The Tennis Curmudgeon


The Week – Part Seventeen
September 17, 2013, 12:13 am
Filed under: Tennis, Tennis Curmudgeon, The Tennis Curmudgeon | Tags: , ,

After lunch we hit around. Then Will and Dave (of course it had to be the young bucks) started to get frisky. Of course the old guys egged them on. They wanted to see if there was a shot, an outside chance, no matter how remote, they could have the goods.

“What about you, kid?” Don called out to Steve. He shakes his head until we hear it rattle.

“No, no, no, no, no. I’ve been around these guys all week. Especially this one. No way in hell I’m getting on a court with him.” I look at him and laugh.

“I always said you were the smart one.”

I’ve got to tell you, I couldn’t remember the last time I had this much fun on a tennis court. I told Will and Dave to each take a service side and we’ll play a quick game of two on one.

With one caveat. If they didn’t win a point in three games that would be it. We’d stop the match. Figuring they’d have to win one point (isn’t that the same thing Dougie thought?) they agreed. I let them serve first. Will came at me with his bomb and missed by a good four feet.

“That might have been a good groundie. son.” Oliver gently taunted.

“The last ball I saw that far our came from Don’s shorts.” Marco joked.

Will’s weak ass second serve came in, I stepped up, and hit a ball past Dave I’m sure he never saw. I’m sure because he said,

“Did that go past me?”

“You’re lucky it didn’t go through you.” Don laughed.

I ran the game in four points. Now it was my turn. Dave was going to receive first. I slipped in a trick used when someone wanted me to embarrass an opponent. What I’d do is hit a ball close to them harder than they’d ever seen. About a foot out.

Without looking at them I’d set for the next serve then look into the empty half a court. I’d feign shock. The rules of tennis say if you didn’t clearly see the ball out it was in. And I’m certain he didn’t see it out so there I am, obviously someone who’s done this before, certain it’s in. Sheepishly, they’d saunter over and the gamesmanship had been set.

I pulled that with Dave, he looked at Will who, although standing on the service line, didn’t see it. I’m waiting to serve to Will looking at them wishing they’d make the obvious call. They did so I pulled the same trick on Will who didn’t even blink. He softly said,

“Nice serve.” Not all that thrilled he was going to have another chance to die.

The next serve was a big, lefty serve that seemed to chase them across the court. I thought everyone not playing was going to piss themselves laughing.

“Don’t be afraid of the ball, boy.

“It doesn’t bite!”

“It would hurt like a mother though.”

It didn’t take long for it to end. They came to the net, we shook hands and almost in unison said,

“Let’s not do that again.” We’re laughing and I said,

“Agreed. We wouldn’t want to ruin our friendship.”

It was a beautiful night for a semi-final. But, honestly, any time you’re in the semi-finals of a professional tennis tournament, even the Mid-State Savings And Loan Classic, it’s a beautiful thing.

I’m focused, relaxed, the ball is coming off my racket well, my footwork is sturdy. For the first time this week there’s not any weirdness out here. I can see the back wall of the press box, there are only the usual number of still photographers and the few video cameras. Although I’ve never been on court of a professional match this late in the draw I’ve seen more than my share.

Everything is normal out here.

That’s why I wasn’t too shocked to lose in the best match of the tournament. Dan Johnson, a slick moving, ground stroke pounding righty out of California, ranked fifty-six in the world, came to play. But I was there too. I’d gotten a taste of being scrutinized. I’d played some top players. I’d shown myself I came to play. At the end of the match, a 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 victory, I was probably the loser with the biggest smile ever.

“Wow, you look happier than me.” Dan joked.

“I’ve got no shame this week, Dan.”

“No, Bob, I’d say you don’t.”

“Good luck tomorrow.”

“You too.”

I knew what he meant. Tomorrow started another day of waiting and worrying. Did I do enough this week to get me into more prestigious tournaments? Did all the silly stuff give me a smidgen of name recognition so maybe someone will pay me to use their rackets? I get them for free but money is good. Maybe I could get a commercial for Golden Palace casino?

But the bottom line is did I learn enough this week to improve my game? Have I started to learn how to compete and win? Did I feel my weaknesses exploited? Can I shore them up? Is there an aspect of my game that needs more work to perform at this level?

I have all those questions and so many more. But those are all secondary to the most important thing I learned this week.

I truly love this game.

I’m walking out accepting peoples kind words, signing those giant balls (is it just me? I find those giant balls creepy), just looking forward to a nice dinner with the Bad Luck Club (which Steve has been initiated into) before getting, hopefully, a restful nights sleep.

“Bob. Bob Lyle.” I hear a recognizable voice behind me. It’s Tyler. I hadn’t given it a second thought but it could not have been an easy week for him.

“Hey, Tyler. Thanks man, I really appreciate all you did this week. You’re one of the good ones.” I hug him. I’m sure invading his space before was bad enough but with a sweaty shirt and arms? Priceless.

“I’ve got some news.” He says as I complete what, in my mind, could be my last autograph for a long, long time. If I remember my schedule correctly, my next tournament is a small one in Phenix City. Which state? I am not too sure. I’m also not too crazy about the spelling job they did.

“What’s up? The life sized stand ups come in?”

“Better.” Oh, this is serious. He didn’t even consider getting life sized stand ups. “A representative from Rolling Rock flew in to talk to you.”

“Holy. . .” Tyler put a hand up to stop me. “What are we waiting for? Let’s go talk to Mr. Latrobe.” I jog through the crowd.

“Remember, I get those clothes.” I turn around.

“You’ll have to buy me dinner first, mister. What kind of tennis player do you think I am?”

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