The Tennis Curmudgeon

The Week – Part Three

Making fast and easy cash teaching at a resort has only one real drawback: the Director of Tennis/pro shop manger. That has to be the best job in the industry. Maybe the best job in the world. Now I’ve never actually had that job but, from the outside, it looks like the job is to hit some balls every now and then; hang around the pro shop trading lies with other hackers; and making sure thousands of dollars of over priced, frivolous and unnecessary equipment exits the building every week.

Maybe you can tell I’m not too fond of them. Their overly tanned, overly accommodating, overly grinning visage just wears me the fuck out. I could over look that, I guess, if that almost to the man they fall into a singular category of the ‘I could have been. . .’ human. As in, “I could have been a tennis professional, but. . .” followed by some unseen disaster that prevented the hall of fame from carving out a spot, probably a wing, to them.

I know it’s unique to athletics. I doubt anyone ever goes up to their accountant and says, ‘I could have been a CPA, but. . .’ It’s weird that people assume they have the skills, or potentially had the skills, to be a professional athlete.

The fact is they probably couldn’t. Sure, there is that rarity who actually could have been a game changer who gets injured or has to quit to take a job at the meat packing plant to support their family. But those guys never say ‘I could have been. . .’

Do you know how many hours I’ve put in to be this low on the totem pole? More than you’ve done any singular thing in your life including watch television and jerk off. I’d be up at 6AM every day. On the court by 7AM. If it was a school day I’d go there and think about tennis. If not, I’d stay on the court and do tennis. Drills, stroke production, court strategy, more drills, then, if I was lucky, maybe I’d get to play a few sets. On a good day I’d be sitting in the house with a bowl of ice cream by midnight.

And I did that every day.

But people who might have been a big fish on their third tier high school tennis team, maybe played a few sectionals, thinks if they put down one donut or spent maybe an extra hour a month fixing their problematic backhand it would have made all the difference.

I guess it’s nice to have dreams.

I guess it’s all that extra time that affords them the time to become the glad-handing, back-slapping, glowing person with just the right pedigree to get a job like this. So who’s the idiot? Maybe if I’d spent less time hitting cross court drop shots and more working on my personality I’d be sleeping in the same bed in a nice house going to a sweet job every day.

But instead I stay in shitty hotels, move from town to town like an itinerant ball whacker, trying to cover my nut and ass. Taking whichever tournament my anemic ranking will allow. Hoping to move up thirty spots so I get to go to Houston in three weeks instead of Carlsbad. Spending at least a portion on my evening icing down some ailing body part instead of sitting in the resort bar telling retold tales of someone else’s exploits.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Tennis is the last of the gunfighters. You come to a town looking for a fight. And maybe you do well.  But once you take down one guy there’s always someone waiting for you behind those swinging doors. It takes a lot of skill and almost as much luck to be the only person to get out of that town alive. Even a boxer knows who’s he’s going to fight. He can spend months preparing to exploit known or manufactured weaknesses. When a tennis slinger walks into town all he knows for sure is someone is waiting to try to take him down.

Unless you’re one of the chosen, the Tilden’s, the Laver’s, the Borg’s and Nadal’s, nothing is assured. You go into it hoping one day you’ll be able to walk through an airport and have people know you’re a tennis player and not a racket salesman.

In the back of every players mind is the image of them on a magazine cover. Arms extended like Ali standing over Liston. An expression of joy like the Miracle On Ice. There’s the dream that one day someone comes up to you and says you’re their hero. One day, after your playing days are done, someone remembers you without having to use the internet.

But it’s a long shot. The odds are better you’ll get hit by lightening in a church on your wedding day. But, if this is what you’re made to do, nothing could pull you away. You still swagger into town on the early July Monday knowing this could be your week. This could be the event which becomes legend in this town. This could be the week where you become the iconic image, the picture you’ll autograph for the rest of your life.

And most weeks you fail.

So why do you come back every week? Because you have no other choice. Each week you’ll be able to find a moment of success to take away. Whether it was a backhand in the third set of the second round that made the crowd gasp. Or a moment when you saw a hint of fear in a seeded players eyes. A quick look that told you he knows you’re making that climb. That one day, and it looks like it’s coming soon, you’ll be more than a walk over. Each week the game gives more than it takes. And you wouldn’t trade that for every mid-afternoon mimosa in the world.

“You worked your ass off this week.” The pastel shirted Director of Tennis, Rick Derco, said through his banana shaped grin. “You must need the money.”

“It’s why I’m here.” I said grabbing a beer from the cooler tucked under the racket-stringing bench. Without looking at him I unzip my bag taking out a racket. I put the racket on the bench. “How many of these did you sell?” Some resorts have you use a specific racket in hopes of moving them off the pegboard.


“Good.” I say happy to reach my quota. If more than seven were sold it upped my percentage.

“So I heard you lost in the first round of your last three tournaments.”

“Bad news travels fast.” I say sitting on the stringing bench next to the racket.

“I think you’d do better if you took it more seriously.” I look at him for the first time since entering nodding. Everyone has an opinion. The problem is it’s always opposite of someone else’s. Just last week I had someone come up to me after a match, a first round loss as you recently learned, and ask if I ever smiled.

“Yes.” I responded. “I’m at work. Do you smile all the time when you’re at work?” He patted me on the shoulder.

“Tennis is fun. You should have more fun out there.”

I’m not sure it’s possible to incorporate both those suggestions.

“I’m just saying,” Rick says reaching between my legs to get a beer. “I see you’ve got some real potential. I’ve been around this game for a long time so I know a thing or two. I could have made it to the tour, but I hurt my shoulder in my senior year. . .”

“. . .of college?”

“High school. And then some business partners of my father were opening this place and needed a director of tennis so I jumped at the opportunity.”

“Who wouldn’t?” I ask doubting I would.

“Damn straight. And now they’ve opened their third one so guess who’s going to be the Director of Tennis for the entire chain?”

“Good for you.”

“That’s right, me.” Rick’s proud of himself for being born to the people he was born to. “No more stringing rackets or peddling pullovers to fat cats. I’ll be in my office making sure everything’s running smoothly.” He taps my knee. “And you know what that means?”

“You’ll have a secretary to sexually harass?”

“I’ll be totally in charge of hiring.” He offers me his most specious grin. “Which means you’ll get as much work as you can handle.” He leans in conspiratorially as if what he’s about to spout could kill us both if it fell into the hands of a rival Director of Tennis. “Up to and including becoming one of the resorts head pros.” He leans back as if he’s offered up his first born. “What do you say? It’s a great opportunity. It’s not as if you’re tearing up the tour.” He stops grinning for a split second. “No offense.”

“None taken.” I say putting the beer bottle down and sliding off the table to grab another.

“I’m offering you a killer position. The money is great. The bennies are top notch. Who knows, you could be running your own program in no time.”

“I think we’ll keep it how it is for the time being.”

“You’re blowing a great chance, Bob. I’m telling ya,” Rick says polishing off his beer with precise timing. “I’m not saying it won’t be there after you give up your playing days, but you never know.” He pats my leg again turning to exit. “Give it some thought. At least promise me that.” I nod beer bottle firmly to my lips. “Good to hear. I’ll get your check cut.”

I watch him leave. When he’s out of sight I slide off the stringing bench, grab another beer and amble over to the cash register where a young girl has been sitting leafing through a magazine. She looks up at me. She’s less friendly to me since she found out I also slept with a lifeguard here.

“Is that the same spiel Rick gives to everyone.”

“The only thing he changes is the name.” She answer never taking her eyes off the pages. Knowing when to exit an establishment I turn to go.

“See you in a few months.”

“I can’t wait.”

I know that’s what she said but it really didn’t sound as if she meant it.


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