It was a party last weekend (and continuing on) for all the college athletes in Taiwan. It was the 2011 Intercollegiate games. To me, and the entire tennis team, it was “the time of the year.”
2 years ago the NCKU men’s tennis team surprisingly won a bronze medal after I survived a 5th set muscle cramp. It was my first medal ever since I had begun playing in the intercollegiate tennis tournament in 2005 , and could not be happier for it. Last year the story was a bit different; the bar had raised. It was either win-it-all or go home. Well we first lost in the semis to NTU, and then I was completely slaughtered to “lil’ chubby” of NCCU in the 5th set 0-6. 4th place finish. I was vulnerable like a short-lobbed tennis ball waiting to be smashed against the ground and over the fence.
A plan had to be made. I just could not allow myself to be restrained within the “continental grip” and saw those supposedly approaching shots turning into winners for the opponents. Thus I slightly adjusted my grip to a semi-western (ok, maybe just a quarter or even less) and endured the painful transitory period. At the same time I also wanted to contribute in the “coaching/assisting” aspect of the game, just in case I ended up being the sub rather than the starter as we had a very potentially strong line up.
A side branch of my schedule was to engage in soft tennis during its season in the winter. I discussed with a few senior members of the team and Wan-Chun to scratch up a training plan and ran with it. The hard work paid off as the men won silver while the women’s captured the elite champion. The doubles I paired up with EricDaDa was later proven to be the strongest pair in the tournament. The reward also came with a price as I was loosing my handle in hard tennis badly. To add rub it in, I had to play in the internal ranking game in order to win myself a place in the line up for the Intercollegiate games. I lost the round-robin match to Cheng Ching-Ya and was at the brink of elimination to Feng before catching up from behind. Like I’ve said several times to the soft-tennis teammates, “you guys have no idea how much I had sacrificed for soft tennis.”
The slump lasted for nearly 3 months, during which I participated in the annual Fu-Hsing Cup where I only played 1 match (and lost) due to my ever dreadful handle. The southern regionals also took place as I ground through the 2008 southern regional men’s single winner of Nan-Hua Univ. The win didn’t serve me much as I knew my technical aspect of the game was still down in the valley. However, I did coach loyally to Old-Wu and Song2, whom I believed benefited from my presence. That was the satisfactory aspect of the regionals.
It was until the Orient Cup that I really broke through the nightmare. The turning point came when I was playing against probably one of the fastest and strongest players I’ve recently faced, the string-broker of Yuan-Pei Tech Univ. His fierce service and ground strokes were beyond my ability to handle and had me down 0-3. Fortunately he fumed out in the end as I hanged on desperately and closed out the match in the tiebreaker. This amazing journey ended in the blistering cold (< 13 oC) of Linkou as I fell victim to Mr. Orange’s endless persistence in the round of 16. A pity way to end since I was up 4-2 my service before it began to rain, but as a whole it was definitely a much-needed dose of confidence shot. The blessing in disguise was that I made partnership with the rookie Chia-Hao despite our shortcoming in 2nd rd of doubles.
Another very important turnout from the Orient cup was that I realized I just had to get a new racket. My old ones were just too light for me to counter those powerful ground strokes in the advance plays, and a heavier racket would benefit the quality of my shots as well. With the help from Yen-Chin and the kindness of “Mr. Nice Guy” Chao-Min, I tested my first racket in almost a decade and fell in love with the Wilson BLX Six 90, the RFederer Asia. Result? A friendly match win 6-4 over my predator Tzu-Yang. Getting it was a no brainer.
When a turning point occurred to a slumping man, everything was uphill since. After several rejections in recruiting a few up-and-coming players for the Maxxis Cup, a bunch of outliers (Lin the lefty, Big Brand, Chia-Hao, Kang-Kang, and Yen-Chin!) and myself, who was technically the 8th man, hurled and fought to a 2nd place finish behind the fully loaded Tamkang Univ. We were the Cinderella story as no one expected us to get by the top-seeded Ta-Yeh Univ, let alone making it to the finals. Most importantly I was recognized as the leader and the imperative coach by my teammates that catalyzed the triumph, and that was where the ultimate happiness stemmed from.
In spite of the 2nd place finish at the Maxxis Cup, I was still the 8th man or the 1st sub of the men’s team, especially after another loss to Old-Wu’s consecutive forehand bombardment. Nevertheless, experiences from high school basketball and others such as Hu and Wang had taught me better to be ready. I trained myself “HARD;” I was jogging/sprinting/side-step madly to boost up my endurance/explosiveness/lateral quickness, and practicing hard with Tzu-Yang and lil’ milk “the backhand expert” to sharpen my games. I even purchased a new set of luxurious strings that made me wonder if it was worth it. The bottom line was, I would not had prepared myself better even had I been the ace. Mentally I had told myself to play my role as the driver, the coach, and maybe if-lucky the early round sub-in. Physically though, I knew I just had to be ready, period.
The short answer was: the hard work paid off. The unfortunate breakdown of Old-Wu and Song2’s 5th set nerve pushed me up to the stage. Despite the 5-2 collapse in the first match against Tung-Hai, I seized all other matches, albeit exhaustingly. To my satisfaction, my backhand had definitely improved from the regionals and stood the attack from the opponents. It was still the obvious target, but at least not the defend-less vulnerability anwaymore. I also coached 2 of Song2’s critical matches that turned into victories, and the came from behind (that fell short) matches of Own/Tatsu against Chong-Hsin and Song2’s match against “lil’ chubby.” Oh, and that timely yell of “make her run” to push over that critical game in the women’s championship match. Song2 even told me had I sat through his full match against lil Chubby, he probably would not had fallen so far behind before finally waking up. I also strongly felt that had I stayed longer to kept my eyes and mouth open to that Own/Tatsu match, KMU could had a better chance in surviving that heart-breaker.
For all and all, I felt that I had contributed all I could, and the men’s silver medal and the gold of the women were well-deserved. Looking back on the year, I had collected 3 silver medals and witnessed the women’s took 2 golds. As Yen-Chin’s put it, I was the player-slash-coach. From the statistics, maybe I am even the better coach than the player, who knows.
Like I’ve shared with my teammate, we came to the tennis team to play tennis. Maybe the reality is never ever gonna be perfect, we still gotta make the most out of it and live a happy life. Thank you god for all those angels you’ve placed next to me throughout the year, and may I be the good Samaritan for others in the future.