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The International Writers Magazine:

The Tennis Match
Martin Green


Little did I know that the mixed doubles tennis match I was a part of would signal the end of an era for our suburban tennis club.   James and Joan Cornwall had won the annual mixed doubles championship the last five years.   They were both in their mid-thirties.   James was tall, good-looking with blonde hair and brilliant teeth.   He was a lawyer.   As a tennis player, he had a powerful, if somewhat erratic, serve, classical strokes which told you he’d had expensive lessons as a kid, a good volley and a devastating overhead.
Good as James was, I’d always thought that in a mixed doubles tournament the key to winning was the woman and that Joan was the reason for the Cornwalls’ success.   She was on the short side, solidly built, plain, not in the least flashy, as James was, but she hit the ball well and was always in the right spot on the court.   Many of James’ killer volleys and overheads came after she’d maneuvered someone on the other team into a weak shot.
 
Certainly the reason our team had reached the mixed doubles final was because of my partner, Chrissie Edwards.   Chrissie was, I guessed, about thirty, an attractive redhead with fair skin and a good figure, especially her legs, which showed to great advantage in her tennis dress.   She was a single mother who had some kind of marketing job.   Ordinarily, I’d say she was one of the club’s mid-level players, like myself, but in this tournament she’d been playing, as the sports writers say, well above her head.    She’d carried our team through several close matches to the championship final.
 
The Cornwalls were of course heavily favored to win and, by most of the club members, our finals match was considered a mere formality.   Nevertheless, on the day of the match, it seemed that everyone had come out to witness our defeat.   I saw my wife and small son and waved to them.   It was a sunny day, warm and a little windy.   When we met at the net to spin a racket for serve, James said, “Congratulations on getting this far.   You’ll get a nice trophy for runner-up.   Of course, it won’t be nearly as big as the championship trophy.”
“James, don’t talk like that,” said his wife.
“Just kidding around,” said James, flashing his brilliant smile.
 
The Cornwalls won the spin and of course James served first.   Normally, in mixed doubles the man plays the deuce, or backhand side, but as Chrissie was playing so well and besides had a good backhand, I played the ad, or forehand, side.   James first serve to me was fast and in the corner and I watched it go by, an ace.   He served two more aces and one that Chrissie couldn’t return to win the game at love.   Not an auspicious start for us.    The rest of the set went pretty much the same way.   James was all over the court, putting away shot after shot.   I noticed that after his winning shots he liked to looked up at the audience, flashing his teeth, and inviting their appreciation.
 
Before we started the second set, Chrissie came over to me and said, “We’ve got to do better.”
 I shrugged.   “He’s just a better player than we are.”
  “Maybe, but he’s vain as a peacock.   That’s his weakness.   He’s tall so keep your shots low.   He doesn’t like to bend down; it makes him look awkward.”
  “I’ll try,” I said.
 Chrissie served first and after a lot of deuces we managed to win the game as one of James’ shots just clipped the top of the net and didn’t come over.     “There’s your one game,” shouted James cheerfully.
  “We’ll see about that,” muttered Chrissie.    In the first rally, James hit a deep, hard shot to her backhand, but she hit it back just as hard to his feet, and, startled, he couldn’t handle it.   This set the tone for the set.   Chrissie played as if she was on a mission.    James, in his turn, turned serious and they had some great rallies from the backcourt..   I tried to keep my shots to James low, as Chrissie had advised, and this tactic had some success.   With the game score at 3-2, in their favor, James hit a deep shot to Chrissie’s backhand.   Her return  was short and weak.   It was a shot that Joan, playing at the net, would have put away 99 times out of 100, but this time she muffed it, hitting the ball into the net.   James went over and berated her for her error while Joan’s face turned red..   James’ play suddenly turned erratic and he began hitting balls long or into the net.   Chrissie continued her inspired play and we won the set 6-4.    The next set would decide the match. 
 
Starting the third set, James seemed to have settled down.   After Chrissie started by holding her serve, he won his service game, then played well as they went ahead 3-1.  Chrissie then held her serve to make it 3-2, with James serving next.     By this time the wind, which had been steadily getting stronger, was really blowing hard.   James had a very high service toss and now this was affected by the wind.   He double-faulted twice and we managed to win the game.   When Chrissie held her serve we were at 3-3.   “We have a chance,” whispered Chrissie.   “Let’s beat that bastard.”   
 
On the other side of the net, James looked furious.   He was trying to cover the whole court, taking shots that were rightfully Joan’s and so, when he couldn’t hit a winner, leaving his side open to our passing shots.   We traded service games until we led 5-4, James serving next.   On his first serve to me, he caught his ball several times and I could hear him cursing the wind.   When he finally hit his serve, it was much slower than usual and I cracked back a shot at Joan that she couldn’t handle.   Once again, James yelled at her.   His next serve, to Chrissie, was again slower than usual and she returned it hard and low over the net.   James came in after his serve and his volley went into the net.   We were ahead 0-30.   Two more points to win.   James hit his serve to me much harder, took my soft return and put it away.   But then, serving hard to Chrissie, he double-faulted.   One point to win.   I couldn’t handle his serve and it was 30-40.
 
James first serve to Chrissie was hard and too long.   Before he hit his second serve, Chrissie moved up almost to the service line, as if daring him to get it in.   James glared at her, then hit it as hard as he could, almost directly at her.   Chrissie skipped neatly away from the ball and it went long, over the service line.   James had double-faulted again.   We’d won the match.   Chrissie, elated, ran over and planted a kiss on my lips.   “We beat that son-of-a-bitch,.” she said.   We went up to the net for the traditional handshakes, but as soon as his serve had gone out James had turned and, saying something to Joan, stalked off the court.     
 
Chrissie faced Joan across the net.   “I’m sorry about James,” said Joan.   “He gets upset when he loses.”
“I know,” said Chrissie.   “He tried to hit on me.   And I’m not the only one.”
“Oh,” said Joan.   She turned and left quickly.    So, I thought to myself, that explained that.   Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
 
At the traditional club party that night the trophies were given out.   James was right; the first-place one was much bigger than the runner-up one.   Neither James nor Joan was there.   A few weeks later a For Sale sign went up in front of the Cornwalls’ house.    A month later they’d moved away.   In the suburbs nothing remains secret so eventually word came back that they’d divorced and that Joan had gotten a large settlement.   The next year Chrissie and I teamed up again in the mixed doubles tournament but this time we lost in the quarter-finals.   The funny thing is that for an instant, when Chrissie had kissed me after our winning the championship match, I’d thought about hitting on her, too.

© Martin Green   November 2007
mgreensuncity.com  

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