I was nervous all morning long before I left the house. I awoke early, around 6 a.m., to catch the men’s semifinal between Nadal and Djokovic. Danny offered to drop off the kids at camp so that I could get to my match at the Missouri Athletic Club (MAC) without rushing. When I arrived, I walked straight into the lobby half-expecting to see the tennis courts right around the corner. As I peeked into the dining room on my left, and took note of the numerous chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, I thought to myself, “What in the world am I doing here?” The club was so much bigger and so much more luxurious than I had anticipated. I had no idea where to go, and there didn’t seem to be anyone around to ask. The only person I could find, with the exception of the valets out in front, was a woman in a white fedora seated alone and working on her laptop. She looked like she belonged, and pointed me in the right direction. I was playing on court 2 and my partner’s name was a woman named Sheila, according to the previous evening’s email. That was about all I knew for sure.
I checked my watch and hurried down the stairs, past a pro shop that looked like the kind of gift store you’d find in a large airport, and the club’s bar, where a man in slacks and a golf shirt appeared from around the corner. “Are you here for Interclub?” he asked.
“Yes,” I responded, already berating myself for signing up. “Follow this hall up the stairs to the door on your left,” he said.
“Ok, thanks. But do you know where I can fill my water bottle?” I asked, oblivious to the two water fountains right behind him. It sounds like such a lame question now, but I was already hungry and didn’t want to be thirsty, too.
“There’s water on the courts,” he told me.
But the only courts I could find where those marked courts 4-7. So I ran around for a few minutes trying to find court 2 before the same man appeared out of nowhere and said I should go to court 5. Apparently, there was a mistake on the court assignment sheets.
Luckily, I wasn’t late but the other teams where already warming up. At this point I was so nervous my stomach was hurting. On top of it all, until yesterday, I had never played on indoor, hard courts and from the looks of the other players, this was serious business. Sure, they were slightly older than I was, but damn could they hit the ball! I’d have to rely on my speed, I guess.
My partner was a woman named Sheila, who put me immediately at ease. She was nice and encouraging from the very beginning. Anyone else and the match may have gone the other way. I could tell she was laidback but that it was important for her to win, despite how unassuming she seemed. She had had surgery in January she said, so she was a little rusty but had played for many years. “We’ll just have fun,” she said.
Somehow, as is often the case with me, our team wins the toss and I’m up first to serve. I think I’m trembling. The first ball goes into the net. I picture my notes from the previous evening and work to just get it in. “Your serve is good, don’t worry,” says Sheila from the net. My serve goes in.
We play out the next point and win it. The game moves fast. We’re up 30-love. Our opponent at the net is an excellent volleyer. Afraid of nothing and I can tell she’ll make us work for our points. I win my first service game and am thrilled!
Next up to serve is Karen. She has a hard serve, which I can only block otherwise my return goes out. Good thing we covered that in clinic this year. Some of her serves are so fast I can’t get my racquet on the ball. But we manage to win that game, too.
I’m beginning to feel more confident, which starts to work against me. Sheila’s up to serve and I’m trying to poach all the returns! I miss three in a row! Why am I doing this? We lose the game. Despite my mistakes and relative inexperience I can keep up, and I realize how well I’ve been taught. The basics are etched in stone inside my head. I remind myself to do what I know, and nothing more. All the time, lessons, clinics have worked. I’ve been an A student, and have had the best teachers.
It’s Trish’s turn to serve. She’s closer to my age and has that look about her that says, “I know exactly what I’m doing,” which she does. She has an excellent serve, but between Sheila and I we’re able to run down most of the balls. My partner and I have just met but we have good chemistry. I’m sweating from the pace of the game and we’ve played less than an hour. We’re now tied, two games each.
Up until the very end, the match is close but we end up winning 7-6, 6-4. According to Karen, Trish wins every everything at MAC and today is the first day she’s lost. Both she and Karen are excellent players but Sheila and I mixed up our shots a bit more. As always, luck played a role. Next time the outcome could be different. That’s the thing about tennis, it keeps you guessing and therefore wanting more.