First Nationals with the MacKay Sisters


First Nationals stories are always intriguing. Sara and Emily MacKay arrived with four hours of sleep, appreciated every minute, and didn’t want to leave on Sunday.

Wisconsin Paddle

Emily: We play at the Town Club, in Fox Point, Wisconsin, just north of Milwaukee. We play small tournaments there with other members, usually 8-team events. I recently moved into a new apartment complex called River Place Lofts, in the heart of the city. The Moedes, the owners, built a beautiful court right on the river. I've been able to roll out of bed on a Sunday morning and be on the court 10 minutes later. We've been fortunate to get more paddle in this year with Peter Moede and his friends. 

Sara: We both played club tennis at University of Wisconsin-Madison, just not together since we are four years apart. We started playing paddle in the last couple of years, very casually, with our family and friends. We wanted to try a bigger tournament, so we went to the Chicago Charities and had a blast. We were so impressed by all the talent and also by how fun everyone was. 

Getting Numbers

Sara: We couldn’t get into any more tournaments --the Hinsdale Challenge, Philly Open--we kept missing the cut. We saw the APTA 1-800 number and called it and were so surprised when Ann Sheedy picked up. She spent 45 minutes with us strategizing what we might do. Amin Khadduri connected us with Sally Cottingham in Chicago. 

Emily: We had a really good run at Chicago Charities. We played five matches, so that was extremely beneficial, and gave us some NRT points. The APTA suggested we play a few friendlies, so we drove to Chicago for that. What was interesting was the APTA requested that we split up to help figure out our level better. We did it, but it's funny because I will always play with my sister. She is my forever partner.

A Sleepless Journey

Sara: I work for a brewing company and spent three days working 12-hour shifts before flying here. Emily’s a teacher and couldn't leave until after school on Thursday so she landed at 1:00 AM. Then we heard the women’s matches were moved up an hour earlier to 8 AM.

Emily: Our window for sleep kept getting smaller and smaller.

Sara: So, yes, we went into our first Nationals on four and a half hours of sleep. We started at Wellesley. The hut commander, John, said he was cheering for the Cheeseheads. 

Emily: The atmosphere was so positive. Everybody we got on the court with was so gracious and willing to show us the ropes.

Sara: We won our first match against a team from Chicago. We were really nervous, so it was good to settle in after that. In our second match, we played the 8th seeds, Jill Jackson and Marie Matrka. We won the first game, so we thought, “We are in this.” Delusional optimism right there. We went down 1-2, almost won the fourth game, and then they won the next 12 games. They did it in such a smooth way that we barely noticed. In our next match, we lost a 2 1/2 hour, 3-set battle. Our last match was against Tiernan Cavanna and Roopali Hall at Woodland, which was a beautiful club. By that point, we were gassed. It took real mental strength to keep going.

Emily: We thought about going back to the hotel to shower but realized that was a bad idea. TCC has beautiful facilities, we really liked the steam room. We wandered around the matches and started meeting people and having a blast. The guys from Volley were hilarious.

Best Shots + Room for Improvement

Emily: Sara was driving her backhand off the deck, just crushing it, and her volleys were next level. 

Sara: Emily’s strong suit was putting pressure on a team, sneaking in for blitzes, and her hands are so quick. I think it was all that ping pong growing up. My goal is to capitalize on Emily’s blitzes, be more aggressive, take advantage of softer shots, and have more confidence to come in and do what she does.

Emily: I want to learn more variety, to hit a little bit more spin or hit the roller. Watching these amazing players, there's so much in their arsenal. They give their opponents something new with every shot. 

Next Stops 

Sara: We can’t wait for Team Nationals in Chicago. We are playing with some Wisconsin friends and their Lake Bluff friends. We’ll also play in the Wisconsin Closed in April, and then we’ll try to figure out which tournaments we want to play next year. We are so done with tennis.

Emily: It is all about paddle now.

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