It was my big moment.
A point where I would feel like the greatest tennis player who ever lived.
A gentle lob seemed to hang forever in the air. I rushed to the net, took aim and smashed the ball for a winner. I tried to act calm, but I couldn’t help but give a small fist pump of satisfaction.
Yes, I was playing doubles. And yes, both of my opponents were high school girls.
No, that didn’t make the moment any less glorious.
Taking part in open tennis play at Dallas High School on June 22 was a lesson in frustration and triumph.
A vast majority of the people there fell mainly into two camps: older adults or high school students — many of whom were on the tennis team.
Not exactly my dream scenario.
But Thomas Gniadecki, the third-place finisher at the OSAA 5A state tennis tournament, was there.
I hoped that his skills would transmit over to me. That I would be turned into a good player and would sneak up on people during the Fourth of July Tennis Tournament, ninja style.
Unfortunately, I have yet to perfect passing knowledge through psychic links.
As players warmed up, things seemed to go OK. Thomas kept complimenting my “skills” at a rate that seemed suspiciously high … but I let it pass. Maybe I really was discovering a hidden natural talent. Could tennis have been my true calling all along? Had I chosen the wrong path in life?
Then, we started playing for real.
I assumed Thomas would essentially be my personal coach. I soon realized once organizers assigned each of us a number that my opponents — and playing partner — would be random.
At first I decided to be preemptive and apologize for the atrocity that she was about to witness.
To my surprise … it wasn’t a complete disaster. My first couple hits landed in.
Then I tried to serve. One serve went into the net. Another went long. And, possibly the most embarrassing, was one that nearly hit my playing partner in the back.
I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure injuring your partner is a bad thing.
Game two saw me join forces with one of the older players against Thomas and his playing partner.
When it was Thomas’ turn to serve things didn’t exactly go well for me. His first serve rocketed past me. His next serve to me I decided I was going to hit a rocket back at him. I took a giant swing and … whiffed. His last serve to me I returned, but was clearly sailing out. Thomas played it anyway. Through it all, the “nice try” and “good effort” compliments came my way.
I received similar compliments during my brief baseball career as a young child when, I, for some reason, thought I had to swing at every pitch thrown to me.
It also didn’t help that, having seen Thomas play competitive tennis, I also knew he was serving at far less than full effort.
By contrast, my serves continued to land everywhere but in. Finally, Thomas suggested perhaps I just try hitting it lightly over the net instead of going for a full serve — the equivalent of someone telling me to shoot granny style in basketball because my shot couldn’t reach the hoop.
The next game, things began to turn. Paired with another older player, I felt a burst of energy. I moved around the court like Rafa Nadal. My forehands were on target — or at least more on target than before. And, thanks to a tip of where to make contact with the ball on my serves, my serves landed in! They may not be fast, but at least my playing partner was no longer in danger of a sneak attack.
By our final round, I was more confident than ever. And it was during this round that I had the shot heard round the world.
By the end of our nearly two hours of playing, I was spent, physically. But it was fun. And, most importantly, I felt confident that I won’t make a complete joke of myself this weekend. Get ready tennis world. A new star has been born.