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Posts Tagged ‘tennis’

ThunderStick

January 14, 2013 | by

It came in a box. A big box, with two or three others. Sam had finally cleaned house.

It’s not every day you get a box of tennis racquets in the mail. I ripped it open and immediately shook hands with each one.

“Now guys, shake hands with the racquet.” If I’d said that once I’d said it, I don’t know, maybe twenty-five times. Once for each tennis clinic I’d taught for little kids over high school summers. Kids who’d devised a game called Hit the Ball at the Teacher, which they’d passed on to their younger brothers and sisters, the little buggers.

There was a Yonex in the box that felt cold and distant—the shake of a bureaucrat. There was another I’ve since given away that felt insubstantial—the absent shake of someone scanning the room for more important hands. And then there was the Prince. I swear to you, the Prince’s handle still felt warm.

The grip was slightly sticky—as a good grip should be—and worn where my right index finger curled up the beveled edge of the shaft. It filled my palm easily and comfortably: the racquet’s way of looking me straight in the eye as our hands met. This was Emma’s racquet.

The frame was a little slick for my tastes. Shiny black, with an aqua-blue and pink blaze up both sides of the head that looked like rain blotches on a Doppler weather map. And it was called ThunderStick. There was a lightning bolt through the diagonal slash of the n “Thunder.”

“Lord, did Emma know that?” I wondered. Not her style. And there was another message from the manufacturer along the inside rim: “Sweet Spot Suspension.” If that were true, I figured it was okay that it looked a little cheesy and was called ThunderStick.

I fingered the strings and saw they were worn, with little bits of neon-yellow fuzz stuck at the junctions where the vertical and horizontal rows overlapped. Evidence that this racquet was not new. Evidence that Emma had hit with it.

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1, Love

September 10, 2012 | by

At its best, my slice backhand follows the flamboyant path of a violin virtuoso’s bow striking the climactic note of a concerto—from above my right shoulder plucked diagonally down to my left shoestring. The ball’s tone is a hollow pok on hard courts and a chalky chh-chh on clay that dies on the second bounce. All these dramatics—mere vestiges of a time when I wanted to impress Angela, my middle school crush.

Angela played number one singles on the undefeated coed spring team at our private school in Princeton, New Jersey. Her long Italian American locks springing along with her high jumping-forehand, her second serve ball tucked in the spandex beneath her pristine tennis skirt—she was a vision of beauty to watch. Her movement around the court traced the Etch A Sketch path of someone fully in control of the game’s portrait.

In Lolita, Humbert Humbert describes how Dolores Haze plays singles at least twice a week with a classmate, Linda Hall, employing teasing tactics against her and “toying with [her] (and being beaten by her).” The particular beauty of Dolores's tennis game is, for Humbert, a prerequisite for an amenable afterlife, or so he whimsically hyperbolizes one crisp afternoon as Dolores plays in Colorado:  “No hereafter is acceptable if it does not produce her as she was then, in that Colorado resort between Snow and Elphinstone, with everything right …”

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Smokable Songbooks, Controversial Vodka

April 9, 2012 | by

  • Lindsay Gibbs’s Titanic: The Tennis Story recounts how tennis players and Titanic passengers Dick Williams and Karl Behr met on a rescue ship and went on to become Davis Cup partners—as historical fiction. Unfortunately, the subjects’ descendants aren’t thrilled about the novel, particularly by the fact that the launch party will be sponsored by Iceberg Vodka. The words in poor taste were bandied.
  • Snoop Dogg has released a smokable book. That is all.
  • “The first time I went to [the British National Science Fiction Convention], all I could see was a sea of white, male faces ... I found it very disheartening, and I knew I could either go away and never go to another con or try to do something about it.”
  • After writing a poem critical of Israel, Günter Grass has been banned by that country’s Interior Minister.
  • In honor of the Mets’ fiftieth, you can get e-versions of Jimmy Breslin’s Queens-centric classics.
  • In honor of the Mets’ sweep, you can read The Paris Review interview with die-hard Mets fan P. G. Wodehouse.
  • Cartoonist Christoph Niemann draws the books on his nightstand.
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    Double Fault

    March 7, 2012 | by

    Three months before I was born, my father bought an eight-court outdoor tennis club on three acres of land in New Rochelle, New York. The club sits at the bottom of what amounts to a gully, down the block from a swampy lily pond that overflows during thunderstorms and floods the basements of the handsome Tudor homes in the neighborhood.

    The courts themselves are made of a material called Har-Tru, a gray-green clay that smells like a mixture of coffee grounds and fresh-cut grass. It’s soft and easy on the knees, perfect for middle-aged investment bankers and ad executives but more difficult to maintain than hard courts.

    When it rains, the material softens, expands like a sponge, and turns into a shallow lake. During dry spells, it gets chalky and swirls around on warm breezes. Like lunar dust, Har-Tru sticks to everything. It gunks up sneakers, stains white tennis shorts, and accumulates in socks. As a kid, over the course of a given summer, I’d transfer an entire court’s worth of Har-Tru to our living room.

    The courts were our family’s livelihood; their quality was a matter of pride for my father. Like a farmer who knows the precise chemical composition of the soil in his fields, he could step out on the courts, sniff the air, and know whether to water them or let them bake in the sun. He never read weather reports (he called weathermen “crooks”) but developed meteorological instincts. He sensed drops in barometric pressure and intuited the approach of autumnal cold fronts.

    “Rain’s coming,” he’d say, looking out over the courts like an Oklahoman homesteader.

    Even when I went south to the University of Virginia, I found Har-Tru waiting for me. The company that manufactures it boasts on their homepage that Har-Tru comes from “billion-year-old Pre-Cambrian metabasalt found in the Blue Ridge Mountains.” I could have walked to their corporate headquarters from the center of campus. Charlottesville has brilliant sunsets thanks to the airborne coal dust carried on the wind from mines in West Virginia. I couldn’t help but stare at yellow-orange-pink skies over the Blue Ridge in autumn and think, Look at all that Har-Tru.

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    It Never Gets Old

    June 6, 2011 | by

    Photograph by Alex Livesey.

    When an athlete grows old, when she slips and starts making errors, you say that her body betrays her. What you mean is that she betrays you. A superhuman should not age. So you punish her with your attention, with your nostalgia and condescension, and also with your neglect. You turn your gaze to the young.

    For the first two weeks of this year’s French Open, that’s what happened. Sure, younger players had earned the spotlight. Novak Djokovic was in the middle of one of the longest win streaks in the history of tennis. If he made the French Open final, he would become number one. For his part, Rafa Nadal was looking to equal Björn Borg’s record of six French Open titles. No one expected much of Roger Federer. Even Anna Wintour, who sat in Federer’s box in Paris, had more or less conceded Djokovic’s dominance, featuring the Serb in tiny swimming briefs in the pages of Vogue, where once Roger had been king. Federer is twenty-nine years old.

    On the women’s side, the favorite was a beautiful blonde Dane, Caroline Wozniacki, twenty years old. She had never won a major, but never mind. The defending champion, Francesca Schiavone, who has hollow cheeks and a habit of kissing the dirt, wasn’t given a chance. Some thought her win last year—she had been seeded seventeenth—was a fluke, and besides she is ancient, nearly thirty-one. But Wozniacki lost in the third round, and when the finals arrived Schiavone was there again, and this time playing the twenty-nine-year-old Li Na, best known for being Asian and having a tattoo.

    “With a combined age of sixty years seventy-nine days, Li and Schiavone make up the oldest French Open final pairing since 1986,” said The New York Times. Li and Schiavone were pressed to explain their advanced ages. “Is like the wine,” Schiavone said. “Stay in the bottle more is much, much better.”

    “I’m not old,” Li Na insisted. “Why do you think I’m old?”

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    A Win is Just a Win. A Loss…

    September 11, 2010 | by

    Everyone will be watching Vera Zvonareva. Photograph by Christian Mesiano.

    A win is just a win. But a loss—a loss can be pain. When Vera Zvonareva was defeated by Flavia Pennetta in the fourth round of the Open last year, she suffered, and it was real suffering. She had six match points in the second set and converted none. That’s when the fear set in, and the doubt. She cried on the court. She pulled off the tape wrapped around her knees. She begged the chair umpire for scissors to cut the tape and then cursed at him when he denied her. She cursed and screamed, she fell, she beat her bleeding legs. Her grunts were howls. She smashed her racket into the net post. She paced and paced. When she sat in her chair during the changeover, she put a towel over her head. She wanted to disappear. She wanted not to lose. She lost the third set 6-0.

    Now, Vera Zvonareva is about to face Kim Clijsters in the final of this year’s U.S. Open. So far, Zvonareva has been the picture of poise. The wind? No problem. The no. 1 seed, Caroline Wozniacki? An easy victory, in a quick 85 minutes. While the stars have showed off their florescent hotpants and specially-designed dresses, Zvonareva has been wearing a white long-sleeved shirt, as if the matches were no big deal, only warm ups. She’s letting opponents beat themselves, playing high-percentage shots while they rack up errors. “I know I’m not going to play perfect tennis all the time,” she said after her win yesterday. She just wants to play well enough to win.

    This is admirable maturity. And yet, in my little warped heart, I can’t help but hope to see some flicker of fear in her eyes tonight. Not because I want her to lose—I want her to win. And not because she doesn’t belong out there, because she does. She was a finalist at Wimbledon; she's a big hitter and an extraordinary physical specimen.  I want to see the fear because that fear is honest. She is afraid, no matter what she says in those post-game press conferences. She has to be. She is facing the defending champion. Everyone will be watching her for some sign of cracking. It's human, that fear. One second, everything is going right. The next, you’re in tears. And there’s nowhere to hide from your failure.

    I'll be cheering for her.

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