The Tennis Curmudgeon


The Week – Part Twelve
September 22, 2013, 12:04 am
Filed under: Tennis, Tennis Curmudgeon, The Tennis Curmudgeon | Tags: , ,

THURSDAY

I was pretty anxious all night. I don’t like it when I don’t sleep well. I’m sure everyone would say that. When I don’t sleep I feel like the day after drinking a bunch of beers over a long period of time. Your body wants to be hung over but there’s nothing there to do that. You just feel logy and bloated all day. Like a perpetual state of forgetting something.

Then there’s the fact I’m out of my normal procedures. Due to the hubbub I didn’t do the one thing I always do when moving to the next round: find out who I’m playing. It’s a little thing but somewhat important. I know I could look online or call someone but I’m too aggravated.

I can’t stop thinking about how quickly they changed the story from some oddity to making a case for collusion. I guess reporters have to do something to keep themselves from seeing how meaningless their life’s work is.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no one to talk. I’m not doing brain surgery. I’m not even lancing a boil. So I understand how they hope for anything that can take them away from the post-game analysis with disinterested or often downright hostile players. The only thing a player will remember longer than a big win is something shitty a reporter wrote.

But what can I do? They have a point. Both matches were jokes. It just happened to be me who got the, for lack of a better term, luck of the draw.

So I’m a little concerned if I don’t do well in today’s match that’ll be my legacy. The guy who beats amateurs and tankers for a suspect record. That’s why this unsteady feeling has me very concerned. I have to show up for this match.

I see a picture of myself on ESPN. I haven’t had the sound on the TV for hours. I turn it off. This is the first time I’ve been in this room without a TV on since I arrived. It’s weird. It seems chilly. I turn it back on to see myself saying, “Neun neun Luftballons.”

At least I think that’s what I’m saying. I not only don’t speak German I can’t lip read it either. I turn the channel hoping to find a rerun of Dirty Jobs. I wonder if Mike Rowe would think my job is dirty? That’s my last thought before I feel asleep.

“Bob. Bob. Bob. Bob. Bob.” I hear this pneumatic hammer pounding. I wake and wonder if I’ve been in a car accident because Steve is standing over me. “Thank god you’re awake.”

Oh shit! Have I been? I start doing a mental inventory of my body parts. All there. I move some of them. Working. I start to touch my body looking for a sticky substance when I begin to come to.

“What are you doing in my room?”

“We’ve got to get you to the facility. You’re match is in less than an hour.” I start jumping out of bed. “People have been looking for you.”

“Why didn’t they come here?”

“A few did but you didn’t answer the door.”

“Did they ask the front desk?”

“They said you weren’t there.”

“But I never left.”

“You told the desk clerks to all say that.” I stop, look at Steve and smile.

“Good to know people who can follow directions.”

“The only reason they let me in is because they see us together all the time.” I look at Steve and smile.

“I sure know how to pick the right people, don’t I?” Before Steve could answer my bag is over my shoulder and I’m leading him out the door.

The next thing I remember is I’m on the court warming up. The umpire is making the introductions, the crowd is packed but less boisterous than last night. They’re still pulling for me. After all, I still haven’t lost a game in this tournament. That’s got to count for something. No matter what the press thinks.

My opponent is Brian Lowell. When he’s on he’s dangerous. Last year he got to three semis and a final four straight tournaments. Then he blew up. Six straight first round losses. And those weren’t tight matches. He got smoked. Dropped twelve sets in a row never winning more than three games. All those games were won on his serve.

I’m trying to gauge which Brian I have in front of me. We played one other time. I eked out win because in the third set his serve started to falter. When playing a hard hitter the longer you keep him out there the better your odds. Today he looks good but not indefensible. I’m thinking if I can get an early break of serve to make it important he holds serve I can have the advantage.

We’re standing at our chairs preparing when he says,

“Is it true you and Deltoro cooked up that whole thing so you could get record?” I look at Steve shocked.

“You’re buying into that? Yeah, Steve, yeah. A guy I’d never met before this week, who’s very first words to me ever were ‘apologize’ got together somehow, maybe through mental telepathy, and cooked up this harebrained scheme. Are you fucking for real?” I’ll admit that at this moment I am, once again, heading into a tennis match pissed.

“Don’t expect me to roll over.”

“Fuck you, Steve.” That was the last word I said to Steve for six months. We’d been friends once, played doubles for a while, but you’re aware of tour friendship.

I don’t know if it was my intense anger or the fact I really was playing the match of my life, but I made short work of Steve.

My game plan worked perfectly. I broke him in the second game after winning the first on my serve then spent the rest of the match running him around. By the fifth game he was sucking wind. I wanted him to remember this match. In his marrow.

I was, in the parlance of the day, playing out of my head. It’s better known as ‘The Zone.’ I mentioned I’d been a visitor there some months back, but today I took up residency. It’s an odd, preternaturally calm world. Noises are muffed yet you can clearly pick out the words one person says in the distance.

It’s as if all of your best features are on display. ‘The Zone’ is a place doubt can’t inhabit. No second-guesses because every decision is a gem. You feel no praise nor pity. It’s an effortless, ego-less world.

“Game, set, match, Bob Lyle. Six love, six love. Mr. Lyle has now won thirty straight games at the Mid-State Savings And Loan Classic eclipsing the old tour record right now by eleven games.”

I felt melancholy walking off that court. I didn’t have the energy for any of yesterday’s silliness of a G-rated striptease. I signed autographs until I had to go because the other players were coming in for their warm-ups.

After my shower I went to the press conference but there was none of the fun or flippancy of the last couple of times. In the middle of it I felt exhausted.

I left the press conference but stayed around to talk with fans. Even that felt strange. I usually connected with at least one person while talking to them but it seemed different to me this time. Maybe because I was actually the guy they wanted to see. Maybe it’s because I knew this wasn’t over yet.

Far from it.

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