I have witnessed, live and in person, a football player continuing to play after breaking his wrist, a boxer getting knocked out of the ring but finishing the fight despite getting knocked down three more times, a triathlon competitor crawling across the finish line seemingly on a wave of his own vomit, and a basketball player tearing her ACL with 11 seconds left but wobbling to free throw line to hit a game-winning free throw in a state championship game.
But on June 11, what I witnessed at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona was… well… was…. okay, so it doesn’t compare at all to that other stuff. But still.
The Green Machine, in an effort that was both titillating and tantalizing, fell in the 40-over mixed 7.0 semifinals to Leon by the closest of margins, 2-1.
It was, in a word, like getting punched in the face while eating a chocolate ice cream cone on a 100-degree day, which is more than a word, but you get the idea.
Here’s how it went down — at line 1, Richard Helme and Nelci Rodrigues dropped the first set and I thought crap, we are in TROUBLE. But on line 2, John Slatniske and Marla Adams were finishing off Leon in the first set 6-4, and on line 3, Todd Abrams and Julie Hogan had a 5-3 lead. I thought, wouldn’t that be ironic, to lose at No. 1, but win lines 2 and 3? WHO NEEDS HELME ANYWAY!!!!!
But then Abrams and Hogan faltered a bit, and it went to a tiebreaker, and they were edged out 7-6. Then I was like, fudge! I had never seen Abrams and Hogan lose a set, so I was rattled.
Then I turn back to Helme and Nelci, and Helme is playing like a man who had just been told his favorite soccer team was being demoted to the MLS. It was truly quite something the way Helme carved the Leon team up while barely ever stepping over the baseline, and Nelci started finishing off stuff at the net as if someone had told her Boston sucks. Which actually, Slats and I had told her quite a few times. Because it’s true.
So Helme and Nelci keep it up and roll through the third set tiebreaker. And it’s Green Machine 1, Leon 0.
And over on line 2, Slats and Marla were up 5-4 in the second set.
I quickly got on my phone and booked six rooms for Mobile, Alabama for nationals, and was checking out restaurant reviews on Yelp!
Totally had plans to order the Tom Turkey sandwich with a side of black bean soup from Regina’s Kitchen the first day in town.
When I looked up, though, it was Leon evening things and making it 6-6, and they had their way in the tiebreaker and it was suddenly going to a third-set tiebreaker.
On line 3, Todd and Julie were down 4-1 in the second set. I thought, crap, we’re in deep doo-doo. Leon goes on to win the third set tiebreaker over Slats and Marla, but Todd and Julie are now only down 4-3, and the 3.0 lady is serving for Leon, and the taste of that black bean soup is coming back to my mouth as I walk over to watch. But, the 3.0 lady holds her serve, causing me to throw up a little in my mouth.
And that was that.
But holy cow, what a ride.
Match One: We beat Alachua 3-0. Slats and Marla serve up a double bagel, and Cotey and Sharon lose the first set, try to lose the second but don’t, and then pull it out in tiebreaker. We played a woman who called both of us “baby” all match. “Nice shot, baby”, “Here’s the other ball, baby”, “It’s your serve, baby”. It was both unsettling and kind of hot at the same time.
Match Two: We beat Duval 3-0. Todd and Tibbie survive a first set tiebreaker to win, everyone else rolls in straight sets. True story: A lady from Duval who was watching apparently thought I was looking flush and about to pass out, and was asking if she should call a medic. Richard and Slats had to explain to her that no, he always looks like shit and like he’s injured and about to die when he plays tennis. The moment has inspired me to step away from captaining next season and lose some weight.
Also of note: Dating back to the regular season, this win over Duval marked a seven game stretch in which the Green Machine went 20-1 in lines won/lost. That’s crazy.
Match Three: We beat Miami 2-1. This match was, arguably, the most exciting match I think I’ve ever watched. We went into a rain delay down a set and at 3-3 in the second on both lines 2 and 3.
Line 1 required Nelci to beckon a USTA judge after some bad calls, with Nelci nearly having to be restrained while daughter Emma screamed from the sideline “Take him out, Mom!”
So, rain passes, Todd and Julie come back to win second set and force a 3rd set tiebreaker, and have a chance to serve for the match at 9-8. But, alas, not to be, and they lose.
So we’re 1-1, and Slats and Marla also come back to win second set and go to third set. Slats and Marla jump out to a big lead, 6-2 or something like that, and hang on.
It was awesome.
Match Four: We beat Sarasota 2-1. We only had to win one line to advance to semi, and Todd and Julie put it on ‘em 6-1, 6-1 at line 1. Cotey and Marla had a contentious match at line 3, with more USTA judges called over in case shit got real. (Note to self: schedule anger management classes for the ladies on the team.)
Leon went on to win it all, which coulda shoulda been us. Disappointing? Sure. But will we be back? Absolutely.