You Do That Voodoo So Well

January 23, 2019

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Did you see the match last night? Serena Williams was up 5-1 in the deciding set against Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. She was playing lights-out tennis and Pliskova had nowhere to hide. But then it happened, Williams lost her serve and the score was now 5-2. With quiet persistence, Pliskova creeped her way back in and won the set, 7-5, securing a spot in the semi finals. Yes, Williams rolled her ankle before the wheels fell off but she even admitted that it did not effect her play. So when the score got to 5-2/Williams, what caused the turn of events? Williams seemed to have it all rolled up and ready to put in her pocket. Did Pliskova simply step it up? Did she want the win more than Williams? Did Williams lose focus? Or did Pliskova cast a spell? Did she…dare I say…proclaim, "5-2 Voodoo"?

 

Jan and I partnered on several occasions. I can’t exactly recall our record but I’m pretty sure we had more “L"s than “W"s. But our losing record surely wasn't a matter of our understated competitiveness or our drive to win. No, it was more about sheer lack-luster performances whenever we were paired together. 

 

We were slotted to play line 3 doubles and I hadn’t seen her since our last season. She's got a swagger to her walk. Really confident in herself. Knows what she wants and goes after it. She saw me before she entered the court and called out my name. Everyone else on the court, including the ladies who were already playing, took notice of her too. She walked over to the bench and gave me a big hug saying, “I’ve missed you!” I like her well enough and replied, “I missed you too!” (Is that something you just say to someone you haven’t seen in a while? Because in all honesty, since I really don’t know her off the court I didn’t think about her once during the past month and a half.)

 

We started our warm-up pretty poorly, but it was a little chilly out so I gave us both the benefit of the doubt. Surely, we would play better in the match. We were trading notes with each other about our opponents when Jan said to me, “If we don’t beat these ladies, then we have no business playing tennis.”  Did she have to say that out loud? I’m not superstitious but I do believe that if you put a challenge out there, then you'd better be ready to take it on. We were not ready!

 

Knowing that, historically speaking, our chance of winning was 50/50 at best, coupled with the fact that my partner had just announced to the universe that we were better than our opponents, I quickly realized that we were doomed. Your right…not how I should be thinking before the match but sometimes it’s really hard to dust yourself off and start all over again. So we took in one last collective deep breath and hunkered down seeking victory.

 

And, lo and behold, we played magnificently! We got to every ball and answered with more winners than they could count! We won the first set and were leading 5-1 in the 2nd set. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves. Too good. Then without warning, I saw it. Wafting it’s way across the pond, the haze of over-confidence soon blanketed us. I tried as hard as I could to ignore it repeating to myself, “The fat lady isn’t singing yet!" After a slew of unforced errors, we were staring at 5-2 and it was our opponents’ serve. “We can do this!” I encouraged my partner. To which she responded, “5-2 VooDoo!” What in the hell?? As if the first challenge wasn’t enough, now she'd summoned up the worst tennis demon of all! 

 

A score of 5-2 in recreational tennis is folklore of the truest kind. And once it is mentioned, the team in the lead becomes so overcome with pride seeing that a win is just within their grasp that it renders them, quite literally, paralyzed. They go into “protect” mode and nothing they can say or do will reverse the outcome of the curse. They are doomed once the 5-2 score is acknowledged. That said, I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to recite the phrase, “5-2 VooDoo" to yourselves when you find that you are on the losing side of that score. It’s to remind yourselves that anything can happen, to give it all you’ve got and leave it all on the court. You don’t say it when you’re winning the set! My partner got it backwards!

 

So, guess what...We lost!. Our opponents won that set in a tie-breaker and then we just could not get it back in the 3rd set. What an epic failure. What was it that got in our way of closing out the match when it was right at our fingertips? We did not have any injuries to blame. Did our opponents just step it up? Did our opponents want the win more than we did? Did we lose focus? Was it…could it actually have been…freakin’ “5-2 Voodoo”?!! 

 

Again, I am not superstitious but on the tennis court I am, as Michael Scott puts it..."I'm a little Stitious."  

 

 

 

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