The International Writers Magazine:Match Point Redux
Great Tennis Battle
few weeks after he and his wife Sally had moved into a Northern
California retirement community Paul Lerner thought they were
settled enough for him to attend the monthly meeting of the communitys
tennis club. Paul, who was 65, had played tennis since his thirties.
He was a steady, if unspectacular, player, who tried not to beat
himself. In the Bay Area hed played weekly at a tennis club
and hoped to continue playing at his new location.
He was surprised
to see that the man presiding over the meeting was someone he knew from
his old tennis club, George Grimstead, a large, red-faced man whod
been the clubs top player, or thought he was. Paul questioned
the fellow seated next to him and found out that Grimstead was now president
of this club as well as being president of the communitys board
After the meeting, Paul went up to the front of the room and asked Grimstead
if he remembered him. "Sure, I do," growled Grimstead, "youre
the guy who made that bad call that cost me the club championship one
Paul was taken aback. "I dont remember that," he said.
"I do. I"ll never forget it. So youre still playing
"Yes, I . . ."
"Well, I cant stop you from joining the club. But dont
expect anyone good to play with you. Ill take care of that. Im
putting out the word, buddy, putting out the word." Grimstead laughed
unpleasantly, then abruptly turned away. Paul didnt know what
else to do so he went home.
"How was the meeting," asked Sally as he came in.
"Not too good. Do you remember George Grimstead from our old club?
Well, hes here and hes president of the tennis club. He
thinks I robbed him of the club championship way back when and has it
in for me."
"What, rob him? I didnt know what he was talking about but
now I remember. George had a reputation for calling close shots against
him out and for insisting that all of his close shots were in. Hes
such a big blusterer he usually got his way. This one year the guy he
was playing insisted that someone call the lines and as I was club secretary
I was drafted for the job. George won the first set but in the second
set he hit one close to the line that I called out. He argued but I
wouldnt change the call. He got so mad he stormed off so I declared
the other guy winner by forfeit.."
"But wasnt that years ago?"
"It was, but it seems George was holding a grudge all this time.
Now hes threatening to kind of blackball me."
"He cant do that."
"Well see. But dont worry about it." Sally had
been in poor health the last year and Paul didnt want her to get
upset. He probably shouldnt even had told her about Grimstead.
"Itll turn out all right. Whats on television?"
Despite Grimsteads warning, Paul joined the tennis club, only
to find out that none of the players at his level, and certainly none
above, would play with him. Eventually, he found three fellows that
nobody would play with either. Al had an eye problem and had a hard
time seeing the ball. Mel had bad knees and couldnt move very
well. Ted was simply old and could return the ball when hit directly
to him but couldnt do much else. They played doubles once a week
and, although Paul found it hard not to think of them as the aged, the
halt and the blind, they were good guys and he told himself that he
was at least getting some exercise.
This went on for some time until one day when Paul came home and found
Sally close to tears. "Whats the matter?" he asked.
"Oh, its nothing," she snuffled. "Just something
"What? Tell me."
"Well, you know I finally found three ladies to play bridge with.
Now the group has broken up. It was Mrs. Grimstead. Shes spreading
terrible rumors about me. She and her husband seem to have some kind
of awful power around here."
This was too much. Paul didnt mind it for himself but if the Grimsteads
were attacking his wife it was time to do something. The question was,
What? Hed like to have thrashed Grimstead to within an inch of
his life, but the man was twice as big as he was. That was how he bullied
people, with his size and bluster. Okay, what was his weak spot? He
couldnt stand to lose at tennis. Maybe there was a way.
At the close of the next tennis club meeting, Paul stood up. "Point
of order," he said. "As I think all of you know, your president
has told you to ostracize me. I dont know what he told you but
the real reason is that he knows I can beat him. I challenge you to
a match, George, best 2 out of 3 sets, if you have the guts to play
As Paul had expected, Grimstead was so mad that he could hardly speak.
Finally, he sputtered, "You little pipsqueak. Ill crush you
like, like, like a bug."
Paul smiled. "I guess you accept the challenge. When do we play?"
The match was scheduled for the next Saturday. "But how can you
hope to beat him?" asked Sally.
"Well, I noticed hes slowed up. Hes put on a few pounds
since the old days."
"But will that be enough?"
"I have a couple of other ideas. Well see how they work."
It looked as if the entire tennis club was on hand for the big match
that Saturday morning. Pauls friends Al, Mel and Ted were there.
Paul wondered if theyd be the only ones rooting for him, or were
some of the others tired of Grimsteads bluster and secretly hoping
hed lose. As the match started, this seemed unlikely. Grimstead
had a fast first serve and hit the ball much harder than Paul. Paul
concentrated on trying to get the ball back, and, when he could, making
Grimstead run from side to side. Still, Grimstead swept through the
first set 6-1.
Grimstead served first in the second set. Maybe the easy first set had
made him over-confident because he double-faulted twice and Paul got
lucky on break point when his shot just tipped the net and fell in.
He led 1-0 and then made sure to put his not particularly fast first
serve in. Grimstead, trying to win the point with one shot hit one return
long and then one into the net. Paul then managed to win two more points
after long rallies and so led 2-0.
The chance Paul was waiting for came on Grimsteads next service
game. Grimstead hit a deep shot which was clearly over the baseline.
"Was that in?" he demanded to know. Paul hesitated a minute,
then said, "It was too close for me to call so its good."
Grimstead smiled with satisfaction. There was a murmur in the crowd.
Paul heard someone say, "That was out. He shouldnt get the
Before Grimstead could serve again, Paul held up his hand. "I think,
to make it fair, we should have somebody call the lines," he said.
Grimstead obviously didnt agree, but under the circumstances he
couldnt object. Funnily enough, Paul thought, the club secretary
was the one selected to do the calling. Maybe history would repeat itself.
Grimstead won that game and the next two to go ahead 3-2. He liked to
stand at the baseline and blast the ball. Over the past few years, Paul
had developed a nice little drop shot, which he now tried when Grimstead
was back deep. The first time Grimstead was surprised and didnt
even run in for the ball. The next time he ran in but was too late.
The score went to 4-4. In Grimsteads next service game, Paul hit
a shot near the sideline. Grimstead called it out and caught the ball.
"No," called the club secretary. "The ball was on the
line." This was just what Paul had hoped would happen. Grimstead
ran over to the secretary, seated at the net, and yelled at him. "Are
you blind? It was out a mile."
The secretary stood his ground. "It was on the line. Play the next
On the next point, Paul, who had been playing deep for Grimsteads
hard serve, moved in to just behind the service line. He knew, from
times it had been done to him, how annoying this was to a server. Grimstead,
upset by the call against him, did what Paul thought he would, hit his
serve as hard as he could and it went long. Then, instead of easing
in his second serve, he did it again and so double-faulted. On his next
first serve, Grimstead again hit too long. This time he hit a relatively
slow second serve in and Paul returned it deep. Grimstead hit it back
and Paul hit one of his drop shots which couldnt be reached to
win the game and take a 5-4 lead. He was now serving for the set.
Paul had a reliable first serve, which he almost always hit in. Grimstead
played more carefully, keeping his returns in the center of the court.
Paul hit his shots from side to side. The unthinkable happened. Grimstead,
still upset and now clearly tired, lost four points in a row, all after
long rallies. Paul had won the set 6-4.
The third and final set was no contest. In the first three games, Grimstead
argued against any call that went against him, but the secretary remained
firm. The club members were strangely silent as they watched their president
curse and fume and finally break his racket, slamming it against the
ground in a rage. After that, losing 0-3, Grimstead stormed off the
court. The secretary declared Paul the winner. History really had repeated
After the great tennis battle, as Paul thought of it, things suddenly
changed for him and his wife Sally. She had no trouble in finding a
bridge foursome and then it seemed she was going out to lunch every
week with one group or another. The other tennis club players were eager
to play with Paul and he had all the games he could handle. He still
played once a week with Al, Mel and Ted. Eventually, Grimsteads
term as club president ended and he was also voted off the board of
directors. By the following year, hed moved out of the retirement
community and was soon forgotten. Paul continued to enjoy playing tennis,
but he noticed that he never again played nearly as well as he had in
the great tennis battle.
© Martin Green March 2006
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