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A Tennis Story

10-14-14 - Playing tennis in Sanur twice a week for a month now. It's been decades. We don't play sets, just hit for an hour and a half early as the day gets hotter. Monday was noticing how my partner would sometimes say, "Come on!" to himself in irritation when he missed a shot just exactly like we'd say it in Texas fifty, sixty years ago. And then Scott on the other side got a lunging forehand and hadn't even turned back to face the net when the ball came zipping behind him. He stuck out his racquet behind his back and voila! got it back in to our shouts of praise. Every now and then I've seen a player try that in desperation or for fun, but rarely seen one of those get back in - except for one remarkable hot day in Texas.

As we played on I thought about back then - the playful social scenes with the young people around the courts and especially at the tournaments - my first sort of on-the-road experiences and some of the characters were really like out of Kerouac, fun girls, bad boys. There was plenty of overlap, but my older sister hung with a more wholesome mix than I. We'd get a hotel room and sleep eight of us in it. go to restaurants and walk out without paying. Some older guys made me drink vinegar at one place, held me down and shaved my head at thirteen - omen of style to come in my later life. We had to dodge a farmer's buckshot once running off at night with one of his jumbo watermelons. The behavior of some of the adults on and even off the courts was far worse than ours though - just some of them. I remember watching big men being petty on the court, sobbing after loosing a match. There were also many whom I admired. One character imbedded in memory was a guy named James Schmidt whom I only was around for a few days. I'd heard his name dropped in respect by adults at the courts as well as the older teens - the adults for his skill, the teens for that and for his transcendent coolness.

Where was that tournament? Not a big one. Lubbock? Tyler? Schmidt was considered the best player in Texas but didn't play Texas tournaments enough to be ranked. He had a national ranking. He was seeded #1 in this tournament and the #1 ranked player in Texas was seeded #2. This number two seed's name I remember but don't want to use it because I don't have anything nice to say about him. He was generally seen by us kids as stuck up and snotty. We were excited that Schmidt was coming to whip his ass. Schmidt and #2 had byes for the first round. Schmidt arrived on the afternoon of the 2nd day with two voluptuous woman arm in arm, laughing, irreverent, friendly, drinking a beer. He sat above me on bleachers and I could see up his white shorts leg that he wasn't wearing underwear. He breezed through to the finals not killing anyone on the courts, playing just a little better than each so that it was fun to watch. He was polite yet cocky in a charming way. Number two was not the big rooster for once and kept to himself. There were oblique comments about some unpleasant history between them.

They did meet in the finals. It was three out of five sets. Schmidt clobbered him in the first set and was doing the same in the third right up to match point, the point that if he wins, he's won the match. But it wasn't the first and third sets that humiliated our mister number two. It was the second set, a set that Schmidt had to fight to win. In that set he did something I'd never seen or heard of and have not seen or heard of since - except an occasional situation such as Scott's nifty shot yesterday. For that's how James Schmidt played the entire second set. He hit every shot behind his back. And he won that set. Now it was match point - five love, forty love. Schmidt's advantage. Schmidt's serve. But he didn't serve. He walked to the net and stood there. After a moment his opponent walked up and Schmidt said in a stage voice, "I concede." It was a final act of courtesy to his fallen foe. The story of that day would have a life, our rooster was humbled, but no loss would go against his record. The tournament was his. Schmidt put his racquet in it's cover, picked up his bag, and arm in arm with the two sexy women walked off and drove away.