Great Tennis Rivalries

Last year I broke a bone in my wrist playing basketball. It required surgery which left my right arm in a cast through the height of summer. It was a miserable experience. After going through physical therapy I returned to the court, but found myself tentative. I would not dive for a ball or jump for a rebound as I once would. This is not the way to play basketball. Even worse I witnessed a player not even in motion who got his hand slapped by some overzealous knucklehead which dislocated his thumb.

These experiences restrain me from playing proper basketball and so I have tried to transfer my athletic competitiveness toward tennis. Tennis, while safer, is a much more frustrating sport than basketball. With basketball if you have a poor shooting day you can still contribute mightily with good defense, rebounding, and crafty passes. But in tennis if you hit that ball wrong, you’re not sharing the court with anyone who will help you out. (Or should I say trying to help you out as victories at my level often come from my opponent self-destructing.) This leads toward cursing or talking to yourself in the third or second person such as, “Come on, David, move your feet.” Or if I’m competing under a pseudonym, “Pablo, you idiot, look at the ball before you hit it.”

I recently competed in a tournament. My opponent was a Columbian man who brought along his nine year old son. His English was shaky, but his groundstrokes were not. It had been several weeks since I had picked up a racquet and so as we were warming up I thought this man was out of my league. My forehand was untrue and so I began rushing the net. With this agression before I knew it I had found myself up one set to love.

My opponent however did not believe this to be so. He questioned my scorekeeping in unaccomplished English. “No, the score is six five.” I had to explain to him it wasn’t. I had been calling the score before each game and since I had served first and he had just served it was impossible that we had played an odd number of games. He got very aggressive about it, but I suppose his child’s stare put him into place. I know I was being much calmer because of the presence of a child. Later he questioned my calling a serve of his out.  It was a clay court so I was able to point at the mark the ball made when it landed outside the box. He did everything but call me a liar. On the basketball court when my integrity was challenged I took it insanely personal and did everything possible to provoke the person back. It is amazing my eyes were not  blackened more often.

But this time I stayed calm. And perhaps because of this lack of passion I ended up blowing my one set to love three games to two lead. With his cheering section expanded to his child and two mysterious women, one probably his  wife, the other his transsexual mistress, he came back to win the second set. With the sun going down, the third set was forced to be a shortened tiebreaker which he walloped me in. He was a better player than I, but I had him and allowed him to get his confidence back.

When the match was finished I went up to the net to shake his hand. He instead went to his cheering squad threw off his wristband in celebration and high fived everyone in his entourage leaving me at the net like a schmuck.

I collected my things and suddenly the biggest regret in my life was losing that match. But at least I still had my health.

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