(actual date August 2017, originally a letter)
My Boyle Park 3.5 Summer Tour singles tennis match last Sunday was excellent. My opponent Ryan was a 50-something athletic lawyer, parent, local resident who I vaguely remember having played several years ago, but hadn't bothered to look it up. It was only my fourth match of the tour and I was coming off a frustrating loss to my old buddy/retired warehouseman Jim, who used to beat me most the time until I started beating him most the time. This time he had beaten me 2-6/6-4/10-8 tiebreak.
I started out serving well in the first game against Ryan,but he was managing to return everything. After trading solid shots both ways he would somehow win the point. We were both playing well, but he broke me right away. The set continued and I failed to find a weakness, even though I was playing fairly well myself. Before I knew it I was down 0-5. I finally served to win a game, but lost the set 1-6. He's simply better and younger than me, I figured. After all, I had just turned 77.
We enjoyed playing and had time to get to know each other a bit during crosovers. He was interested that I had tought journalism at Tam and told me his oldest daughter, who had been at Tam after I had retired, was a professional journalist. She started on the East Coast, where she had gone to college, then landed a great correspondent gig in London. That ended unexpectedly after a couple of years, but her friends back in New York connected her for a new job, at the New Yorker. She now writes Talk of the Town pieces, the most recent being a mini-portrait of a Japanese Buddhist priest in New York who lectures on the history of the swastika as a sign of peace and good luck in Jodo Shinshu tradition.
But we had a second set to play, and it began pretty much the same as the first, except that I won the first game. I was making some great shots, and missing some of course, but I was playing relaxed. Ryan came back and won his serve, then I won mine, and it continued. At 2-2 I thought it would be satisfying to win a third game in this set, so I did. At 4-4 I began to think that I could win the set simply by winning my serve and breaking him. I won my serve and attacked, with renewed confidence, his one weakness I was having some success against. His serve was o.k., but just that, nothing intimidating and apparently something I could return on my own terms.
In essence, I could play his service games as if they were my own service games by seizing the first opportunity to control. I started moving him out of position with my return, then going to the net to volley back to the open space. I prevailed and closed the set at 6-4. As is the tradition at Boyle Park, we agreed to a 10-point tie break to determine the match.
I was on a roll and broke out with a 3-0 lead, then 5-2, then 8-5. Then I began to think about it. He's younger and better than me, so what am I doing in this position? He was making some spectacular shots, usually returns against an equally spectacular shot of mine, and most our points were going several rounds into each game. And he was not going away. The score got to 8-7 with me holding the opportunity to close it out on service.
The first point I won on an unforced error forced by a solid ground stroke I made on his return of my serve. The second point started with my spin serve from the deuce side that drove him out of position to the far side of the court. But he returned it as I approached the net. My volley to the opposite side was careful but weak and he was able to cross the court and return it back. With lightning quickness I stretched for my low return volley and flicked it back across the court just inside the line but completely out of his reach.
"Victory! Victory! Hear my cry, V-I-C-T-O-R-Y "I yelled to my wife and cat Turtlebug as I entered the house after bicycling home. We all celebrated. I had won 1-6/6-4/10-7in a great match. After things settled down I looked through my tennis records for the previous match Ryan and I may or may not have played. I found it in the 2012 Fall Tour, where I had written the score: 2-6/6-4/10-7 tiebreak and the remark "Great Match." History repeats itself. I then picked up my current New Yorker and read a Talk of the Town piece entitled "Cross-Cultural Dept: Dialogue" about a Buddhist Monk lecturing in New York about the swastika.
Is tennis larger than life?