IT HAS BEEN SAID that 90% of life is just showing up -- but that's not always true. I held a job working for the state once and based my observations, if not my behavior, sometimes just showing up is 100%. But, generally, in tennis, just showing up won't get you much at all.
On the other hand, when you're the only team in your league, just showing up means you win the league and get to go to the State Championships.
On occasion, life is fair, so our reward was commensurate with our effort. The championships were in Durham. Our first matches were held at Hollow Rock, meaning last Friday Sandra and I had to travel nine-tenths of a mile to "go to the North Carolina Senior 7.0 Mixed Doubles State Championship."
Once there the reality of being "in the State Championship" struck us in the face like a crisp Roger Federer backhand. Our team had played in an "adult league," since there were no other senior teams (senior being defined, at the youngest, as turning 50 during 2007). We weren't ready for real "seniors."
One fellow my wife and I played (I'll call him Ken -- because that’s his name) was supposedly a senior. My best guess is that he actually was a senior -- in high school. He had muscles like Barry Bonds – a product no doubt of the healthy mountain air. Further, he wore a red tennis outfit. I don't need to tell you this, we all know it intuitively, but no senior male is going to wear a red tennis outfit. To top it off, Ken was left-handed and played that way. He and his supposedly 3.0-rated partner beat us left handily 6-4 and 6-2.
The other match my wife and I played was more typical of our challenges. Our opponents, Steve and Carol Berg, were a very pleasant married couple from Wilmington. Being the hale fellow well met that I am, I bantered casually with them before the match. I said, "I know wagering on a match is illegal but how about if the winner pays for the losers' marriage counseling?" They laughed. I wasn't joking.
We lost the first seven points of the match. It looked to be blowout of bagelesque proportions. But I know my wife is a notoriously slow starter but a great finisher in doubles of all sorts. We won the next eight games, winning the first set 6-1 and were sitting at 2-0 in the second. Then we (by which I mean me) let up a little, they stepped up a little and we lost the second set 4-6. Tie-breaker time, time to separate the cream from the skim milk: we lost 5-10.
My wife was not available to play with me on Saturday. (She had a case appearing before the North Carolina Court of Appeals on the following Tuesday morning so, of course, it was essential that she be at Reno Sharpe's Store deep in Chatham County to play bluegrass on her banjo with a bunch of 80-year-old farmers.) I paired with our team captain West (with a "t") Dupuis. She played great. I did OK (that is, great for stretches and brain-dead at others).
Tiring of winning the first set, then losing the second, then blowing the tie breaker, we tried a different strategy that had worked previously for West and me. Namely, we were to get destroyed in the first set, get behind in the second then come back, and, finally, win the third-set tie breaker.
West and I didn't get destroyed but we did lose the first set 3-6 to our formidable opponents from Lake Norman. Then we edged them in a tie-breaker to win the second 7-6. And we got ahead in the third-set 10-point tie breaker 6-3, were tied at 8-8, and then lost 8-10, when my ground stroke went six inches long. Two points from my personal goal: winning one measly match. Very disheartening.
But little did I know that one of our opponents would be the one who most needed comfort. When we congratulated them at the net at match's end, our female opponent (I'll call her Meredith -- because that's her name) sullenly said, "I didn't enjoy this at all." Graciousness personified. I said, "It could have been worse."
Poor Meredith had to win all three of her matches in tie breakers!
As a team we did accomplish two goals that I had set for the team beforehand. The team won one match, thanks to a great effort by West and Greg Schulwitz. Our team didn't finish last. We finished 10th out of 12 teams -- which is not bad at all for a team that finished dead last in its own league.
Gary D. Gaddy, inexplicably, actually has gone to two state tennis championships in two consecutive seasons.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald Thursday September 20, 2007. Copyright 2007 Gary D. Gaddy