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Stefanie tells me her father is coming to Vegas for a visit. Thus, the unavoidable moment has arrived. Our fathers are going to meet. The prospect unnerves us both.
Peter Graf is suave, sophisticated, well-read. He likes to make jokes, lots of jokes, none of which I get because his English is spotty. I want to like him, and I see that he wants me to like him, but I'm uneasy in his presence because I know the history. He's the German Mike Agassi. A former soccer player, a tennis fanatic, he started Stefanie playing before she was out of diapers. Unlike my father, however, Peter never stopped managing her career and her finances, and he spent two years in jail for tax evasion.
I should have expected it: The first thing Peter wants to see in Nevada isn't Hoover Dam or the Strip but my father's ball machine.
My father doesn't do well with people who don't speak perfect English, and he doesn't do well with strangers, so I know we have two strikes on us as we walk through my parents' front door. I'm relieved, however, to see that sport is a universal language, that these two men, both former athletes, know how to use their bodies to communicate, through swings and gestures and grunts. My father takes us to his backyard court and wheels out the dragon. He revs the motor, raises the pedestal high. He's talking nonstop, shouting to be heard above the dragon—blissfully unaware that Peter doesn't understand a word.
Go stand there, my father tells me.
He hands me a racket, points me to the other side of the court, aims the machine at my head. Demonstrate, he says.
I'm having shuddering, violent flashbacks. Peter positions himself behind me and watches while I hit. Ahh, he says. Ja. Good.
My father clicks the dial until the balls are coming almost in twos. I don't have time to bring back my racket and hit the second ball. Peter scolds me for missing. He takes the racket, pushes me aside. This, he says, is the shot you should have had. You never had this shot. He shows me the famous Stefanie Slice, which he claims to have taught her.
My father is livid. He comes around the net, shouting: That slice is bulls---! If Stefanie had this shot, she would have been better off. He then demonstrates the two-handed backhand he taught me. With this shot, my father says, Stefanie would have won 32 Slams!
The two men can't understand each other, yet they're having a heated argument. I turn my back, concentrate on hitting balls. I hear Peter mention my rivals, Sampras and Patrick Rafter, and my father responds with Stefanie's nemeses, Monica Seles and Lindsay Davenport. My father then uses a boxing analogy, and Peter howls in protest.