So I made it to the semi-finals and got fifth place in a major (for me) competition! I’m kinda freaking out here!!
This is the competition I played, and lost, with my Malaysian friend Steph one year ago. It’s a huge competition with women coming from all over Fujian Province. There was a total of 240 women participating in 120 teams (women’s doubles only.)
This year I almost didn’t play. My partner (not Steph, a Chinese woman) backed out 6 days before the competition. The organizers allowed me to change partners if I told them right away who my new partner was. Only, I hadn’t found one yet. Most women at intermediate and higher levels were already signed up and this is not a competition for beginners.
I frantically asked around and found someone, a women named Pigeon, who miraculously hadn’t signed up (I never found out why) but played at an intermediate level. We met for the first time two days before the competition and had one night of women’s doubles to prepare. She has been playing for more than 10 years, but doesn’t train seriously. She had some good tactics, but her rear court was as weak as mine. (Since I only play mixed doubles now I train/play front of the net and my back has withered like a neglected plant.) The good news is we won most of our games that first day we met so we seemed to play well together. I didn’t care if we lost, I just didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of all these high-level players. Luckily, after we met I knew we probably wouldn’t win, but we wouldn’t be hopelessly outclassed either.
On competition day we arrived early because our first game was the first game of the day. As the first players, we got march out onto the court with our umpires to swelling patriotic music. I’ve watched this little trot out so many times, but this was my first time participating in it. (Can you see me? I blend in so well you might have missed me, heh, heh…)
We played, and lost, and it was over before I knew what happened. Literally. I thought it was a 30-point game where we would switch sides at 15-points. Turns out it was two 11-point games. Damn being a foreigner and not understanding these things! I had no time to relax into the game before it was over.
Our second game was 5 hours later, after lunch. We got there early, warmed up, marched out again and….just waited. We waited five whole minutes for our opponents who never showed. Don’t know if they took a late lunch or what (they played in the morning I think) but it meant we won and we could move on to top 16! (I was in the C group, which had 27 teams split into 6 subgroups. Our subgroup was only 3 teams, so we had to win one to advance.)
I like to advance by more honorable means, that is, I like to win my games. But honestly, this is a tough competition and I’ll take the advantage. If a technicality gets me to the next level, well, I’m not gonna feel guilty about it. (We weren’t the only ones who “won” a game based on non appearance. For amateur competitions I think it happens often cause life gets in the way.)
I’ve actually never played on the second day of two day competition, and to see my name on the bracket list they published the night before made me very excited.
As our game the second day started off, I was doing my normal self talk (“Relax, just have fun, take deep breaths, remember your training, go where the birdie takes you.”) when I realized the score was 8-5 in our favor. My self talk turned into “Holy shit what if we win?!” which immediately made me freak out. Like, breathing heavy without even moving freak out and doing all sorts of crazy shots. Despite my self sabotage we managed to win the first game and switched sides for our second game.
I think Pigeon was freaking out too because besides constant high fives, we didn’t really look at each other. We were playing well, smarter than our opponents, and it was like neither of us could believe it and we didn’t want to jinx it. The second game was a bit tougher, our opponents came out roaring, and we started off a few points down. That was actually good for me because I told myself, “See? You’re gonna lose, just like you expected. So relax.” But then we caught up, and advanced. It was 10-10. You needed to win by two points. We got 11-10 and then 12-10!!
“Holy shit!” I blurted out in English to Pigeon as she looked at me wide-eyed, also shocked. I tried to play it cool on the court because I didn’t want to rub it in our opponents face, but I couldn’t hide my shock and happiness and kept hugging Pigeon and saying, “I cant believe we won!” She played last year too and lost, so this was a big step for the both of us.
I guess I didn’t have much faith in myself, but really, this was a tough competition and our opponents were the top seed from another group with 4 teams (meaning they won at least 3 games the day before). We were the second seed from our group. So by default they were “better” than us and I just assumed we would lose. But we didn’t! And it was a total team effort. Pigeon covered her half and I covered mine. I didn’t win because of her and she didn’t win because of me. We advanced because of a team effort.
I knew a lot of women playing that second day and as we waited for the semifinal games to begin, they also assumed I had lost.
“You out?” said one women as she walked by me.
“No! I’m not!” I said proudly. She stopped.
“Wow, really?! Great job!” She was just as surprised as I was.
I wish I could say I was too cool to embarrass myself but I saw the number one female player in Xiamen and ran over to tell her the good news. (Last year she won the national competition, playing the top women all over China and will likely win it again this year. She’s that good.) She’s always been so nice to me, and encouraging, so I wanted to show-off. She was also totally surprised but said,
“See? Keep playing and keep competing and you can do it.”
Entering the quarterfinals also meant that we would place no matter what. If we lost we would get 5th place which means we would be on the published winners list and get a prize!
And lose we did. While the quarterfinal game was my best game, our opponents were just a bit better than us. Not a ton better, we had 2 close games, but enough to win. If we played to 21 I think we might have won. But an 11 point game just ends to quickly. But I didn’t care! We got 5th! We got a nice little certificate, a cool Yonex bag and bragging rights!
Afterwards I saw one of the umpires, a female player I haven’t seen in a long time. She asked how I did and when I said 5th, she was also really surprised.
“This is a high level competition, you know,” she said. “Most of these women have been playing 10+ years. If you got 5th it means you’ve improved a lot!” (She hasn’t seen me in months so she doesn’t know my current level.)
So I won something else this weekend: confidence. I know we had a slight helping hand with the one forfeit game (I don’t know the people who didn’t show up so I’m not sure their level and if we would have won or not), but we made it to the quarterfinals on our own skill and I never, never thought that would happen. Not with this competition and not so soon. It’s just I suck at competitions and play much worse than I expect and lose easy games. I mean, I know I play better in my club and with friends, but this is undeniable proof of my improvement.
From day one I decided to be a competitive player, and after working so hard and improving so slowly, part of me was wondering if that was even possible starting in my 40’s. But winning this tournament is proof that it is, and proof that I can be a contender. Boo-yah!