In the first round I play Andrei Pavel, from Romania. My back seizes up midway through the match, but despite standing stick straight I tough out a win. I ask Darren to arrange a cortisone shot for the next day. Even with the shot, I don't know if I'll be able to play my next match.
I certainly won't be able to win. Not against Marcos Baghdatis. He's ranked No. 8 in the world. He's a big strong kid from Cyprus, in the midst of a great year. He's reached the final of the Australian Open and the semis of Wimbledon.
And then somehow I beat him, in five furious, agonizing sets. Afterward I'm barely able to stagger up the tunnel and into the locker room before my back gives out. Darren and Gil lift me onto the training table, while Baghdatis's people hoist him onto the table beside me. He's cramping badly. A trainer says the doctors are on the way. He turns on the TV above the table, and everyone clears out, leaving just me and Baghdatis, both of us writhing and groaning in pain.
The TV flashes highlights from our match. SportsCenter. In my peripheral vision I detect slight movement. I turn to see Baghdatis extending his hand. His face says, We did that. I reach out, take his hand, and we remain this way, holding hands, as the TV flickers with highlights of our savage battle. We relive the match, and then I relive my life.
Finally the doctors arrive. It takes them and the trainers half an hour to get Baghdatis and me on our feet. Gil and Darren lead me out to the parking lot. It's two in the morning. Christ, Darren says. The car is several hundred yards away. I tell him I can't make it.
No, of course not, he says. Wait here and I'll bring it around. He runs off.
I need to lie down while we wait. Gil sets my tennis bag on the concrete, and I sit, then lie back, using the bag as a pillow.
I look up at the stars. So many stars. I look at the light stanchions that rim the stadium. They seem like bigger, closer stars.
Suddenly, an explosion. A sound like a giant can of tennis balls being opened. One stanchion goes out. Then another, and another.
I close my eyes. It's over.