Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Racket Man

TigerBlog played tennis in high school.

He's played squash for the last 10 years or so.

He played racquetball maybe once or twice in his life.

Actually, he's not sure how he got into playing tennis, rather than something like baseball. He was an above average Little League player, better glove than bat and maybe better pitcher than either, and yet he would never play again after he was 12.

He does remember the day when he hit a grand slam in the top of the sixth of a tie game, only to see the other team score five runs in the bottom of the sixth to win it. That sort of stole some of his thunder.

They didn't have lacrosse back then by the Jersey Shore, and in fact he never saw a game live until college. Now? Basically everyone is playing lacrosse there.

Anyway, he got into playing tennis in middle school. In fact, when he couldn't find someone to play, he'd ride his bike the one mile from his house to the middle school and hit against the wall there.

He turned into a reasonably good high school tennis player, certainly not nearly good enough to play on the team at Penn.

He first played squash at Penn against BrotherBlog, and he didn't really get it that one time they played.

Looking back, had he had the opportunity to play squash instead of tennis in middle school, he could have been a college squash player - or at least on the bottom of the Penn squash ladder.

TB thought back to whether or not he could have been on the Penn squash team yesterday in the supermarket, when he saw someone (whom he did not know or who didn't look remotely familiar) wearing a very familiar shirt, one that said "U of P I.A."

Back when TB was in college, those shirts were given to the athletes, and the letters stood for "University of Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Athletics." The guy in the supermarket, TB supposed, was a rower, since he had a hat with a rowing logo on it.

TB's friend Stephen Ehrlich walked onto the men's volleyball team at Penn and actually turned into a pretty good player in his career. He came back from tryouts adorned with all the gear. Had TB known about squash back in the 1970s, who knows. He too could have a faded gray t-shirt.

Of the three racket sports, raquetball is by far the most different. The racket is smaller and doesn't have strings. The ball bounces all over the place, so chasing it down isn't as hard as it is in squash, where the ball is smaller and harder and doesn't bounce as much.

A squash racket looks like a smaller tennis racket, in much the way that a pony looks like a small horse.

In squash, the ball doesn't bounce at all at first. As the match goes on, the ball gets hotter and hotter, which makes it bounce a little more. Still, it's on the player to chase the ball all over the court, rather than how it is in racquetball.

TigerBlog has only played tennis a handful of times in the last 20 or so years. He doubts he could even swing the racket now, since it's so much heavier than a squash racket. Again, think horse and pony.

About 98% of the squash that TB has played in his life has been with (or should that be against) his OAC colleague Craig Sachson. At one point, Sachson was playing squash with TB on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and tennis with then-OACer David Rosenfeld on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

That's not easy to do. Not with the difference in the racket, ball, court and everything else.

The college squash season is a relatively quick one compared to tennis. Squash plays in the late fall, takes about two months off and then finishes with a February/March sprint.

The college tennis season goes and goes, starting early in the fall and continuing through the NCAA championships.

Princeton's Matija Pecotic plays in the NCAAs today, when he takes on Amerigo Contini of Virginia Tech in the round of 64. The tournament is being held at the University of Illinois.

Pecotic, reached the NCAA singles tournament last year as an unseeded player and lost in the first round, is the first three-time men's tennis Ivy Player of the Year in league history, and he is only the 11th athlete across all sports to accomplish that feat.

If TB understands the bracket correctly, the top eight are seed and then next eight are considered 9-16 seeds, and ostensibly randomly placed in the draw. Pecotic, a native of Malta, is a 9-16 and could meet the top seed, Mikelis Libietis of Tennessee in the round of 16.

Pecotic is the 15th ranked player in the country.

Though TB long ago bailed on tennis, he's still impressed with what it takes to play it well. It's a very athletic game, one that combines speed and power.

Pecotic, from the few times TB has seen him play, has both, as well as extraordinary on-court charisma.

Imagine how good he could have been at squash.

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