Friday, October 14, 2011

Orlando Jones Is “Hooked” on Tennis New York

Tennis wasn’t always the primary sport for Orlando Jones, a 4.0 player in the Tennis New York league. It was actually a backup to another sport that requires a solid swing-- baseball. Even so, he helped to save the high school tennis program. Then other sports netted his interest.

“I started playing tennis in high school, when I didn't make the JV baseball team my freshman year. The tennis program was going to get cut unless they recruited more people to play, so I signed up. I played baseball the next year, but played tennis my junior and senior year. I didn't play at all in college because I wasn't that serious, and ended up playing rugby. But once I joined the Tennis New York league in the spring of '09, I became hooked. I guess I like the one-on-one competition. Just me out there, all by myself, nobody else to help me.”

Orlando has participated in NYC League for about two years, and, like many Tennis League Network (TLN) players, he learned about it through the Internet. Could there be a more ringing endorsement than this? Says Orlando:

“What I like most about the league is that it provides a way to play competitive tennis against other people. The league does a great job of matching up players of similar skill levels so that the matches are usually a lot of fun. It's almost like you're a pro because there are rankings and playoffs and a national tournament.”

Orlando is modest about his tennis. Although he is currently ranked 4.0 by the league, “I would consider myself a 3.75.” He tries to play as often as possible, and usually gets out on the courts twice a week. But wait until you hear what he does out there! He is highly competitive with an astounding—and inspiring-- will to win.

In all of our profiles, TLN asks the players about their most memorable matches, good and bad. The match Orlando describes here will be memorable for all of us because it’s so competitive and it demonstrates how a will to win can produce results. In his own words:

“The most memorable match I had was the League 3.5 Fall 2010 championship I played in against Karthik Elango. He had beaten me earlier in the season fairly handily, so I had a chip on my shoulder.

“ We had to wait 6 months to play the championship match since we weren't able to play it in the Fall. So when we finally got around to scheduling the match I was fairly ready. The championship was important, but my main objective was avenging my loss from the regular season. When we finally started the match, it started off exactly as our previous match had. He and I were evenly matched, holding and breaking, until I was finally to win the game that really mattered, the final game of the 1st set 7-5.

“ For some reason, my serve, which had been pretty much non-existent, was working that day and it was my ace in the hole. The second set went pretty much the same way until we were tied at 4-4. At this point, we would get into long rallies on every point and it was starting to take its toll. Luckily, I was quick enough to run down most of his shots, even though they should have been winners, and it was beginning to frustrate him.

“ So my opponent decided to change his strategy and started to put some air on all of his shots. This worked extremely well because it effectively nullified my ability to approach the net, where I was hitting most of my winners, and was causing me to rush my shots and start making errors. Eventually, I was broken and lost the 2nd set 6-4.

“During the break, we both sat down and joked about how much longer each of us could go. It wasn't that it was hot or humid, but as any tennis player knows, two hours of closely contested, long rally tennis can take it out of any recreational player. I didn't think about winning the match, I just said to myself that if he was going to beat me on this day, he was going to have to play the game of his life and hit all winners because I wasn't going to let him get any points easily. Winners or nothing.

“ As we walked to our sides for the 3rd and final set, we smiled and I said, "Well here we go...". As I got to the baseline, all I could think about was my service motion. That's it. Not strategy, not my opponent, just my service motion. I was so tired, but I willed myself to keep going. I had waited six months to play this guy and redeem myself, and I wasn't going to break down like last time.
“And what happened next was nothing short of spectacular. I served the best set of tennis in my life. Time after time, I was cracking first serves like nobody's business. There was no aim involved, this was me just hitting a serve as hard as I could over and over again, and hoping it would land in the box.

And luckily for me on that day, they were going in. I was winning my service games with my serve, and he was winning his games through sheer grit and determination.
“Finally, after winning yet another service game to bring it to 5-4, I realized that all I needed to do was break and I would win the match. I got to the baseline and reminded myself that I was going to make him hit winners to beat me. Once again we played another tight game.

“ Backhand pass down the line and he goes up 15-0. I hit a volley at the net for a winner to tie it up 15 all. I hit a ball wide during a long rally to put him up 30-15. I hit a forehand slice that dies before he can get to it to tie it up at 30 all. During the next rally, I hit an inside out forehand to his backhand and rush the net for another forehand volley to get to match point. The ensuing point goes into another extended rally.

“Each of us is making sure to keep the ball in the court, hoping that the other would make the error so that we could win the point. Eventually I hit a cross court forehand to his forehand, which he hits back right into the middle of court halfway between the service line and the baseline. I wind up and just whip a forehand down the middle, figuring that even if I lose the point, we still have to go to deuce.

"The ball bounces up on his side and he hits a forehand that sails towards my backhand corner. I watch as the ball just continues to sail, eventually past the baseline. As I watch it finally bounce long, I breathe a sigh of relief and do a very small fist pump. I had avenged myself, and for the league championship to boot. 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.”

Wow…congrats Orlando! It’s easy to see why this clearly this was a memorable match. He can recall almost every point! But good recall can also have its downside, because “… I can remember all of my losses. I hate to lose, so that usually sticks with me for a while. There are 13 of them so far, so I'd be here for hours writing about them.” A quick note: Orlando is 5-3 for the fall season.

“As for rivals, I would say I'm rivals with Pranav Kabra, Esu Manzano and Buddy Koehler. I play those guys a fair amount, so it's always a good match whenever we meet up. I would list Jason Schatz also, but I haven't beaten him yet. But believe me, I'm working on that.”

As a “young bachelor living and loving life in Brooklyn,” there is no family that plays tennis, but a few of his friends do.

“When I'm not playing tennis, I'm either watching the pros (and almost any other sport), playing sports, cooking up a storm (I love to eat) or reading some good books (I've been reading a lot of books on Bushido these days).

But back to tennis. “The league is great, I just wish everyone who signed up would be serious about getting out and playing. Many times, you have people who sign up and then never play. Seems like a waste of money to me. But that's not the league’s fault.

“And for the record, most people call me O.J.” And also for the record, he’s a killer on the tennis court!

Admin Note: Playing tennis in NYC is so difficult in comparison to all the other cities in the US. The city has so few courts and most of them don't have lights for the million of people in the city. More often than not, players can only get an hour of court time and they will be booted off the courts after the hour. This is no way to really play a singles match. Also add in the fact that the Parks and Rec decided to double the tennis pass fee to $200 just for the rights to use the courts. Basically a grim scenario for people who love to play tennis in the city. But, even through all that our NYC players continue to connect up on the courts to play the game they love.

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