The International Writers Magazine
:Match Point Redux

The Great Tennis Battle
Martin Green

A 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 community’s 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 he’d 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 who’d been the club’s 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 community’s board of directors.
After the meeting, Paul went up to the front of the room and asked Grimstead if he remembered him. "Sure, I do," growled Grimstead, "you’re the guy who made that bad call that cost me the club championship one year."
Paul was taken aback. "I don’t remember that," he said.
"I do. I"ll never forget it. So you’re still playing tennis?"
"Yes, I . . ."
"Well, I can’t stop you from joining the club. But don’t expect anyone good to play with you. I’ll take care of that. I’m putting out the word, buddy, putting out the word." Grimstead laughed unpleasantly, then abruptly turned away. Paul didn’t 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, he’s here and he’s president of the tennis club. He thinks I robbed him of the club championship way back when and has it in for me."
"Did you?"
"What, rob him? I didn’t 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. He’s 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 wouldn’t change the call. He got so mad he stormed off so I declared the other guy winner by forfeit.."
"But wasn’t that years ago?"
"It was, but it seems George was holding a grudge all this time. Now he’s threatening to kind of blackball me."
"He can’t do that."
"We’ll see. But don’t worry about it." Sally had been in poor health the last year and Paul didn’t want her to get upset. He probably shouldn’t even had told her about Grimstead. "It’ll turn out all right. What’s on television?"

Despite Grimstead’s 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 couldn’t move very well. Ted was simply old and could return the ball when hit directly to him but couldn’t 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. "What’s the matter?" he asked.
"Oh, it’s nothing," she snuffled. "Just something silly."
"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. She’s spreading terrible rumors about me. She and her husband seem to have some kind of awful power around here."
This was too much. Paul didn’t mind it for himself but if the Grimsteads were attacking his wife it was time to do something. The question was, What? He’d 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 couldn’t 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 don’t 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 me."
As Paul had expected, Grimstead was so mad that he could hardly speak. Finally, he sputtered, "You little pipsqueak. I’ll 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 he’s slowed up. He’s put on a few pounds since the old days."
"But will that be enough?"
"I have a couple of other ideas. We’ll see how they work."

It looked as if the entire tennis club was on hand for the big match that Saturday morning. Paul’s friends Al, Mel and Ted were there. Paul wondered if they’d be the only ones rooting for him, or were some of the others tired of Grimstead’s bluster and secretly hoping he’d 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 Grimstead’s 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 it’s good."
Grimstead smiled with satisfaction. There was a murmur in the crowd. Paul heard someone say, "That was out. He shouldn’t get the point."
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 didn’t agree, but under the circumstances he couldn’t 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 didn’t even run in for the ball. The next time he ran in but was too late. The score went to 4-4. In Grimstead’s 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 point."

On the next point, Paul, who had been playing deep for Grimstead’s 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 couldn’t 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 itself.

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, Grimstead’s term as club president ended and he was also voted off the board of directors. By the following year, he’d 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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