The Tennis Curmudgeon


The Week – Part Five
September 29, 2013, 12:23 am
Filed under: Tennis, Tennis Curmudgeon, The Tennis Curmudgeon | Tags: , ,

The flight was uneventful. For me anyway. I heard there was a woman who freaked out flying over farmland because she said the plane was losing altitude. I miss all the fun.

That’s because I can sleep through anything. I once slept through a fire. Trust story. I was at a friends apartment when the building next door, a building I could clearly see from the window of the room I was in, was ablaze. When I got up in the morning everyone was looking at me oddly. I asked what was up. When they told me I didn’t believe them.

Until I looked out the window and saw the flame stained façade.

I was surprised to see the driver waiting for at the terminal. That rarely happens for guys ranked like me. Usually there’s a wait. It’s not a big deal. I usually like the drivers. They’re locals who know their way around and if there’s any pre-tournament shenanigans going on they’re bound to know.

“I’m Bob Lyle.” I say dropping my bags at his feet. Actually on his feet. “Oh, sorry.” I say kicking my bags away from him but he’s paying no attention. He looks at me quickly, nods then goes back to staring into the crowd.

I watch as he slides my name placard behind another one. I lean over to read the name. I shake my head and step behind him. He’s really here to pick up the number eighteen player in the world, Guillermo Deltoro. I’ve never met him but his reputation isn’t one of the good ones. They say he’s even more of a pain in the ass off the court. And he’s a huge pain on it.

“He should be here in a few.” The kid says excitedly to me. Sort of. It’s as if he’s been holding on to those words so long the speech safety valve finally blew.

“Favorite player?” I ask knowing. His head swivels and he makes eye contact with me for the first time. It’s a look that says, ‘could there be another?’

“Yes.” He snorts.

“He’s a good one.” He looks up and down at me as if I’m fortunate to be considered a professional tennis player when the likes of Deltoro exist.

“He’s going to be the best.” I look away thinking, ‘Not if he doesn’t get his drug use under control.’

“That’s been said.” I say watching a mother try to get her kid into a stroller while the kid holds her legs out perfectly horizontal. Suddenly a loud voice can be heard over the bustle. ‘Deltoro.’ I think.

“No me importa. No me importa. Usted me introdujo en este torneo mierda sabiendo que era cancha dura.”

By the reaction of his fellow disembarking passengers, a combination of fear and flee, this may have been going on for some time.

“Vete a la mierda apariencia el dinero. Ninguna cantidad de dinero vale la pena estar aquí. Nadie quería venir conmigo. ¿Por qué crees que estoy solo?”

I don’t speak Spanish but his tone does not sound happy. Guillermo marches up to the driver.

“Get my bags. The fucking car better be close.” And right past the star struck driver. “Joder adquirir experiencia antes del Abierto. Usted sabe que yo no tengo oportunidad. Es como si usted no está teniendo mi mejor interés en mente.”

“It’s the sedan with the sponsor logo on the side.” He calls to a quickly fading Deltoro. You can tell he’s crushed.

It’s like that often when you meet your heroes. Like when I met my tennis hero. He’d been off the tour for years but was always around as a goodwill ambassador. I introduced myself while some people were standing around. I should have known something was up the moment I arrived because everyone else left.

We chatted for a while and it was great. He told me some stories, we had a couple of beers, then he asked me if I wanted to go back to his hotel room and blow him. When I chuckled but he didn’t I knew he was serious. It really threw me through a loop when I declined because that’s when he offered to pay me.

“Come on, kid.” I said to the driver picking up my bags. “Let’s go get his bags.” He took a few extra seconds before getting into gear.

He was lagging behind until we reached the baggage claim. I looked at him and felt bad. “Hi,” I said holding my hand out. “I’m Bob Lyle.” The kid looks at me as if he’s seeing me for the first time. He releases one hand from the sign for the first time and takes mine.

“Steve.”

“Glad to meet you, Steve. Now let’s get his bags and get out of here.” We both watch the carousel wordlessly for a minute. “Do you have any idea when or who I’m playing?” Steve doesn’t take his eyes off the carousel.

“Court seven, six thirty, some guy named MacIntyre.”

“Don’t know him.”

“His first event.”

“Good.” It’s usually a good thing when you play someone in his first event. They’re excited to be there and not used to winning at this level. But then again they can go out there and play out of their head. I’ve got to stand on his balls early and often. I look at Steve who’s still reeling from his encounter with his hero.

“Don’t let it get to you, Steve. Maybe he just had a bad flight.” Steve looks at me and smiles. Laughs in my face really.

“No, I was told he was an asshole. The only reason I got this pick up is no one else wanted to do it.” I start laughing just as Deltoro’s bags slide into view. They were easy to pick out having his name stitched on the side of each one.

“Then you’ve got balls to take the job.” I reach over and grab a bag while Steve gets the other two.

“I guess. I guess I just wanted to see for myself, you know?” Steve looks up and I could tell a little piece of the mystic was gone. We hoist the bags to our shoulder and turn to leave.

“I do. But next time maybe you could do it from a comfortable distance.”

“Yeah,” he says. “Like from the stands.”

The moment the automatic doors slid open we could hear Deltoro screaming from inside the car.

“¿Por cuánto tiempo que tengo que sentarme aquí y esperar a que el conductor incompetente?” Steve and I chuckle. It looks like he’s over the shock. “Llama a alguien! No quiero sentarme aquí todo el puto día.” Steve opens the back and tosses the bags in. Deltoro calls over his shoulder. “It’s about fucking time.” Steve gently closes the door.

“I don’t care what you say, I’m riding up front with you.” Steve chuckles and we get on our way. Listening to a constant stream of Spanish from the rear.

The check in went as smoothly as always. You walk up to a desk where a pleased as punch to be there fresh young thing checks the list (if you’re someone like me. People like Deltoro get the VIP treatment) then gives you your credentials, information packet and itinerary.

Most of it I could care less about. First off, I’ll probably be gone in a day or sooner. It’s one reason I don’t check into the hotel until after my first match. Why pay for something I’m not going to use?

Besides, few people want fodder at their events. At my level we usually find the nearest bar and hang with the locals. I quite enjoy that, if the truth be told. Being around tennis people can be a little claustrophobic. Everyone’s too nice, too polite.

I’m told where to go to hit for a little while. I have time for a light workout, my serves been a little erratic over the last few weeks so I’ll concentrate on that, then a light meal. I like a tiny tuna sandwich, maybe some fruit. Then, once again, I’ll wait until I’m called.

In the locker room I spot my opponent almost immediately. He’s the only one taking pictures of everything. I find out he’s a local. Tournaments always have some wild card slots they use, in their wildest dreams, to pop in a top player or two who decides at the last minute he can’t live without battling the heat in Albuquerque. But many times at least one spot will go to a local pro or up and coming kid.

I’m sitting in a chair carefully shaving down a callus that’s been bugging me when MacIntyre jumps over.

“Hi!” He says happily holding out his hand. I put the razor in my left hand and shake his. “I’m Dougie MacIntyre. Looks like we’ll be opposing each other today.”

“That’s what the draw sheet says.” I’m not trying to be an asshole to nice old Dougie here but I’ve got a routine. And it’s a routine which does not include socializing with my opponent.

Actually, it doesn’t include socializing at all. I stretch, take care of extraneous things (like shave calluses), make sure my court bag is ready, check it again because it’s what I do don’t judge me, then sit quietly and envision the match. The world exists inches from me but I’m not part of it. I’ve had fights erupt around me but I never took notice.

There’s a spot you try to get to. A spot where you know nothing but tennis. You have faith your body will do what it’s done a million times before. You take all thoughts of the physical away. All you see is the ball. All you hear is the sound of the ball quickly touching the strings.

That sound often tells you more about what your body needs to do to react than anything. Was it a solid pop or a whooshing brush? It all means something. It all adds up to the equation you have to solve.

“I just wanted to say it’s a serious pleasure to get this opportunity.” Distractedly I look up at Dougie. He’s not part of my world. Not yet at least. He’s in my future and right now my future is disrupting my present.

“You going to give the tour a shot?” I say staring at Dougie. I’m not trying to intimidate him. I’m trying to get a read on how thirsty he is. Is he a dilettante here for a cup of coffee or does he has aspirations?

“I guess that all depends on how I handle you.” He says going with the mind game he uses with such success at the local country club.

“Lyle. MacIntyre. Court seven.” An attendant calls. I stand up ready to go. He’s a couple years older than me. I can smell the country club grass. Just another big fish in a very little, very exclusive pond.

“All my family and friends are going to be there. So it looks like I have the home town advantage.” I smile at Dougie. Confidence is a wonderful thing to make crumble. Welcome to the churning sea, Dougie.

“Enjoy it while you can.” I walk past Dougie.

Damn if Dougie wasn’t right. The tiny stands were loaded with townsfolk riled up to cheer on their friend and lover, Dougie.

Walking in he got a bigger round of applause than I’ve ever received. I let Dougie walk ahead to wave to his adoring fans. This was his moment. It’s the least I can do because if I have my way, their adoration will turn to embarrassment real soon.

Dougie sprayed the first couple of practice balls way off the court. I could tell the reality of the moment was starting to arrive in his central nervous system.

When he started getting balls over the net it turns out he was a pretty solid player. Solid strokes, solid footwork. But being solid is mere foundation. The difference between a solid player and a tour player is the difference between a guy who flies a remote controlled biplane and someone who pilots a fighter jet.

So I did a sound barrier breaking fly by on the once confident Dougie.

“I bet you wish you’d gone golfing instead, huh, Dougie?” I said at the handshake. His once radiant face was drawn and quartered. The smattering of applause was nearly drowned out by feet quickly moving off the stands. Everyone trying to avoid eye contact with Dougie. He doesn’t know what to say. He looks disoriented.

“Is that it?”

“For you.” I say shaking the umpires hand.

“Game, set, match. Bob Lyle. Six love, six love.”

And it wasn’t even that close.

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