Tuesday, August 26, 2014

40s Preview

40s sectionals has appeared to be somewhat of a success in Dallas.  Even though, I notice the players look a lot like the guy above.  They are a little overweight and have a little thinner hair.  What they do have is experience and I have noticed how strong some of these doubles players can be  I see very small drop offs in doubles as compared to 18+.  As for singles, if you are a 40 year old singles players, you are worth Homer Simpson's weight in gold.

Dallas 4.5 has a pretty tough flight.  Aside from Abilene, who only has nine players on their roster and only had to beat one team to get there, there are some strong, traditional powers.  The Austin team with a 19 man roster has the tools to work with.  My question with all these big roster teams is does the captain end up overthinking his options.  [Editor’s note: Austin played with Early Start Ratings, which is a nice advantage.  I would also note that evidently the DTA told people in our 40s league that we moved to a January start because USTA Texas didn’t want any more early start leagues.  Odd that USTA Texas (read Austin) is pushing everyone else to get rid of ESL leagues but the Austin league itself still uses them.]  As with Abilene, Austin has a small league with only three teams but I’d bet on them being tough.  San Antonio was barely challenged getting out of cities with a 44-6 line record and should be tough as well.  Waco is interesting.  They only played one team (three matches, 15 lines) and lost 25 games total.  Of course there were a lot of defaulted matches, a lot.  Only nine lines were played all season.  That was 13 spots to get 11 people a match.  Looks like Sanders did someone a favor so there would be another team to play.  All in all, very little to analyze through the regular season but it looks like Austin and San Antonio will be tough.  And Plano’s very own JD Miles must think enough of the Waco team to drive down there for his match so it will be interesting to see how they do.  I still like Dallas to get out of their flight but Austin is mighty tough. 

On the other side of the draw, Dallas West might have a little easier way of it, particularly with Houston being a bit off their stride at 4.5 this year in 18s.  Rossouw will need the big bus for his 24 man team to roll into San Antonio but he does have some very nice options to choose from.  Would I be too much of a homer if I asked for a Dallas versus Dallas West final?  It just feels like these boys have some unfinished business this year so I’d like to see it and I bet they would too.

I like Dallas West to bring home a championship towel and Marc finally gets his coveted trip to nationals.  The good news is the Move/Up split up rule is being repealed next year so his 24 players will be able to find homes.

At 4.0, Dallas has a tough flight as well with NOHO and NETX both having well balanced teams.  The Valley looks to be a little soft but if you don’t make it through NOHO and NETX on Friday it won’t matter.   NOHO made the semis last year and looks to have added a very good singles player.  NETX is always tough and they appear to be loaded with 18+ sectionals players.

Dallas Wild surprised some people at cities but I don’t see them getting past Houston.  No shame in that, no one may get past Houston this year.  I like Dallas to make the semis against San Antonio and Houston to play Austin. 

I like Dallas to get to the finals and take home a finalist towel and the mighty Houston machine makes another trip to the desert.  Dallas has good 4.0s.  They have very good 4.0s but do they have anyone that is capable of being a difference maker at 4.5?  I don't think so and Houston chooses a different path... They get players that are difference makers at the higher level and we appear to be playing a little too clean to compete.

Good luck to all the competitors and hopefully no injuries.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

And Now For a Kinder, Gentler Weekend - Yeah, Right

I’ll lead with my safest bet, Brookhaven/Goswami to win 9.0 mixed.  So there were only three teams and there is no city playoff?  Then I like them even more.  You will note some similarities with the team that won 9.0 over 40 sectionals, and I think that’s a good thing.  While Amarillo may have demonstrated the virtues of having singles players that are teenager-ish, a lot of mixed requires the guys to be a little smarter about a style of play that most men will never experience.  A seasoned crowd for mixed can be a very good thing.  And just a thought, but how do you have 19 players on a team that only plays three lines and six matches?  That’s less than two matches per player.
I almost skipped 8.0 mixed because no one seems to care about it.  Wow, how can one level of mixed doubles generate so much interest, blog fodder, and bad blood.  Great stuff for ratings.  They will play the 2 versus 3 and winner plays 1 format.  A couple of big questions at this level, but the biggest is whether he will be available for both matches.  I have mixed emotions about Kelly.  He seems to always win when he wants to but his availability over the years is a bit of a mystery.  Of course, he is still the Lord of the Ratings and he never plays harder than when he’s with Alan so I’m going to assume he’s playing and look for a SpringPark versus Brookhaven final.  Then it all depends on how they line them up.  Brookhaven/Davis looks deeper to me but mixed is only three lines.  They sailed through the season with only one loss to a Canyon Creek team that missed the playoffs but Brookhaven had a light lineup out for that match.  SpringPark should start up 1-0 but there is a fair amount of drop off as you go from their line 1 to line 2 to line 3.  If Kelly doesn’t draw Brookhaven’s #3 line I like SpringPark’s chances.  Otherwise, I like Brookhaven’s depth. 
At 7.0 McKinney/Muniz rolled through the regular season undefeated.  No reason they shouldn’t be the favorite here.  With the 2 versus 3 match and the winner versus 1 match both being played the same morning, there is a huge advantage to being the #1 seed.  The mistake here is worrying too much about resting people and losing in the first match.   I like the lineup Lynn had against Greenhill more than the one she had against McKinney in the regular season.  Greenhill needs to play its best lineup in the first match and hope there’s a sectionals wildcard.  Either way, no reason the team that went 8-0 during the season can’t go 1-0 in the playoffs.  But this is the level where suspect captaining can get in the way of winning so anything is still possible.
And a quick note on combo last weekend.  Congrats to the 8.5 winner of Sisk/Kingsley.  After starting off Saturday at 1-1 (3-3 on lines) they rolled to back-to-back sweeps on Sunday.  I believe that’s three in a row for Sisk at 8.5.  Congrats as well to Gardner’s 7.5 team.  Going 12-0 over four matches doesn’t leave much doubt about who was the best team at that level.  These teams' formula for success?  Load up on people who just had successful runs at sectionals in 18s, along with the assorted ringer sprinkled in.  Good luck in Austin.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mid-season Review - The Year of the Junior Varsity


2013 was spotty representation that produced big results.  Dallas won sectionals at the glamor events of tri-level and 5.0 and our B teams, I mean over 40 teams, won sectionals at the 3.5 and 4.0 levels.  That was about it.  For only four teams at nationals we did scrape together two national titles and a 2nd though.  Not too bad.  2014 is shaping up to be the year of the junior varsity, with Dallas’ men only managing to scratch out sectionals titles at 3.5 and 3.0 thus far.  We also have some mixed wins but, again, I have to put over 40 mixed in the junior varsity category, although that 9.0 lineup was pretty strong at any age.  I do have high hopes for the 4.5 over 40 men.

How far away are we on the rest?  The Dallas 4.5s represented well but just didn’t seem to have the top end horsepower that was on display in the finals.  I was told that one of the 4.5 singles players in the finals was dropped off at High Point by his mom.  Not certain about that but they were evidently pretty young.  It’s called 18s for a reason and we aren’t getting any younger.  JCC gave the champions from Amarillo their toughest match and Greenhill was a line away from the semis.  I won’t even discuss Dallas West because I have no idea how they got off to a 0-2 start. 
At 4.0 it was arguably worse.  The Fretz team that ran rough shod through city playoffs was beaten 5-0 by Houston.  SWEPT, ouch.  And the High Point team couldn’t find a way to eek out two lines when they needed them to advance to the semis.  On the plus side, we had teams in the 4.5 and 4.0 semis and won at 3.5 and 3.0.  Not too bad all in all.

What’s next?  A little regrouping, a little player shuffling, a little down time, a little fretting about ratings, and the search for the mythical ringer.  Welcome to the fall.

I’d like to thank all the captains who make it happen for the rest of us.  It has to be a thankless, tiresome job.  I’m sure I couldn’t do it. 


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Combo, Fall & Five Other Things No One Cares About

Why the hell did you wake me?  The fall is so boring!
What is the deal with combo?  Ok, it’s my least favorite event.  Played it once, never again.  It’s a tough time of year, no one seems that interested, and everyone wants to play up but no one wants to play down.  It’s that time of year when guys seem to only be interested if they can be the weaker player.  Clearly these guys don’t play mixed all year.  I did a quick check, not of rosters but numbers of teams.  The men have five teams at 7.5 and three teams at 8.5.  That’s borderline indifference.  The women have fourteen teams at 6.5, fifteen teams at 7.5, and nine teams at 8.5.  That’s amazing.

Fall rosters were due last week and the season starts in September?  Not exactly the cooler part of the fall but its Texas so you take what you get.  Not a huge fan of the fall either.  Not so much the usual complaints but it all seems to be pretty anti-climactic.  I do think the fall serves its purpose and has some positives though.  Most notably, it’s a good chance for a few teams that won’t make the spring playoff to make the fall playoffs.  It’s not the same but playoffs are playoffs if you’ve never been.  I do love the guys who use a fall playoff appearance as a recruiting tool.  Luckily they’re recruiting people who don’t know any better.

I was going to ask about the change to the Nationals rule where you can only take so many players from Nationals onto next year’s team.  I was going to ask, but no one advanced so it’s now item #3 no one cares about this year.  The new rule is an improvement of sorts but it isn’t worded very clearly.

The new DTA Executive Director is?  I have high hopes for this one but I’m not sure why.  I’ve never had any problems with the DTA personally and have gotten along with the individuals that work there, but there does seem to be an opportunity here.  The right person right now could do a lot of good considering where things were left.

Is it just my imagination or was the Dallas Tennis Cup once a bigger deal?  There must be some way to breathe a little life back into this event considering it’s a fundraiser.  Isn’t that a big part of a non-profit’s real job?  Raising money.

How on earth is there so much mixed chatter non-stop on this blog?  I stand in wonderment.  Actually I sit and I don’t care about it that much, but it does seem a little odd.

Then there’s tri-level.  The last real bastion of hope for redemption any given year, even though technically it will be a 2015 event.  Ok, people do care about this one, but is that legit?  While Pickett did strike gold a few years ago, it has been a hit and miss proposition for Dallas.  Captain Fantastic sings its praises and it’s hard to argue with him.  Indian Wells, BNP tourney, week two match access, crowds, stars, winners’ presentations on center court – what’s not to like?  Of course you have to win sectionals for that experience so I’ll have to rely on the Captain’s tall tales.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Made In Houston

Sorry for the comparison, but I can’t be the only one that thinks Freeman resembles Elton John.   Yes, it was  7:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning, too early to be drunk.  Maybe a little hung over, but still. 

Like Elton, Freeman has been kicking out the hits to Dallas’s dismay.  Hits like:

Goodbye Nationals Road (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road)
Dallas In The Wind (Candle In The Wind)
The Lying King (The Lion King)
Don’t Let Sectionals Go Down on Me (Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me)
Tiny Poacher (Tiny Dancer)
Rocket Man  ….and I think it’s going to be a long, long time…
The One

The list could go on.  But you have to admit, year after year, he puts out the hits at 4.0 to keep Dallas from Sectionals.

So what is it about Freeman and Houston that breeds such success?

I think Murray nailed it back in April on his post Apocalypse Now.  It is hard to beat an adversary when you don't know from where he will be attacking.

While a legend, he is not machine and subject to err.  At least that was my thoughts from the first glance at things.  It was my understanding that Freeman was to take both 4.5 and 4.0 this weekend.  When I saw the loss to Amarillo, I initially thought he might be human and made a mistake with his line-ups.  But to another blogger's point, and upon further review of his roster, he just got beat, even with his core line up that made the trip.  I mean come on, besides a great George Strait strong, what is Amarillo known for??   To Amarillo’s credit, they made it all the way and took the title.  So much for a kink in Freeman's armor, except for just not having enough fire power this year at 4.5.  Unfortunately at 4.0, the competition was weaker than the depth of his entire squad, and he could afford to alternate players in flight play at will.  On Sunday, he unleashed his best, giving Dallas a tough go. 

Sometimes I think that when you have depth on a roster, it can actually be more of a curse than a blessing.  I think Dallas 4.5 has fallen to this trap.  Why?  Because with depth as a captain, you believe you have liberty to go with alternate line-ups on what you might think is your “not so tough” competition.  At the end of the day, you have your top 8, and putting in anything less can be detrimental.

Surprisingly, we saw this at 4.0 this weekend on the Dallas side with an unlikely move by  Somabut, discounting Corpus Christi and not going with their best 8.  Sunday morning was theirs for the taking, only needing to secure a few lines.  Bob is not one to make mistakes, but hate to say it, this weekend he did. 

While I know this thread is on 4.0 and Houston’s success,  the first point to make is roster size.  If I look at the king of Nationals, it is none other than Bender.  Bender sticks with his top 8 players, and may have a 9th and 10th.  That is it.  No tough decisions to make.  Play your best, all the time.  For him it has paid off.  More than you would like to acknowledge or know.   I know that is 3.5 and not 4.0 or 4.5, but I would think the principal would even be more so important at the higher levels.  Look at Amarillo's roster - 14 players.  The difference in winning and losing at the higher levels is a razor thin margin.  I would think it would be tough going with anything less than your top players 100% of the time.

At 4.0, Freeman had 18 on his roster, and 19 on his 4.5 roster.  He has had smaller rosters in the past, and a few years with larger ones.   At 4.5, Dallas had 26 on their roster, Fort Worth had 25, and Dallas Wild 22.  Some players are on more than one roster.  How can you be fully committed to a team when you are on multiple rosters in the same league?? 

While I am not a 4.5 nor know the vast majority of the 4.5 players, I have been privy to Dallas tennis for over the past 5 years, and have played on a few Tri-level teams (Sectionals twice, Nationals once) and have gotten to know a few of the players.  In glancing at these 3 rosters, I see 3-4 guys from each roster that should be playing together on the same team.   My question is, why has our 4.5 become so segmented?  Could that be one of our frailties? Houston's best come together.  Dallas's best seem to split up and compete against each other. 

Second, have guys that are fully committed – all the way to the end.  Whether it is regular league play, Tri-level or Combo, I can’t tell you how many times I hear a captain complain that his all-star can't make the trip to Sectionals or Nationals.  If your goal is Nats, only sign guys who have cleared their schedule for all dates, and are fully committed to being there.  It appears that every time we hear about Freeman having “this player” or “that player” they are there on the court playing, not MIA. 

Thirdly, you need players who respect each other’s game, and have checked their ego at the door and come to support each other.  Based on the comments and bashing I see on this blog, it seems Dallas falls short in this area as well.  Freeman also seems to attract all the top self-rates.  While a couple of singles ringers is definitely in the recipe for success, you also have to have players that are true teammates, on and off the court.   It is team tennis.  And teams win, not individual players.   

I’m not sure of the other ingredients for Freeman’s success, but he definitely has clearly established himself as a captain for players to come play for, and somehow manages to keep all of his players in check.  I do see he has a core group of players that have played for him multiple years, at both 4.0 and 4.5, and back and forth.  As I mentioned before, Dallas has that at 4.5, but has become segmented with the top players playing for different teams and different captains, depending on the year. 

From there, I have to revert to Murray’s most recent post, as I think he was spot on, especially at the 4.0 level.    So many times I see great players play on a team, only to get bumped up and lost at the next level.  As a captain, you constantly need to be identifying these guys and trying to get them corralled together.  Unfortunately, half of our post season 4.0 players are playing 4.5, and until they realize the brutal truth, Dallas 4.0 will suffer.

All that being said, I do have to acknowledge our Dallas teams, as they are always representing the City well at Sectionals, and typically making the Semis or Finals of every Sectional event.  It is just the refinement of a few small crucial things that separate us from Houston.  Freeman and his players have figured it out.  Can we find a way as a tennis community to do the same for our City ??

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…  It was easier to win Dallas each successive year, it was harder to win Texas than ever before. 

Dallas has been in a mental funk for a few years now.  Getting beat down at sectionals repeatedly can do that to you if you don’t understand the bigger picture.  Most people will have no idea what I’m talking about.  They’ve been beat down in flight play or at cities so many times they didn’t even know the playoffs had a sectionals or nationals.  The last time we had a sectionals champion at 4.0 was a Somabut team in 2009.  That team took 3d in the nation and Bob’s 2003 team took 2d in the nation but since then his teams have been a shell of their former selves.  Still, other than those two teams Dallas hasn’t won a 4.0 sectionals title from 2002 to today.  That’s as far back as I could research.  In that time period, Houston has won four times, including the last three; Lubbock has won twice; San Antonio has won twice; Dallas twice; Amarillo once; and Waco won the National Title in 2006 under Bill Sanders who is back representing Waco this year.

So first, to all the people in Dallas who think it is full of cheaters, evidently Dallas isn’t very good at it because it doesn’t have much to show for it over the last 12 years.  And it won’t this year either.  Dallas 4.0 tennis is getting worse, pure and simple.

The story is yet to be told on the state of Dallas 4.5 tennis.  The good news is that a lot of the same guys who have had sectionals success are back in the mix this year.  The bad news is that it’s a lot of the same guys.  You need those guys, but you win it all with the guys no one has ever heard of.  But Dallas did go to nationals in 2011 and 2012 taking 3d place in 2011.  Over the same 12 year span in 4.5, it looks a lot like it did in 4.0: Houston has won four times; Dallas three; Austin twice; NOHO once; Brownsville once; and San Antonio won the National Title in 2006 under Jorge Vazquez who is also a member of this year’s San Antonio team.  And when you look at the captains of these teams you see a lot of repeat names.  And that’s where I think the key to this all lies. 

Some captains have teams that go 3-5 and enjoy the year.  That’s great, the system needs these guys more than it needs anyone else.  These are the guys that pump all the players into the USTA machine and keep them playing.  Nothing else works without them. 

Then you’ve got the guys represented by the sectionals champions above.  In most years they are in it to win big.  Flight play and cities are typically an afterthought.  In golf vernacular, the Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday.  For these guys, the season doesn’t start until sectionals. 

The rub seems to be the guys who are in between.  We think we should win.  We watch the same guys win all the time.  If those idiots can do it why can’t we?  Familiarity breeds contempt.  We want to keep the same guys we haven’t gotten it done with before, but we want to get it done this time.  Why won’t you let us have our turn?  Sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way.  And occasionally when one of these teams does find their way into sectionals they are the ones that get smoked and wonder what happened.  Having finally snuck into their first R rated movie, they aren’t really sure what they just saw.  And don’t even get me started on how much harder nationals is.  Just look at some of the great Texas teams that got smoked at Nationals.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what the answer is.  I think some of it probably lies in a little more self-awareness.  Maybe I’m a nice city level player.  That means I’m going to get beat in a big match occasionally, and I did.  It doesn’t mean everyone that beat me was a cheater.  And maybe one of them really was a cheater.  But if I have the same accusation every time I lose it just makes me the boy who cried cheater.  Eventually no one is going to believe me – or you.  And if we’re really going to do something meaningful about the actual cheating we need to be right when we make the accusation.  That also means understanding the rules.  It’s the only way we’re going to have any credibility.  And before you start, I’m not condoning cheating.  But I am as tired of hearing people complain about it as I am tired of watching it occur. 

So take some solace in this, Dallas – the guy who knocked you out of your trip to QT, the guy who drilled you in the deciding singles match that kept you out of cities, the guy who took away your shot at that ugly sectionals T shirt – that guy is about to get the crap kicked out of him this weekend.  And if he actually wins, he’ll be bumped up anyway so you don’t have to worry about him next year.  So this weekend I’m going to have a few extra beers and sleep like a baby.  Because that’s the far, far better thing that I do.

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done before; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.