SI Vault
Michael Baughman
September 14, 1981
Which comes first? Does tennis somehow turn otherwise rational human beings into emotional 4-year-olds? Or are rude, petulant and insecure types attracted to the game in the first place because they instinctively realize, even when quite young, that the sport is an ideal vehicle for boorishness? And why do even subdued players like Bjorn Borg appear so unstintingly grim throughout their matches that it's impossible to believe they get any enjoyment at all from what they do? (I realize that they are in it to win, for money, yet isn't it still a "game"?)
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 14, 1981

A Dr. Jekyll Tennis Player Discovers Mr. Hyde In An Amateur Tournament

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

"——," said the other.

"—— —— —— ——," came the reply.

At a mixed-doubles match nearby, one of the men—far behind in the second set, it turned out—was returning every shot as hard as he possibly could, not in a desperate attempt to win points but rather trying to line one into his female opponent.

Even in the relatively civilized matches in progress, the players were at least extremely tense, at most on the apparent verge of apoplectic fits or the commission of some physical violence to their opponents, their partners or themselves.

To laugh at it all or to try to respond with Christian pity? That was the only question. But our match began before I could decide.

Once on the court myself, I tightened up and played like a zombie. My incompetence imbued every facet of the game. I double-faulted—first serve 10 feet out, second feeble effort barely reaching the net. I lobbed them not just over the baseline but also over the fence and into the parking lot beyond. At the net I played as if my shoes had been cemented to the court. We barely won, 7-5, 7-5. I apologized to Steve. My first set of tennis in three years, I explained. But what was going on? I asked myself. How could it have happened to me?

We won our second match, 6-1, 6-2. With the easy victory, my peace of mind returned. Toward the end I even began to feel sorry for our opponents, a pair of elderly gentlemen who—most likely through plenty of practice—were very nearly able to act as though they didn't really care who won. By the end, I found myself wishing we'd thrown a few games to make the score more respectable for them.

Our third match was the toughest. It was against a pair of young men from California, and Steve had heard that one of them was a B player who, because of a strained neck, had decided to temporarily drop all the way down to D.

When they easily handled us 6-2 in the first set, I found that the nervousness of the first match and the tranquillity of the second had been replaced by anger. Who did these carpetbaggers think they were, anyway, coming up from, of all places, California (it is almost required of southern Oregonians that they resent Californians), and entering the tournament two notches below their rightful level?

In the second set my first serve worked 90% of the time, and my lobs were deep and accurate. Steve played the net wickedly, and we won 6-2.

Continue Story
1 2 3