A Key Match: KGV vs WYK in 68.
In the season 1968-9, I was the captain of WYK tennis for the second year running. Other than Robert Ko and me, we had all new players in the team – Paul Siu, T. Mok and others.
My partner was Paul Siu. At 16, he was six feet, one and a half inches tall, with big bones and muscles. He loved to play tennis, and would go to his club at Kowloon Tong to play evenings and all weekends. He had a big serve and overhead smash, sometimes erratic, but was improving. In later years, he became a top club player in Hong Kong.
At that time, the Interschool tennis competition rules required 6 players from each school team. The players made 3 pairs of doubles partners, and each pair will play 3 sets against each pair of the opposing team – a single round robin. Thus a match between schools was comprised of a total of 9 sets, and the team with 5 or more sets won the match. Two substitute players were allowed for each team.
In the three years I played for WYK, there were eight or more schools in open competition. That season, there were 13 teams, DBS was the best team and they were first place.
King George V (KGV) was the second strongest team. They had the best pair in Hong Kong: not only in Interschool play, but in open competition. They won every under-18 tournament, every set played and represented Hong Kong. Their names were Carlton and Jaeggar.
I had played them before and lost. Earlier in that season, in the match between WYK and KGV, Paul Siu and I got two games at the outset, but were defeated 6-2. They won consistently by big margins, 6-0 or 6-1. KGV was on their way to runner-up.
Then an interesting thing happened. In a match against another school, a weaker team that we had beaten, KGV did not win, they tied or lost. I was told by Paul that there was a big party on the Friday night before, and some player(s) might not even have shown up. In any case, WYK were tied with them going to the end of the season.
They won the rest of their season’s matches and so did we. Tied at second place, rules called for a playoff, in January, 1969.
Our coach, Fr, Finneran (see Annals of Excellence: WYK Tennis), took us through two regular practices at school. He appeared optimistic, but I knew he was apprehensive.
The playoff took place on a school day afternoon. In that morning, a notice was circulated to all classrooms – “there will be a tennis match against KGV for second place in HK”. It was unusual to have this kind of announcement for tennis – I knew that Fr. Finneran had initiated it. To what effect it provided to us I do not know.
There was a free period in the late morning and I did not join football. Walking around the Sandy Field in school uniform, I heard Mr. Chu, our Physical Training teacher, call out my name from a distance. He made a tennis swing. His body language and intention were clear: he wished to encourage.
We got off one class period early and went to Tin Kwong Road, where I had battled many times in the last three years. So did KGV – their school was within walking distance. It was winter and we arrived in our school uniforms. KGV had arrived already changed, with some of their players warming up. Their coach was a teacher from England, and would serve as one of the umpires. I had met him in the past years, and he impressed me as friendly, fair and sportsmanlike.
My teammates and I were changing in the small change room when I was called out by Fr. Finneran. He was agitated and pulled me out of earshot.
Apparently, the KGV coach had just told him, in a level headed manner, that the result was all but certain – that KGV was sure to win. He explained that their first team would win all 3 sets, because they always won all their sets by convincing margins. Anchored by a sure 3 sets, their improved second team would probably take 2 or more sets. Their third team would get one or more sets. So the likely final score would be KGV 6-3. His assessment was reasonable and somewhat correct, as play would reflect later.
Fr Finneran was obviously upset, but understood the situation well. Without hesitation, I became confident. I told him not to worry – we will play our best, we will “play to win”. He calmed down a little, and went to get the match ready – pairs listing, court assignment, umpires, balls etc. I went back to the change room to say a few words to lift our spirit, without a word on what had just transpired. We knew the difficult challenge ahead, but were positive.
In good sportsmanship, both coaches listed their three pairs in order of strength, without manipulation to get some perceived strategic advantage. Our first pair, Paul Siu and I, would play their first, Carlton and Jaeggar. Each round of three sets was to be played simultaneously on three separated courts.
With the KGV coach as our set umpire, we started against Carlton and Jaeggar. We were quickly beaten in the first two games. It appeared that this time, we were going down as fast as 6-0, an usual score for these powerful opponents.
Down 2-0, it was my serve. Perhaps I had given some measure of assurance to my coach and team, but largely because of my tenacity to survive the attack and to fight back, I held serve – putting in a combination of wide swinging and closed-to-the-body first serves: I knew that they were too good to be beaten by the same shot repeatedly, and would pounce on second serves, so it was a tight balance to put in high percentage but effective shots. I did that, with all good first serves. The returns, when made, were relatively weak and Paul put them away with volleys or big overhead smashes, games 2-1.
During the court change, we told each other positive things, but the drift was that we were underdog any way, and would play offensively – Paul would not need to drop back to baseline on the defense as most of their opponents had to do. We would take the game to them. We would “push them”.
I always played right to Paul, and received serve first. At that moment, I had no fear to their deadly first serves and smashes. I started to hit sharp angle returns, using the power of their serve to re-direct and pull the ball wide to their right sideline, disallowing volley by their net player at the same time. Paul was relentless, poaching to volley and smashing with no mercy whenever my shots were returned from the acute angles I had placed them. It was another fast game, 2-2.
Paul got his big serve back – confidence manifest motion and very soon, we were up 3-2. Getting ready to receive again, I felt that their first serves were no longer the onslaughts many players had experienced. I could hit any of their first serves back to any spot I wanted. And I was sure Paul felt the same way. Hitting back to pinpoint spots, sometimes in front of the mid court within inches from the sideline, I would pull the server so wide that he could not get to the ball without colliding with the metal side fence. Returned shots, if any, were disposed of by Paul. They were seasoned, so I mixed it with deep shots across court or down the line too. 4-2.
Getting ready to serve, we were “in the zone” – a condition, a frame of mind, a unity of body, mind and place that you can execute with confidence and certainty of outcome. It is a situation that sportsmen occasionally experience, to be treasured and relished. I felt as one with my surrounding – the tennis court, the players, ball and racket, net and posts, air, winter sky and all. We could do anything.
Our opponents were not champions if not formidable. They knew that we had lost to them every time we met; 6-2 was the best we ever got. They did not crumble, panic, “chocked”. They kept up the pressure, hitting hard, deep shots and followed up by coming to the net to volley with their long reaches. On our part, we did everything to stop them from playing their game, by hitting hard, sometimes very short, wide shots, at their shoestring mentally. For their particularly fierce deep shots, I would lob it back, over the net player.
We had to get almost every point by hitting a winner. That we did. The points and games went fast and furious, but short and decisive. We were up 5-2. Changing sides, I thought I saw a little loss in their confidence – they had never been in this position before – but I will never be sure. Then it was set at 6-2.
As umpire to this game, the KGV coach said to Fr. Finneran during the time waiting for the completion of the first round, “What have you done with those boys?”, who related to me with a big smile on his face.
The first round ended with another piece of good news: we had won another set. We were ahead 2-1 in sets. Optimism mixed with excitement was in the air.
In the second round, with the afterglow of our first set, Paul and I faced their third pair and we took it quickly. But KGV was strong: there was to be no walkover, no surrender. They took the other two sets and we were tied 3-3 in sets going to the last round. Waiting to change courts, conscious of our struggle, the six of us were silent. We knew what we had to do – play our best, play to win.
Going into the last set against their second pair, the feeling of “in the zone” had gone. But we were ready to battle. This was s strong pair. Although we had won a close set in the regular season, the outcome was all but uncertain. As captain, I thought about the other two sets – their top pair would take their set with ease, so can our second team get their set? There was no time to think and do anything about it, and I turned my mind to completely focus on our task.
Our opponents were fierce with desire to beat us. We were all playing our best – many points were long and hard fought, with deuces after deuces, resulting in long games.
We were leading 4-3 and fighting for the last points on the following game when suddenly, all the other players and coaches gathered outside our court, watching from behind the fence. They had finished their sets and Paul and I instinctively knew that the match was hanging in the balance. Somehow it was related to us through the fence (probably Fr. Finneran) that we were tied 4-4 sets.
Paul and I took the points to surge to 5-3, and held on to win 6-3. The match was over, 5-4 sets for WYK.
Fr. Finneran broke through the gate and congratulated us on the court. He shook Paul’s hand, then embraced me, bouncing his feet at the same time, trying to jump or to dance. His face was pure joy, boy-like.
On a Monday morning a few weeks later, we were assembled in the school Hall with all the students on a routine meeting. After the customary school hymn, and some proceedings, Fr. Reid, the Principal, announced that WYK was tennis runner-up in Hong Kong, and presented the banner awarded by the Hong Kong Secondary School Sports Association. I was called up on stage to receive the banner on behalf of the team, and WYK.
I can still see the smile on Father Finneran’s face.
Good to see that you remember the match, and it was great fun playing with you and the team.
For your information, it seems that I am the only one that is actively playing tennis, although I think Peter To is still playing a bit somewhere in New York area. Robert Ko had stopped playing and is very busy with his family business, Mok Kwai Tei is playing 劍道, Kelvin had also stopped playing, I have no news of Michael Chan & William Chu. Do stay in touch, although I know you seldom visit HK, and I do not go to Toronto. My email is email@example.com.
I had recently picked up the 55+ veterans double championship at CRC, in fact, my partner and I are unbeaten for the past year, and had swept all championships that we had played in.
Besides tennis, I am running a JV with a German company, and also involved with the Wah Yan One Family Foundation. Do send me an email when you have time and let’s catch up.