Apropos of the U.S Tennis Open. Rereading this essay startled me: I thought I'd gotten over my ultra-competitive mania. Nope.
Eddie was tall and lanky and looked like an intellectual having a bad day. He bit his fingernails something fierce, and amazingly, his toenails as well. You’d think he’d refrain from wearing sandals.
I don’t remember how we met. There’s this vague memory of an overcrowded cafeteria and me sitting alone. Sounds about right. He was majoring in Political Science, or as I told him, “Something useless.” He chuckled and didn’t retaliate when I told him my major was biology.
Eddie brought up tennis first, that I remember. He complained that his regular playing partner, a Korean student with a powerful forehand, had left the university on an internship. I offered to play him and he quizzed me about my skills. In summary: weak serve, weak forehand, weak backhand, good volleyer. We decided to play later that afternoon.
When I got to the courts, Eddie was already practicing his serve. A high, lazy toss. Several dozen angles as his arms and legs flexed and whirled and uncoiled. Then a meaty splat as the ball rocketed off the racket like a fuzzy bullet.
Into the net. Fourteen times in a row.
I walked confidently onto the court and we started warming up. Eddie’s forehand was smooth, but his backhand was sickly. He was a baseliner, declining to even practice volleys. He twirled his racket, won the up/down and elected to serve.
I was so ready. Hard flat serves were easier than hitting a fastball and I could hit a fastball. Eddie tossed, angled, corked, uncoiled and fired a fuzz-bullet long. Second serve. I was ready. Toss, whirligig, spinning serve that practically bounced sideways.
A lesser athlete would’ve broken a limb trying to reach that ball. I lunged, rolled and spun to sprint back onto the court in time to see Eddie punch a forehand into the far corner of my side.
And that was the pattern of our matches: A hard serve that never came over often enough for me to use it, with crazy-ball second serves that had me moving in and out, side to side and punching it back as if I were 73 and had suffered a stroke.
I never beat Eddie. (It irritates me just to write that.) We played some 14-15 matches against each other and I always lost two sets to one. My serve let me down, as did my forehand, backhand, overheads and lobs. My volleys and quickness kept me close. But it was Eddie’s second serve, that lollipop-from-Hell, that kept me at bay.
And you know what? He never stopped bashing the first serve. I once suggested he make his second serve his first since it went in frequently and was hard to read. He thought about that for a moment, then said “But that’s not the way you’re supposed to do it.”
Spoken like a Poli Sci major.