’m not sure if I’ve met Kelly May.) “It was working well. If I continue doing that the girls will hate me soon.” Excellent—you want your opponents annoyed and frustrated with your game! You want your opponents to be uncomfortable. Something that can help is figuring out what you dislike your opponents to do to you—what you find uncomfortable—then try that tactic against your opponents. Short spin serve? Drive to the backhand foot? Lob over the backhand shoulder? Think about it.
Saturday, July 31, 2021 (No Play)
A couple of days ago, I bought a used cordless massage gun on eBay and it should show up next week. Such a thing was recommended online by someone suffering from tennis elbow. I’ll give this a try. Certain motions are reminding me that my tennis elbow is not a thing of the past.
Number of days on a court: 396
Number of total hours: 2,027.5
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