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Good as James was,
Id 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 shed maneuvered someone
on the other team into a weak shot.
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 hed
had expensive lessons as a kid, a good volley and a devastating
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, Id say she was one of the clubs mid-level players,
like myself, but in this tournament shed been playing, as the sports
writers say, well above her head. Shed 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. Youll get a nice trophy for runner-up.
Of course, it wont be nearly as big as the championship trophy.
James, dont talk like that, said his wife.
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 couldnt 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, Weve
got to do better.
I shrugged. Hes just a better player than
Maybe, but hes vain as a peacock. Thats
his weakness. Hes tall so keep your shots low.
He doesnt like to bend down; it makes him look awkward.
Ill 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
didnt come over. Theres your
one game, shouted James cheerfully.
Well 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 couldnt
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 Chrissies 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 Joans 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. Lets
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 Joans
and so, when he couldnt 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 couldnt 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 couldnt handle his serve and it was
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. Wed 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
Chrissie faced Joan across the net. Im sorry about
James, said Joan. He gets upset when he loses.
I know, said Chrissie. He tried to hit on
me. And Im 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 theyd moved away. In the suburbs nothing
remains secret so eventually word came back that theyd 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, Id thought about hitting on her, too.
© Martin Green November 2007
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