Valuable Lessons and Surprises in Surprise

Gary Carmell National Tennis Tournament April 2, 2023 B

Last week I wrote about my preparation for playing in a tennis tournament in Surprise, AZ. This week I’m going to report on the results, my experience, and lessons learned. As Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”  Along the same lines, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Given these in-your-face realities, it was clear from early on that I would have to adjust, improvise, problem-solve, and do my best to keep a clear head as much as possible.  

As Mike Tyson famously said, 'Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.' Click To Tweet

Once I hit the court and immediately recognized that each opponent was going to be a challenge, I needed a healthy dose of humility without becoming too timid and losing my aggressiveness. This is why training in ways that replicate game conditions is so important. It creates familiarity and muscle memory to habituate reactions and decisions rather than facing repeated novelty that one is not adequately prepared to handle. And yet, despite my preparation, training, and conditioning, there were a number of times I was still very nervous and winded. There was something about playing new people that triggered more nerves in me than when I have played better players but who I have played before. It’s said that familiarity breeds contempt. On the contrary, it actually breeds more serenity for me, even if I don’t have much of a chance of winning. It’s the novelty that breeds nerves for me, a powerful insight I took away from the tournament. In some ways, it’s similar to how one feels when walking into a gathering where you don’t know anyone versus one in which you know many people. Enough of the preamble. So how did I do?

USTA 55+ 4.0 Singles Tennis Tournament

I’m very happy with my overall experience playing in the USTA 55+ 4.0 singles tournament. As I mentioned above, I was surprised (no pun intended) by how nervous I got and how draining it was to have those feelings thoroughly subsume me at times. Before starting the tournament, I was calm and felt confident that I was prepared to give it my all and compete well. And then I got punched in the mouth after making first contact with the enemy. 

The format was very challenging and did exacerbate the potential for nerves flaring. It was a fast four format, meaning each set ended when someone won four games. There were no deuces, so if the score was 3-3, the next point won. If the game score was 3-3, then there was a five-point tie-break with no winning by two. Every point was crucial, and the scores were not always indicative of how close a match may have been. For example, one could lose 4-0 and 4-0 but lose multiple games that came down to 3-3, so the scores could have been much closer with better outcomes in those games.

It turned out that I had a lot of close games and sets. I was definitely the Cardiac Kid, and not just because I had heart surgery two years ago. As an aside, I had my annual cardiologist appointment last week, and he was very pleased with how my heart was functioning. I asked him if it was ok that I played six matches of tennis over three days, playing for over seven hours and burning 12,000+ calories, and he said absolutely, and I should keep it up. Another indication that I intend to wear out versus rust out.

I intend to wear out versus rust out.Click To Tweet

Despite the nerves and there being times when my anger was less constrained than I would have liked, I was 3-1 in my bracket. I was tied with two other people for first, but because of the tie-break formula, I ended up in third and went to the single elimination round, playing the other third-place finishers. Fortunately, I got a bye in the first round, so my first match had me in the semi-finals. I won that match but lost in the finals to a very good player who beat me less easily than the score reflected. With no deuces and a number of 3-3 games, his 4-1, 4-1 victory was a bit deceptive, although he deserved to win. 

In reflecting on my overall tournament performance, I was particularly pleased that of the eight sets I won, six were in tiebreaks. In five of the sets, I was down 2-3 and came back to win each one. In only one of them, I blew a lead (3-1) and ended up in a tiebreak, which I fortunately also won. In the semi-final match, I lost the first set 0-4, I won the second one 5-4 and won the tiebreak 5-3 after being down 1-3, and I won the last set 5-4 and won the tiebreak 5-4 while also being down 1-3. When the tie-break score is 4-4 one player spins his racket, and the other player chooses up or down. The winner then selects whether he wants to serve or receive. My opponent won the spin, chose to serve, and he hit my short return of serve out. I won a pretty miraculous 90-minute match that initially looked like I had no chance of winning. He had a nine-hour drive back to Colorado, and I just know his loss to me was going to eat at him as he felt like this match got away and he should have been playing in the finals versus me.

Gary Carmell Tennis Tournament April 2023

Going into the tournament, I thought my conditioning would be an advantage, which to some degree it was, as most of my opponents were outwardly winded and often needed to take long breaks between serves. On the other hand, I was not immune to this either, although after playing 90 minutes from 8 to 9:30 in the semis and then playing an hour later, I felt pretty good in that match, although there was definite soreness with which to contend. My conditioning was such that my finals opponent, who played earlier as well but in a much shorter match, was clearly winded even though he dictated the pace of most of the match. Before the finals, in which I was unusually calm, I noticed that the more winded I got and the more competitive the match, the less of a filter I had when it came to feeling frustrated and showing my discontent when making what I perceived to be a mistake. The mistake came from either hitting the ball out or in the net or being set up in a way where my groundstroke returns or second serves were weak such that my opponent could be well-positioned to hit a winner, usually after approaching the net.

And while I went into the semis feeling somewhat relaxed, I found that I was too mellow, and I think it contributed to my 0-4 first-set loss. I started turning up the heat and began playing with more fire. It even got to the point where I was warned to watch my language when I yelled a word I shouldn’t have after missing a shot. That actually had an incredibly calming and centering effect on me as I was forced to acknowledge my bad behavior, apologize for it, and realize that I was falling short of adhering to the affirmations I laid out in last week’s blog. These included me having fun, realizing it’s still only a game, and being respectful to my opponent, to myself, and to the sport overall. I failed on all of these accounts, but after being put in my place, I played with calm, respectful intensity and ended up winning that very hard-fought match. As Heather told me, I had to go through my terrible twos and have my tantrums if I was going to grow up by the end of the tournament. Fortunately, by the time it was all said and done, I did grow and matured.

As I mentioned above, I came into the finals feeling very centered, resulting in me not being very invested in the outcome. I just wanted to play each point with determination, intelligence, focus, and intensity. The interesting thing is that I lost 4-1, 4-1, and yet when it ended, I felt a profound sense of satisfaction about my entire experience, and I do believe that I ultimately adhered to all of the affirmations, although it was a rocky road to get there at times. And I don’t think my calm had any material impact on the outcome, unlike the beginning of the semis. I still felt a deep determination to play my best and to go after every ball but was just as committed to relishing the experience and being very proud of what I accomplished to get to that point, and being so grateful for being able to play in a very nice venue with great weather. Most importantly, I was a bit more than two years past having major heart surgery and still able to complete six matches over three days, burning over 12,000 calories, and playing over seven hours of tennis. And this all happened in a relatively short time as I had only started taking tennis again four years ago.

And while there were a few surprises in Surprise, the overall experience was fantastic, and I’m so glad that I leaped into the deep end of the pool and played in such a great tournament.

USTA 55+ 4.0 Singles Tennis Tournament Gary Carmell

USTA 55+ 4.0 Singles Tennis Tournament

4 comments on “Valuable Lessons and Surprises in Surprise
  1. Love the shirt!
    Love the joy!
    Love the competition!

  2. Dwight Frindt says:

    Bravo, super jock!

  3. Tracy Hayes says:

    Way to go!!

  4. Scott Cleere says:

    Well done. Good for you to keep the priorities straight even after losing sight of them along the way.

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