I’ve often heard elite athletes talk about being “in the zone”, a physical and mental state in which their performance was not only brilliant but also felt effortless. It’s supposedly very a rare thing … and I was not certain that I myself had ever experienced it before. At least not until tonight … playing ping-pong of all things.
It was the strangest thing. When Dr. Darling suggested we walk up to the neighborhood school after dinner to play a few games one of the outdoor tables there, I was kind of indifferent about it … and yet I *knew* I was going to play well. In fact, I even told her that she was going to get beaten, which was an unusual boast for me to make given that we are pretty evenly matched in terms of skill. Individual games are always close and five-game matches usually end 3-2 with alternate winners.
So when I won the first game handily, the Swede thought it was just a matter of her not being fully warmed up (or “pre-heated”, as she said, in a rare display of Swenglish), and then when I beat her by a significant margin in the second game she thought it was just a fluke. The third game was a little closer in terms of points won (we always play to 21), but even so I was completely confident that I would win it … and not in a cocky way. It’s just that the outcome was already decided and I knew it.
At this point Dr. Darling (who is generally a lot more competitive than me) said she had not really been trying (which I knew she had), and I was playing as well as I ever had in my entire life without trying at all. I was getting my paddle on every ball and virtually every shot I hit … no matter how off-balance or out of position I was at the time … landed on the table. In fact, the opposite side of the table seemed to have a kind of magnetic quality that pulled the ball to it. Even the occasional breeze worked in my favor. And there was absolutely nothing the Swede could do about it.
The next three games weren’t even close … to the point where my dominance became something of a joke between us. I tried to relax and take the edge off my game, but there was really nothing to dial back since I didn’t feel as though I was concentrating all that hard in the first place. If anything, my play actually improved … I won the last game 21-5.
It was really an amazing experience … almost spiritual…and God bless Dr. Darling for hanging in there and even trying to stay with me. Most people would not have hung around and taken such a beating, but I think even she knew what was going on and that it could very easily be a once in a lifetime thing for me. I love her for that.