The Tennis Curmudgeon


The Week – Part Ten
September 24, 2013, 12:00 am
Filed under: Tennis, Tennis Curmudgeon, The Tennis Curmudgeon | Tags: , ,

WEDNESDAY

Well, everyone except Guillermo Deltoro.

Little Willie, well, the best that could be said about him was he was pissed.

I was watching cellphone videos Dougie’s friends had taken (mostly of him) online. He looked much more awkward than I remember. And I looked much meaner.

Maybe it’s a perception because each time a ball would come to Dougie he looked pained. They pretty much stopped shooting before the first set ended so, in an era where every mundane thing in the world is recorded, the greatest feat ever in the history of mankind goes unrecorded.

Just kidding.

What happened to me was nothing more than a fluke. Like the Kardashian’s or Steve Bartman catching a foul ball. It’s inescapable and could have happened to anyone on that court that day, or puts out their own sex tape or sat in seat section 4, row 8, seat 113 at Wrigley.

It’s also the great thing about sports. Unlike a news cycle where a story can linger for days, something else always happens in the world of sports. So by the next morning I figured I’d be pretty much a footnote. I heard media credentials were at an all time high for the tournament. I’m sure the media was just going in for their closer. Tie up this story and move on.

And not a minute too soon.

I didn’t see it but my man on the street, Steve, was keeping me informed about what was happening on site. It seems as if Guillermo was none too pleased to have his delicate balance shifted by having to wait a day to play his first match. He had a first round bye mainly so he could show up to sponsored events. It’s what his appearance fee (yes, it’s ‘illegal’) is basically for. That and so he doesn’t bitch about them using his picture to advertise the event.

He was bitching to anyone who came near or would answer any of his voluminous calls. Even a player friend walked off the practice court because Guillermo wouldn’t stop bitching during the session. So now he sat in his suite dialing the phone, complaining to everyone who came to his door, generally acting like a horses patootie to any and all.

But none of that effected me. Yet. I went for a light hit, did some more press (I think I’m getting good at it), hung out for a little while at the hotel pool, took a nap, then waited. I’ll admit to being nervous. This really was going to be the biggest match of my life.

At least as far as crowd expectation. People were coming to see me. I was told it went from half  to fully sold half an hour after the press conference. That’s weird. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone buy a ticket specifically to see me before. Much less half the stands.

While puttering around the room I started to package up the gear from the other day. As a lark I also threw in the pillow case and sheets I’d slept on, the bar of soap I used to shower, shampoo, face cloth, towel, just about anything I touched from the room. I even took the notepad, signed every sheet and dated it with the phrase ‘Golden Match’. I giggled through the entire thing. I was going to have as much fun with my fifteen minutes of fame as I could. Even if it was all by myself.

I got to the locker room and started my routine. It’s a good thing I’m not rigid about my routine because I had more press so, in actuality, the time went faster. I’m sitting on a chair playing with my racket strings. Straightening out almost perfectly straight strings. Pushing on them to check the tension even though a much more accurate machine did it a few hours ago. It’s nothing more than getting yourself to a comfortable place. Blocking out everything except your task.

“Apologize.” My, that’s an interesting first word to ever say to someone.

“For what?” I say looking up at a petulant Deltoro.

“We were supposed to play yesterday.”

“That’s right, we were. Didn’t due to no fault of either of us.”

“No fault? No fault?” Guillermo begins spitting out some Spanish while I put my racket in my bag. “Apologize.”

‘Okay, whatever.’ I think. ‘What’s the big deal?’

“I’m sorry.”

“That is not a sincere apology.” Guillermo blasts. No one else in the locker room is moving.

“No shit.” I stand up. “I didn’t do anything to disrupt your precious schedule. Go to the TD if you want sincerity. He changed the schedule.”

“Unacceptable.”

“What the fuck are you bitching about? I spent my day doing press. What did you do? Oh, let’s recap. You stayed in your suite and screamed at your agent, the only idiot who’d still take your calls, for five hours.”

“Do not speak to me like that.”

“Go fuck yourself, Willie.” I start to walk away because I know he’s going to freak the fuck out. I’m talking spit, spittle and sputtering. He hates being called Willie and I knew it.

He begins screaming in Spanish, which, as we’ve covered before, is a language I don’t speak.

“Deltoro. Lyle.” An official nervously calls not a moment too soon.

He’s calling me gilipollas. Again, I don’t know what he’s saying but it can’t be good. Instead of screaming at him in a language everyone will know exactly what I’m saying I choose the next best thing, German.

Which is, truthfully, another language I don’t speak. So the two of us are walking to he court. He’s cursing me out in a language he seems very comfortable with while I’m hitting him with all the German I know.

So I counted from the one to ten, told him I loved him, then, because I learned it one fake Oktoberfest in Chicago, recited the lyrics to Ninety Nine Red Balloons in it’s native tongue while entering a stadium.

“Neun neun Düsenflieger. Jeder war ein grosser Krieger Hielten sich für Captain Kirk.”

“Cagón.”

“Das gab ein grosses Feuerwerk. Die Nachbarn haben nichts gerafft. Und fühlten sich gleich angemacht.”

“¡Cabeza de mierda!”

“Dabei schoss man am Horizont. Auf neun neun Luftballons.”

Later, at the press conference they informed us the video of our entrance had been played on ESPN, I was asked more about the entrance than the match itself.

“Why not?” I responded on ESPN reporter who asked why I was reciting lyrics. “It’s a classic.”

It didn’t get better during the warm-ups. When I’m introduced the place went nuts. It was definitely a carnival atmosphere. And I would have loved it under any other circumstances. It was the first time I had the crowd on my side. The few times I’ve played a match with any type of crowd they’ve always been there for the other guy. The known commodity.

But these people were cheering, some of them were calling me by name, people were looking at me and smiling. Right at me! That was an awesome feeling. It sent a rush through my body. And Guillermo hated every single sound. It’s not as if they were screaming, it was a respectful crowd. But the fact they weren’t there to see him, that people wanted to see the newest freak on the midway, galled him.

“This is a circus.” He complained to the umpire after warm-ups. The umpire dutifully reminded the crowd that tennis is played in relative silence. A smattering of applause drizzled down from those who would have been there regardless of who was playing.

We went to our respective sides and I signaled that I was ready to serve. After some stalling Guillermo nodded that he was ready. I could feel energy surging through my body. Maybe it was a little too much. So I paused an extra beat to compose myself. Breath in, begin my serve, breath out, hit the ball.

Ace.

The crowd went wild. Guillermo tossed his racket in the air catching it on the way down. I couldn’t hear him but I could see his lips moving. I think he’s called me that before. He must be running out of colorful phrases. I step to the other side and wait for Guillermo. He doesn’t look ready. He’s flat footed, his racket head is down, he’s still mumbling. I look at him and he waves his arms and says,

“Serve.”

Okay. Stay with a winning game. Another flat serve down the T. Another ace. He was already walking back to the ad side before the ball passed the baseline. The crowd was cheering but I didn’t hear any of it. Right now, at without question the best moment of my professional life, I was pissed. He was pulling up. Is he going to make this a controversy? I barely remember the next two serves but they were also aces. Fifty-two points in a row, thirteen games, and you’d think I’d be happy or at least proud.

But I’m not.

“What the fucks wrong with you?” I say to Deltoro from under a towel.

“They want to see you break records. I’m going to give them what they want.”

‘Motherfucker.’ I think leaning back on the chair.

“Time.” The umpire says. We get up and pass on the way to changing sides.

“Play the fucking match.”

I’m barely able to contain my rage. I’ve got to let it go. It’s redirecting my concentration. While I’m trying to refocus myself I hear his first serve. It’s wide to my backhand. He’s known for his placement and this is no exception. At least he’s not going to serve sitters. I take two steps then reach out to flick the ball down the line. It seems to be in the air forever.

“Out.” The line judge reluctantly calls as the ball bounces over her shoulder. She looks at me apologetically. I smile and wave my racket at her.

That brings me back to the game. The crowd is cheering. Guillermo is glaring. The world is back on it’s axis. For the first time I got a standing ovation. Let me tell you, if you’ve never had one I highly recommend it. It’s the loudest hug you’ll ever have.

“The streak comes to an end at fifty-two straight points.” The umpire calls.

“That’s pretty good.” I say to no one. I look around the stands. I’ve never made this many people happy before.

I don’t know why I did it, and John yelled at me later, but I walked to the stands and handed the racket to some young kid. I took off my shirt and gave it to another kid. I tossed my sneakers into the crowd at different places then did the same with my socks. I figured that’s where I should end my largesse.

People were still cheering and laughing when I went courtside to begin dressing. I knew I would never have a moment like this again so why not have some fun.

The only person not having a good time right now was, that’s right, little Willie. He was complaining to the umpire. The umpire was half listening, half trying to get my attention. I was dressing as quickly as I could. It took less than a minute and it didn’t matter because the crowd was still cheering.

“Please resume.” The umpire announced as I got up and waved one last time. From here on no matter what happened, I was going to enjoy myself.

And I did. Sort of. I was playing well, Guillermo wasn’t playing, so the inevitable happened. I won the first set at love. Eighteen straight games of professional tennis won.

“That’s pretty cool.” I thought looking at the scoreboard before starting the second set. “Even if they were against one guy who couldn’t and one guy who wouldn’t win a game.”

That thought starts to piss me off, again, but I quickly dump it. It is what it is. I start my first serve in the second set and we start a rally. Maybe Guillermo’s competitive nature would trump his petulant side. The balls were zipping back and forth. This is tennis!

Until Guillermo flopped to the ground.

“What the fuck?” I say walking to the net. He’s rolling around as if he’s been shot. He looks me in the eyes and I know he’s faking. He’s grinning at me. “Fuck it.” I say walking to my seat. I put my racket on the ground and grab a water. This could take some time.

Usually during an injury time out the opponent keeps moving. You can’t sit too long or you’re likely to stiffen up. It’s why when someone pretends to be hurt players, the ones who don’t use the ploy, hate it. But this isn’t one of those times. I knew he wasn’t coming back. I would have bet he had his travel bags in the car.

A better man might have been angry. A better man might have wanted an explanation. I guess I’m not a better man because sitting there my only thought was,

“Round of sixteen money, baby!”

From the outside tennis money is good. And it is. But once you factor in travel and lodging and all that, okay, it’s still pretty good but there’s no way a player at my level could sustain a career on the tour by that money alone. It’s why I teach. But fans don’t see that. What they see is a million-dollar purse at the big tournaments and think everyone’s making that money.

Well, it ain’t me, babe.

The irony is top players, the ones who could afford it most, get comped. Forgetting appearance fees (yes, they’re still ‘illegal’) the top players are almost guaranteed the higher purses at each tournament. Then the big money in sponsorship. Trust me, that one by three-inch patch on their shirt costs a pretty penny. The big names have different sponsors for different things all over the world. It all adds up to their own private jet.

I don’t begrudge them, it’s a good thing. I’m only saying that, to me, round of sixteen money makes it a pretty good week. A top ten player would probably slit their wrist. They spent more than that flying their entourage to the tournament. But this week my ends are going to meet quite nicely. And for that, I am happy.

It didn’t take too long for Guillermo to throw in the towel. For that I was thankful. I’m sure the reason he didn’t is because he didn’t want to spend any more time here than necessary.

I watched him limp off the court with an assist by the trainer and head straight to his waiting car. He was probably on the phone yelling at his agent before the vehicle was out of my sight.

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