All wins count the same. Our team’s record at the end of the season doesn’t include footnotes or asterisks. A win is a win.
But behind each tally in the W column lies a whole story of strategic choices, momentum shifts, and dips in confidence. No win is like any other.
I was thinking about the individual nuances of a win after my match a few weeks ago. Here’s how it went down.
We had won the first set 6-1 and were leading 3-1 in the second. At that point, my partner asked if we should try something different, like hitting down the line. I said no–my theory is you change nothing if you’re winning. But she must have been sensing a change in the air because our opponents went on to win the next four games, taking a 5-3 lead. Suddenly a match that seemed well in hand was slipping away.
I wasn’t sure what had changed. In the course of a match, you don’t always have time to figure it out. All we knew is we had to try something different. We decided to play Australian.
I’m not particularly good at Australian. I should be. I understand it and I’m good at net. But something about it throws me off. (Maybe I just need more practice.)
But in my experience, at my level, I don’t have to be good at it. Just showing the opponents something different can throw them off their game. Faced with a new look, they start overthinking and second-guessing themselves. They hit with less conviction, miss their targets, and throw in unforced errors. Simply changing where you’re standing can change the course of a match.
And so it proved that day. We played Australian and I-formation, drawing errors. And on match point, when the opponents were getting used to Australian, we played both back–and drew the final error. Four straight games for a 6-1, 7-5 win.
A win is a win. I’m glad we changed our strategy. We made the right decision, the smart decision. Still, something about it doesn’t feel as wonderful as beating them with a nasty slice or a booming serve. Somehow it feels like a less convincing or valid win.
I don’t know why this should be. I’ve been beaten in matches by people doing exactly the same thing we did. I came away from those losses annoyed at myself for not responding better to the new formation, not at the opponents for employing it.
And throughout the match, I served to one woman’s backhand exclusively. She couldn’t handle that particular serve, so that’s all I fed her. Why is drawing an error that way any more noble than drawing an error by changing our court position? The mental part of the game is as important as the ability to hit a backhand, right?
So why doesn’t it feel that way?
What do you think? Are some wins more legitimate than others? Do you prefer to outplay your opponents or outsmart them?