The Tennis Curmudgeon


The Week – Part Sixteen
September 18, 2013, 12:12 am
Filed under: Tennis, Tennis Curmudgeon, The Tennis Curmudgeon | Tags: , ,

SATURDAY

It was eerie. That’s the only way I can explain walking around the facility Saturday. The players dwindled to seven (four singles players, three doubles. You figure out how that’s possible) and the press retinue beat a hasty retreat once the streak was over. I actually saw Naomi sitting down with her feet on a desk. Up to this point I didn’t even know she had soles.

I invited what’s now called Lyle’s Bad Luck Club (because I was doing great until they showed up), Will, Dave, Don, Oliver, Marco, Ed and their guests, to a light lunch and hit. Steve, his girlfriend and a few people from the hotel also showed up. I figured it was the last time I’d be able to thank them all for helping make the week special.

Sometimes it matters less how far you go in a tournament. Sometimes what you remember best are the people you met, the locker room attendants, the hospitality people, people who took time from their lives just to come and watch. So many times you don’t know their name but you remember them.

I was playing a match during my third or fourth pro event on a far court. It was so far away I wasn’t sure we were entered in the tournament. I was playing this sour guy. Just angry.

He complained from locker room to locker room and beyond. No one was watching us. I don’t think the shuttles came to this end of town. But there were two women at the fence cheering us on. They cheered for any good shot and were always there with a,

“Nice try.”

I thought it was great. They didn’t know who either of us were but stayed for the tennis. They watched two guys ranked under one hundred in the world (as far as I went, way under) play top notch tennis. They smiled and enjoyed. It was a great tennis experience.

For me.

My opponent thought they were bothersome and told them so. From that moment on I had my first fans. They cheered and gave me hope. That all the hours spent trying to be good might pay off. I played as well as I could. You don’t want to let your fans down.

And they did it. The made me find that sweet spot. They instilled in me that it was within my reach. I wasn’t just dreaming. I could turn my dreams into a reality. So when I won my first professional match that day I packed up as fast as possible. I wanted to tell these people what they meant to me, what they were going to mean to me.

But they were gone.

I looked around the other outlying courts; the walkways; the faces. But I never found them. That doesn’t mean they’re not always with me. Sometimes I think I can see them at a fence, in the stands, a glimpse in that blur when you’re stretching for the ball. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel as if there is a place for me in this game. And they’ll always be out there. Never knowing what they accomplished that day. That they left an eternal impression. Gave hope to someone who was, at that time, hopeless.

Sadly, it’s human nature to remember the assholes too. I try not to but there’s always one person who flaunts their perceived power. Sometimes it’s petty but you don’t know how attached to your routine you are until it’s disrupted. Like you request two bananas but the person keeps putting down one. When you point out the slight miscalculation the first time you get back a wise ass response like,

“There are other people who might want a banana.” Or “When you finish that one I’ll get you another.” Or some picayune comment that wiggles in your head. It’s silly, I know. I’m being a baby, I know. But if I want two bananas give me two fucking bananas. How difficult is that?

Sorry. But it’s the little things that can throw you off.

I know I can get up, go to the table and grab another one. It’s no big deal. But then you start wondering if other people are going to take shortcuts or be inattentive.

What about towels? Are they going to run out of towels? What about getting my racket strung? I’m not a big shot. Will the guy be rushed? Will he be distracted? What about the lines people? Are they going to fall asleep like that guy I saw in New York?

See? The correct number of bananas is important.

But it’s the people who do things they don’t have to or go out of their way, those are the people I’ll remember. It could be something as simple as the guy I made eye contact with after a particularly grueling point. I was sunk. Out of gas. But I looked at him and he implored me with his eyes, he gave me the old fist pump of encouragement. I know it sounds just as silly as not getting two bananas but it’s really all the same.

Being on your side or not.

The Bad Luck Club and I ate lunch, laughed over so many stories, got to know one another. I’d like to think even if I hadn’t come around that day Will and Dave would have become friends with Don, Oliver, Marco, and Ed but I’m not sure.

They’d probably already seen each other countless times. Maybe this time I was the catalyst to do something nice for someone. At least that’s how I like to play it out in my head. It was nice to know tennis still has the ability to bring people of all walks over life together. Just for the love of the game.

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