They Were Up 9-3 In Game 2 and Lost the Match?! What Happened?
CLOSING OUT GAMES CAN BE HARD
I happened to catch the Ben Johns/Anna Leigh Waters vs. Callie Smith/AJ Koller in the middle of their match at the PPA Carvana tournament. The match offered some insights into our games that I felt were worth sharing.
SPOILER ALERT (if you have not watched the match and would like to – STOP here and watch it first).
I tuned in when Callie and AJ were up 9-3 in the second game, having won the first game 11-5. Morgan Evans and Dave Fleming were announcing the match and trying to keep things interesting, but it was pretty apparent to them – and to anyone watching – that the match was over.
BUT was it?
What happened next was a combination of a drop in focus, resulting hope given to the team on the short end of the match, and an inability to stop the train once it started rolling downhill.
What can we learn from each of these to help us close out games?
Loss of focus
The loss of focus manifested during AJ and Callie’s 2 serve rotations at 9-3. I do not recall each shot specifically, but I do recall a missed third shot (not a close missed third shot but rather an “I am somewhere else” sort of miss) and what felt like some other “loose” play.
It is not uncommon when we are up big (remember that AJ and Callie had won Game 1 and were comfortably up in Game 2 – or at least, so it seemed) to take our foot off the gas. Happened to me recently in a tournament up 10-4 in a game. That temporary loss of focus can often result in a loss even though you were once up big.
Always assume that your opponents are going to keep fighting (just like you would hopefully do were you in their shoes). You need to keep doing what you have been doing until the referee tells you to put your paddle down and slowly step away. Keep fighting till the fighting is done.
Hope to the opponent
By not closing out, Ben and Anna Leigh gained confidence. They chipped away a few points on their 3-9 serve rotation and then kept going until they had closed out Game 2.
We need to know that whenever we give hope to our opponents during a match, they will likely come at us even harder. It is a “nothing to lose” sort of approach that may give your opponents an edge for a bit. The key is to weather the storm and play a patient, fundamentally sound game during these periods.
Refocusing after a letdown
It can be difficult to regain focus after the Game 2 letdown. In this case, Callie and AJ were not able to regain it, and after the score was 9-3 in Game 2, they did not score another point. Ben and AL scored the next 19 points, winning Game 3 11-0. I am not pointing this out as a knock against AJ and Callie. They are, as are we all, humans with all the bumps and imperfections that come along with that designation.
I am pointing this out in the hopes that it helps you the next time you are out there battling and suffer a letdown, whether that is your opponents closing the gap or outright winning a game. The key here is to focus on the next rally and, actually, the next shot. Go back to what got you the big lead in the first place. And do that. Again and again.
If your team doesn’t close out the game, remember:
(a) your opponents are out there battling just as hard as you are
(b) if you are playing at level, then your opponents have an even chance of beating you as you do them
(c) just like you, the best players on the planet lose focus sometimes and are unable to regain that focus during the match.
When you lose a big lead, if you are unable to regain it during that match, then:
- Tip your hat to your opponents for their work in overcoming their deficit and
- Know that there will be another day – another match for you to play. Learn from this one and keep growing as a player and, ultimately, as a person.
Let’s keep growing our games.
Hola. Hello. Konichiwa. After 40 years playing tennis, I am now a full-time pickleball player and professional. As a 5.0 rated Senior Pro Pickleball Player and an IPTPA-certified Master Teaching Professional, my focus is on helping players like you learn to play their best pickleball. In 2016, shortly after starting to play pickleball, my friend Tom and I jumped into the highest division at the first US Open in Naples, Florida. That morning it became clear just how much there is to learn in this seemingly simple sport – a lifetime of learning if you so choose. Since 2018, I have been on a mission to share my knowledge of pickleball so other players can enjoy the game at a higher level and attain their pickleball objectives. When not studying or playing pickleball, I like to travel with my other half, Jill.
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