The Tennis Curmudgeon


The Week – Part Thirteen
September 21, 2013, 12:07 am
Filed under: Tennis, Tennis Curmudgeon, The Tennis Curmudgeon | Tags: , ,

I went to the room after the match and was ripped up. Steve figured I’d need a beverage so during the match he went out and purchased me beer. I’m going to have to remember that kid in my will. At first I was thinking of going out. Now that I’m the poster boy of the week invitations are coming in from the mid-state area. But I figured it was best to go straight to the room.

In no way, shape or form am I comparing my run of game wins with that of Roger Maris or Henry Aaron. First off, they were trying to get it over with whereas I’m trying to stave off the inevitable.

Also the snide comments from reporters, while annoying, are no where near what Roger or Henry suffered. I’m not even going to get into the volume or viciousness of their hate mail. Then there’s the fact they had to put up with it for a year and more. No comparison. What they endured for playing a kids game at the highest levels is startling.

But they didn’t have internet haters. Wowwee. That’s quite a subset of humanity there, isn’t it? They sure like to egg each other on. There were a few archetypes: the Deltoro fan (a rather self-righteous gaggle who thought I took advantage of an injured star); Dougie’s fans (at first people who knew Dougie who were actually sweet. But once the internuts got there, people who’ve never met Dougie, the tone changed), fans of the great game of tennis (some were concerned that skullduggery was afoot. Then others who’d say something like this couldn’t have happened during the golden age of tennis. Which, depending on who’s posting, was any decade other than the one we’re in) and then there was the final group, people who despised me.

Boy, I never knew I could arouse such passion!

I decided to read some stories about the goings on. The articles themselves weren’t bad. Mostly of the ‘unknown makes a splash’ variety. It wasn’t until I checked out the comments when I realized people find it quite easy to hate my own personal guts. I can see if people know me, hell, I’d probably hate me. But people who’d heard of me less than a day ago? My hate magnet must be powerful.

I didn’t flagellate myself for long (how many times can you be told to go back to teaching old ladies?) but I have to say some made me laugh. The creative things people can dream up for one to do with a tennis racket.

Not wanting to read about my myriad of shortcoming any longer I decided to take a walk. Not being in one place for too long this is something I never get to do. All I ever see is the facility, bars, restaurants, and the hotel. Then it’s back on the plane for another round of ‘where are we going this week?’

I asked the desk clerk, who’s name is Bethany and who has forgiven me for the original flurry of phone messages, if there are any places I should avoid. She said it’s a pretty safe area.

“I think only one or two rapes this year.”

“Comforting.”

The tournament has offered to upgrade my digs but I’m happy where I am. Every other player is gone. The other seven players are in a nicer place closer to the venue. But I like it here just fine. The staff is used to me. They know I don’t require much from them. And I know for a fact they have my back.

It was a nice night. One of those nights when I was younger I never wanted to step off the court. A light breeze cooled you after a point. The air made it feel as if the ball was floating through it. Just a nice night made for a few laughs and a friendly little tennis game.

I was about six blocks in when I ran across a pair of lit tennis courts. There was a bench outside the fence between them.

The lighting wasn’t great, the kind I grew up with. Maintained by the city who’d shut down for austerity reasons when a non-tennis player was elected to office.

But those nights being the last ones out there, chasing down balls, extending our play, were some of the most enjoyable nights of my life.

I watched the people play. An older crew was playing doubles. They were laughing and talking more than serving and hitting but that suited them just fine.

The other court was filled with two twenty something’s. They were in a death match only two hackers can find themselves embroiled in. The love for the game was as evident as their flawed strokes.

One guy hit a passing shot the other stretched probably further than he’s stretched for anything in his life but came up short. He first admonished himself for not being in the proper position before turning to say,

“Hell of a shot, Davey, damn fine shot.”

I can’t remember the last time I told someone they made a hell of a shot.

I still love tennis. But it’s different. I take it for granted much more now. Sometimes I forget all the things it’s done for me. Sometimes I forget the very reason I picked it up in the first place.

But to know it’s still out there, capable of making people who will never play one day of professional tennis fall for it, brought the biggest smile to my face I’ve had about the game in some time.

“Hey, excuse me.” One of the guys says. It startled me. I hadn’t even noticed they’d stopped playing. But there they are. The guys and the older guys standing on their courts looking toward me. It’s still a new thing for me to be recognized so, at first, I started looking for an errant ball. Not seeing one I looked at the guy. “Are you Bob Lyle?”

I stand up out of nervousness. I don’t know why. I guess the day has me a little edgy.

“Yes.” He turns to his friend.

“I told you it was him.” All the people playing tennis walk toward the fence. I do the same. “I saw your match against Deltoro. . .”

“. . .would you like a refund?” I joke. Hoping he doesn’t. He laughs.

“He was a jerk. I’m glad you won.”

“Thanks, I appreciate that.”

“How long do you think you can keep winning?” Asks an older gentleman with long white sox on.

“I don’t know. I’ve got a tough draw so I’m going to do what I always do and try my best.”

“What about the streak?” For the briefest of times, I’d forgotten about that damn thing. For a moment it didn’t count. All that counted was playing tennis.

“Hey, it’s got to end sometime.”

“I bet a guy who works for me you’d hit fifty.”

“Wow, I hope you didn’t bet too much because that’s a long way off.” They all laugh and it’s just us, tennis players talking tennis.

“Do you want to hit a few?”

“Don’t ask that. Would you like it if he asked you to detail his car?” Tennis players laugh. That’s so cool.

“No, it’s okay. But I’m going to have to pass. I’ve got a big match tomorrow so I really should be getting back to the hotel.” That’s a lie.

I’d rather go on those courts and sit there long after the lights have gone out. But I should go. I’m hindering their game. I turn slightly before stopping.

“Hey, do you all want to go to the rest of the tournament?” There’s a murmur floating through the air. “I get comp tickets all the time but never use them.” I reach the fence and get a good look at all of their faces, the faces of real tennis players.

“I know you’re going to find this hard to believe, but I don’t know a lot of people here. So if someone has some paper write down your names and I’ll have tickets for you and a friend waiting at will call.”

“You don’t have to. . .” begins the one person in every group who has to do that.

“. . .please. I want to. I’ve never left tickets at will call before.” They laugh. Someone got a piece of paper and everyone hastily jots down their name.

“But I’ll only do it if you promise to root for me.” They all agree. It makes me smile. One of the guys slips the paper through the chain link fence. I take it smiling.

“Stick around after the match. I’d really like to meet you all when you’re not playing. And if I win, I’ll take you all out to dinner.”

“No,” an older gentleman says. “If you win, we’ll take you out.” I laugh and agree.

“Now there’s some incentive.” I bid my new friends and fans goodbye. I looked at that piece of paper all the way back to my room.

When I finally got a place of my own I framed it and hung it on my wall. It’s my favorite piece of memorabilia.

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