Monday, April 20, 2015

Somebody Won

Long before TigerBlog began playing squash, he was a high school tennis player.

He played quite a bit of tennis up through his 20s. He remembers one time when he was at the newspaper, he played against the boyfriend of a woman reporter. She was about five years older than TB, and TB had a huge crush on her.

He refused to let her boyfriend beat him, and they played a grueling three-hour match on a very hot, very humid suffer afternoon before TB finally won. It was the best match TB can ever remember playing - and then she married the other guy anyway a few weeks later.

To that point, he had played squash only once in his life, once in college against BrotherBlog. TB didn't really get the whole point of squash at first.

Then, after a long and dominating career in Jadwin lunchtime basketball, TigerBlog turned to squash one summer, when the court at Jadwin was being remodeled. From that point, it became all squash all the time for TB.

In fact, he's only tried to play tennis once since, and he found that the segue from squash to tennis is nearly impossible.

See, in squash, there's a wall to stop the ball and send it back to you. In tennis, there's a fence beyond the end line, and hitting that fence is not a winning strategy.

TigerBlog found that after all the years of playing squash, hitting a tennis ball into the court - as opposed to off the fence - was quite difficult.

Still, as TigerBlog watched Princeton play Cornell in women's tennis yesterday afternoon, he had to disagree with Executive Associate Athletic Director Anthony Archbald, who said that he doubted TigerBlog could return one serve in the court against Lindsay Graff, Princeton's No. 1 player.

Not win a point. Just return one serve. In a best-of-three-sets match. TigerBlog would have to think he could get one in, no? Just one?

TigerBlog jumped on the Princeton women's tennis bandwagon last weekend in New Hampshire, when he saw the Tigers close out Dartmouth 4-3. Katie Goepel was the difference in that one, as TB saw her win the final match of the day for the deciding point.

Princeton then beat Harvard to find itself assured of at least a tie for the Ivy title. And outright Ivy title and NCAA tournament bid would be Princeton's with a win in either of its remaining matches.

Except Princeton fell to Columbia Friday, which put the pressure on the Tigers yesterday.

When TB got to the match, Princeton was ahead 2-0, having won the doubles point and one of the singles match. It got to 3-0 when Graff won her match, which meant that Princeton needed to win one of the remaining four matches to get the big prizes.

The only problem was that Cornell had won the first set in each of the other four matches. The prevailing wisdom among the large Princeton faithful who watched at the Lenz Center was this: Somebody has to win, right?

For the next hour or so, the "somebody has to win, right" thinking wasn't quite a sure thing.

From TB's vantage point - in the Cordish Family Pavilion - he was closest to the match at No. 2, where Princeton's Amanda Muliawan had dropped her first set and then pulled away to win the second set 6-2.

Now it was the third set. TB thinks Muliawan went up 40-0 in Game 1, only to lose that one and the next one. Now she was down 2-0.

It seemed like the momentum had clearly turned on that court. And as TB looked up at the scoreboard, Cornell had already won one and was up in the third second set in two others. Now it looked like maybe Cornell might make a 4-0 sweep and take the match.

Each point seemed to be huge from that point, and TigerBlog couldn't help but notice that each player on every court who won a point seemed to yell the same thing: "C'mon." Princeton or Cornell. It was one "C'mon" after another.

On Court 2, suddenly it was Muliawan who kept yelling "C'mon." Over and over.

Six straight games worth, as it turned out.

Muliawan went up 5-2 and 40-15, with two match points. On the first one it appeared that Muliawan could have called the ball out and won, but she didn't. And she lost that point.

So now it was 40-30. This time, it was a strong rally between Muliawan and Cornell's Alexandra D'Ascenzo. Then Muliawan hit one that seemed to go in slow motion, tantalizingly deliberate as it approached the net. And then it hit the net and seemed to hang there for an eternity - until it dropped on the other side.

For the Tigers, it was the second straight outright championship and in a few weeks, it'll be the second straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

There was no wild celebration. Just a few hugs, especially since there were two matches left on the court. One finished in a second-set tiebreaker to Cornell, and the other was just starting the third set when the players played a 10-point tiebreaker instead. Goepel won that one 10-0.

And then the celebration started. There was the trophy presentation, and there were pictures on the court.

 As it turned out, "somebody" did win. It was hardly easy.

Then again, championships aren't supposed to be easy.

And when "somebody" - in this case Amanda Muliana - won, Princeton had won another one.

1 comment:

John Goodwin said...

Very cool. Your account of the match was told such that I could sense the tension and drama throughout the later stages.

Well done ... Appreciate the blog and congrats to the Princeton women!!!