The Shambles Of My Game


The shambles of my game are smoldering in a pit of glowing coals and lava.  Steam lifts as the sweats of anger evaporate.  My earlier explosion caused the blaze--that and an unforgiving opponent.  My tennis education continues.

During the 11th game of the 15 game mahut, after being up 40-love in the previous service game and losing to make it 5-5, I'd decided to quit tennis.  My opponent went on to hold serve and win the 11th game, and then the abuse began.  A crash into the fench, a smash to the hardcourt, even a hard chunk across the net, konking the bench, and careening to my opponent's feet.  A classy moment.  A fit.  Like it was the racquet's fault, and further, the racquet must be punished.  In an abusive and cold manner.  Lunacy.  The eventual loss of 7-8 was tainted with shame.  Asked for forgiveness at the closing net shake.  For stealing my opponent's tennis joy.  And worse, attempting to steal his tennis glory.

Good mahut for me really, a better result than the previous week, where my pathetic mental game helped produce a 2-8 loss.  Summed up in this note describing the mahut...

     The humbling began early, my opponent taking advantage of my chronic mental weakness.  His wounded shoulder in my mind.  Sympathy is such a pathetic and useless emotion in sports.  It can motivate those receiving it unwantingly.  And so it did, 8-2.  Sure, serves came to me with no pop, but the spins were wild, my feet were bumbling, my strokes were incomplete, my tennis anger turned into despair, then defeat.  My opponent taught me a lesson today.  I will take note, I will learn from it.  Seeing him and his red brake covers, hearing the roar of his exhaust, squinting at the shine of his convertible camero, I could only marvel.  I could only wonder.  Has anyone actually seen this MRI indicating a torn rotater cuff?.  Doctor priviledge, I guess, but think of it.  Brilliant.  Surely not, that would be too brilliant.  To fake an injury to ruin the mental game of your opponents.  I will learn from this, yes, I will learn from this mahut.  Mahut!

Physically, everything is good, despite the extra few lbs being lugged around.  Joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and back.  The eyes are weakening and the glasses fog, but still strong on the court, the tennis elbow of two years ago defeated.  Plantar fascia troubles no longer.  The mental weakness, however, can lead to a motivational crisis.  And this is where I stood in the 12th and 13th games of my morning's crumbling mahut.  Quit tennis until the Thursday morning Houston mahut, traditionally played before attending the day session of the U.S. Clay Court Championships.  A three week layoff would do me well I thought, all the while aimlessly firing forehands and backhands out, in the net, to the fences.  At least I wasn't screaming profanities and abusing my racquet.....any longer.

Came back and won a couple, but only after ruining the tennis peace of the entire complex.  The Indians were polite, as always.  Maybe it was Green Day, the morning's musical selection.  Perhaps punk rock should be for other venues.  But the morning was jamming, til the emotions in my mind let me down.  The quitting idea has already been abandoned, it is rarely the best option.  Perhaps prayer, yes, prayer.  Prayer is always the answer.  God's Will.  Amen.  Mahut!

Double Fault Worries


     Elevated almost.  Like a new man.  A new tennis man.  Old burdens gone.  The knowledge of futility is eliminated.  It is no longer true.  An ascension to a higher tennis plane.  Planned long ago, a better game developed.  Intentional and deliberate, recurring and recurring.  Overcoming breaks and strains.  Catching breaths and hydrating constantly.  The pace is important.  Anxious hurries and double fault worries are fatal.  Incredible the interior games within the match.  Nerves lit and sweat pouring into pools.  The heat and the winds drying it quickly.  Too much tennis charity from my opponent.  Too many mistakes.  Comebacks and advantages.  No cross court power today.  Unusual.  Standing back unleashes the pop.  The pronation gives the serve another look.  From the top of the swing, after the butt muscles have launched and as the shoulder turn has snapped back.  Chin up. Tournagrips are needed, in abundent supply.  Headbands and bandanas.  The net was giving.  Shots of destiny, games of inexplicable victory.  Ronnie Wood can sing.  Bound For Glory with Neil Young and Waylon and Willie.  Music is a fabulous addition to Isner Scoring Method culture.  A Kazenian improvement made possible and pracical by Bluetooth.  Evolution of the glowface era.  The future shines bright indeed.  The light!  The light!  It is truth.  The classic match victory over The Lion Duke Joe Vita, my first in 32 years of regular tennis, was a moment of exaltation.  The page can turn, although now, I want to be a Duke too.  KOtC8 is two months from now.  Preparations continue.  Mahut!

Highlighter Orange

   
     Crashing to the court Keck must have been furious.  Coach Vita and I had insisted on the 6:45 daybreak start, before the sun evaporated the mist, before the courts were dry, when the surface was at it's most slick.  Our tune up Saturday round robin was planned days before.  15 game mahuts to make up 45 total, just 15 games shy of what will be played in the upcoming King Of The Court tournament.  The 7th KOtC.  The Lion Earl Joe Vita was there too, in highlighter orange Adidas apparel.  Lenny Kravitz was the tunes.  Memories of his afroed, coed band at the Bronco Bowl came back in nostalgic waves as we listened to his riffs.  Cab Driver, Rosemary, Let Love Rule.  The reminder is always needed.  Love is the only way.  Life, as in tennis, must be loved to to be played to its potenial. Lenny can jam.  His opening act that night did not belong there.  Sean Lennon has Yoko's voice.
     We were early in our mahut when Keck hit a backhand return.  While scurrying back to the middle of the court, I hit a balls deep inside out forehand back to his backhand.  I'm sure he regrets even going for it, but his instincts were too ingrained.  Down at the time to an inferior player, he attempted to misdirect his momentum and the slippery court did it's thing.  His feet slid out from under him, his whole body suspended in the air, and he came crashing to the surface, loud and quick.  Thankfully, to prevent gruesome facial injuries, he was of enough mind to react as his hands and arms quickly broke the fall.  Immediately he got up, dusted off, checked for any blood and began nursing the right wrist.  He had the look of someone who knew, someone that felt something different, perhaps even someone that heard the unnatural pop.  Everyone is their own best Doctor, especially with the internet.  The inside out forehand had landed perfectly in the corner, accelerated by topspin and biting down severely.  I was happy to get the point, and even now I remember the crispness of the contact, the decision to misdirect made early, allowing for a full setup and attention to technique.  It was a good strategy considering the conditions, just wish Keck would have given up on that one, let it ring the fence, let the point be won by another.  Give up a winner.  His hatred of losing, even a point, is well known.  Since the injury I'm certain he's wondered 'what if' we had a more reasonable 8 o'clock start.  The 'what ifs', tourtureing his mental well being.  Duke Keck will heal, slower now that he's older, but he will be ready for King Of The Court 7.
     We finished the mahuts we could with the remaining healthy players, concluding in a 2 round modified california doubles format.  Joe the Lion Earl won despite Coach Vita's attempted calculation confusion and scoring lapses.  We all had our Zverev moments, those moments when a big point is on your racquet for an easy volly putaway and it ends up hitting the middle of the net and dribbling to your feet.  We went for winners, we hit drop shots.  Slams, double faults, aces, unforced errors, nubs, effs, down the line screamers, ridiculous angles, and Zverevs.  Liked that highlighter orange look, like a construction zone, or a life jacket.  Just what my game needs.


Tennis Is Peace

    
     After coming off a strong mahut against Keck, playing King James on the clay courts of Brookhaven on an early Friday morning was highly anticipated.  Not only was my tennis game under relative control, but it was my debut to the surface.  The surface of the French.  The surface of River Oaks in Houston.  I wanted to slide like Juan Monaco, dig like Novak, and click the mud off my shoes like Fed.  My invitation for an invitation to the only clay courts in Collin County was sent earlier in the week after Keck and Coach Vita were guests of the King.  Membership does have it's privileges and being a former member of the Royal Court, The Earl of KOtC5, emboldened me.  And envy overtook me.  King James accommodated graciously with an invitation.  The court was in perfect condition, with the rains of the past week captured in the mud.  A thin layer of dirt covered the base clay of the court.  Upon arrival, the King was combing the court with a contraption especially designed for the task.  Unlike the crew in Houston, we left the lines unswept.  Tight net, low 70s, little wind, water jug, large shade trees, new can, efficient warm up, the soft clay.  Brent has smooth shots, as we know, and is well practiced.  Got me running and my legs got heavy, got me thinking and I had mental breakdowns, hit my serves back for winners.  In the end, had a number higher than my most optimistic hope and a number better than the 3-17 beat down King James put on Keck two mornings prior.  21 games into our first Isner Match and I'm down 6-15.  All this recent tennis, from attending the U.S. Clay Court Championships in Houston to my continuing tennis schedule, naturally got me thinking of KOtC7 preparations. 
    
     King Foster, the unexpected King, should return.  His protégée, Prince, won the same amount of games in the afternoon King division of KOtC6.  They tied 5-5 in their mahut, eliminating the first tiebreaker.  Initially, King Foster insisted the throne be given to Prince, but that idea was abandoned when Keck, the Tournament Administrator, determined that total games from the morning mahuts was the 2nd tiebreaker.  Brilliant.  Consulting the morning brackets indicated King Foster with one more game than Prince.  Every game counting is at the core of the Isner Scoring Method.  My 1-9 result against Prince in the morning mattered.  A game is a game.  For literary effect I was secretly hoping for a King Prince in KOtC6, but it was not to be.  Hopefully, Prince will be back too, after a year of Collin College training.  He is a physically gifted and talented player.  From Klien, near Houston.  Ultimately, royalty, any worthy royalty anyway, hates to lose. That will determine the fate of all players.  Not in an unhealthy way, understand, just a simmering distaste.  This hate can lead to actions that decrease the odds of losing including:  practice, training, professional instruction, rest, creative expressions, and equipment adjustments.  Can be anything, but it is clearly self motivated.  This hate can also lead to actions that increase the odds of losing including: frustration, quitting, cussing, pouting, drinking, and equipment destruction.  Self control of mind, body, and tennis spirit.  Swing to swing, point to point, game to game, mahut to mahut.  We are gathered here today to think through this thing called life.  Electric word, life, means forever, and that's a mighty long time.  Prince Mardy Feldman, brother of King The Todd, should return if his schedule allows.  He fishes in far away oceans, he drives race cars, he has people.  Duke Keck, who also serves as Tournament Administrator, will return, of course.  His recent callout to Allen Civic Leader and Tennis Ambassador, Justin Quest, for an acceptable summer date will set in motion a series of actions, culminating in the tournament and crowning of royalty.  Earl Joe Vita served his time well.  Newspaper articles and ads, Golden Circle recognition for his professional efforts, trips to New York, multiple trips to Hawaii.  He also protected a 70 year old man from a dangerous raging drunk at Tupps Brewery.  His loud and repeated verbal assaults of "sit down and shut up!" was all he needed.  Royal as ever.  His desent to the Earl after serving as the Duke was, no doubt, humbling.  But the life of an a Earl is good.  The common royal.  Like the 10 of hearts in a Royal straight flush.  He' ll be back unless unavoidable conflicts arise. 
    

     The invitations will be sent in due time.  All the former Kings:  King Foster, King Stone, King The Todd, and King James.  In time for preparations, better come in shape.  Avoid the Jack Sock at any cost.  Hydrate and live simply.  Should have saw that coming.  Juan Monaco came to play in Houston.  Coach Vita noticed it after the Quarters.  Keck favored Monaco all along.  His Aggasian strategy of running the American Sock ragged in the finals paid off.  Perhaps it was only a coincidence that Brad Gilbert, former coach of Andre Aggasi, was seen with Juan Monaco during the tournament.  We can only speculate, as the busy Gilbert seemed everywhere--pictures with Bush41 in the club, at the USTA booth discussing windows of opportunity and the next great player, on TV.  Dig his hat.  He seems the modern day Bud Collins, another that has departed here.  Probably all on Merle's Silver Wings.  Merle, Bud Collins, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, and Bowie.  To glory, because they left their glories behind.  Ahh yes, the clay got me thinking.  Tennis is peace, even when doves cry.

Rainout Beers

     
     like cats it came down.  the October rain was relentless and loud as we sat on the two rows patio in Allen, Texas.  no tennis this night, just some rainout beers with keck and billy vita.  just as well.  we were all in some state of chaos, confusion, or discernment.  keck and his recent brush with tennis humility.  max King had destroyed him.  6-1, 6-0 old style scoring method.  his credentials were discovered only later and included professional status and bent tree certifications.  keck was talking about this guy's game, just better and smarter.  and he was older.  max King was 55, keck estimated.  always pushing forward, always putting shots away at the net.  and spin, and drop shots, and extreme angles.  his was not a game we knew.  and we knew.  keck promised to start working on his net game and asked billy and I for our best pointers.  somehow, I had been blessed with quick feet and soft hands.  once I learned to take a final hop and set myself before my opponent hit an attempt at a passing shot, net play had come easy.  the punch, developed early, and constant forward play only enhanced my ability to win matches.  the kramarian approach, as I've only since discovered.  my advice to keck was just that.  mainly, encouragement was what he needed. being on the losing side of our last mahut, the spur mahut, must have been on his mind as well.  the rainout likely saved me from a wrath.  a keck tennis wrath.  I was happy we were drinking rainout beers instead.  the patio was nice and dry.  the air was cool, but muggy.  the beer menu included Tupps northbound 75, but they were out.  inquiring further, the nice young, smiling, waitress mentioned something about updating the beer menu on which Tupps would not be included.  offended slightly, I politely ordered a dos xx because it was Mexican night.  This was the wednesday before hurricane patricia had everyone worrying and praying for the mexicans and non-mexicans on the mexican west coast.  a dos xx seemed appropriate.  was more offended when she asked me if I knew of tupps, "a little brewery in mckinney."   keck loudly mentioned the sticker on his car.  I said something about swaying California brown and iron art.  where is the loyalty?  updating your beer menu?  from then on, I ordered what keck ordered.  it was all good.  and the waitress was forgiven, especially after she informed us she was not of drinking age, she had never been to Tupps.  she had never seen Chris day's iron.  she had never tasted the black.  delicious.
     Billy's net game advice was more in depth.  I learned a lot sitting at that table.  always go for the center of the net.  the odds are greater.  the angles much better.  and the deep approach of course.  middle, side, either way, just keep the approach deep. he explained in detail the lead up to the hop skip.  his instruction-filled mind and knowledge of the game was apparent.  he had spent time in a classroom, learning from the tennis masters of Philadelphia.  he had learned the game at another level.  he has wisdom to impart.  he watches the tennis channel all day long as he takes conference calls and strings racquets.  cutting edge in everything, especially new technologies.  he is our coach.  but, he had more important and relevant matters on his mind.  his mother-in -law, Bernadette, was in poor health, lung cancer, and her passing, and likely continuing, seemed near.  prayer for the Irish Bernadette, and her family, especially sweet Mary.  lord, be with her.  billy vaped and drank and detailed for keck a net game strategy.  this temporary diversion was healthy for him, knowing the stoicism to come.  obliged or compelled, all will know.
     my own tennis humility came just a week prior.  at the racquet of billy himself.  I had played well and it didn't matter.  billy broke through.  we had at least 40 deuces in our 20 game mahut.  it went on and on. in the end, billy won more important points and left me trounced, 7-13.  some proactive coaching advice from earlier in the day had me thinking about the psychology of it all.  it is a dangerous place to lurk, but it is required to keep up with the likes of billy vita or his brother Joe or keck or Frank Friday or any tennis royal from the past.  perhaps even one day, max King.  point to point, hour to hour, day to day, year to year.  time will stop if we let it.  it will go away, and shall.  his return of serve has made obvious improvement and his serve is a controlled weapon. his advice was appreciated as KOtC6 was only a month out.  playing as a royal will be new.  this could be it unless I can win again.  perhaps Duke is a possibility this time.  the field may have thinned out.  the likes of King stone, King the Todd, and King james are missing due to other conflicts, some USTA sectional type of sanctification.  and, in King James' case, a road trip to see the once-promising cowboys play the buccaneers in Tampa.  King the Todd sent his brother Marty in his stead, a friend to the Isner methodology and culture. Serving as teammate and coordinator and coach of the Blowfish, we teamed up earlier in the year, along with King the Todd and others, to claim the revered fries cup.  Prince fess is a definite threat to all and everything, he is a determined fighter and hater of evil.  an Earl to Duke ascention would be noteworthy, but it will take big game.  and billy vita wants the Duke.
     all who participated in kotc4 remember last November.  all were witness.  the sad sight of keck worrying about the rain and the dry 5 hour window that followed.  Huffman, driving in from grapevine hardly able to see, having faith in tennis.  Vito, Roy, Berco, Fosters, a Dane and Luu too.  many are chasing royalty, but only four will emerge, all led by the King Of The Court.  don't expect rainout beers, there is no cancellation plan.  the beers wait for after.  At Tupps, of course.  A little brewery in McKinney.  Mahut!!!

The Tennis Underground

    
    in memory of a memorable tennis player, The Fries Cup.  evidently, this guy was quiet a fellow.  his unexpected passing from cancer in his late-ish forties was a cruel demonstration of satan's work.  many, if not everybody, at the event had been impacted personally by this killer.  the cancer fight continues.  and there is victory on both sides, this battleground of our lives.  the war was won long ago.  the destruction and decay we see daily is only the devil's sour grapes.  the builders keep building.  the encouragers keep encouraging.  the war is won.

     tennis folks were all around.  this academy in frisco.  passed right by as I arrived in the morning, it so perfectly compliments the neighborhood.  a tight fit, no chance for indoor courts now.  just play in the mist and train in the rain.  many prodigies.  drills and drills and drills.  didn't see a backboard, but surely there is one.  a small pool, a boutique, rooms of cardio, rooms of weights.  places for private talks, a large entertainment room, flat screens playing u.s. open reruns.  Serena smashing forehands, then later, Novak sliding on the hard court.  his ankles will hurt when he gets old.


     the arrival was a flurry, knowing no one and getting familiar with the place.  walked around like I belonged.  checked in at the registration table, staffed with smiling young ladies scribbling check marks on stapled pages and offering each player an appreciation gift.  Payment was made and change back was refused, give it to the pink fight.  color coordinated teams were all around, which allowed me the opportunity to seek out and introduce myself to the grey wearing Blowfish team.  each of them was nice and courteous.  I quickly checked in with Marty Feldman, older brother of King The Todd, and obvious instigator and insurer of this event.  he was everywhere, carrying bottles of water, behind the scenes, helpful.  The Todd is known by all, even though this is not his home club.  Said hey to Huffman, a King division player in KOtC.  Prince Fess was spotted playing for another team.  He was a title sponsor, complete with a sign on the showcase court.  He knew this Fries guy, as did a few others I spoke with.  an endearing and chatty player, 'not in a bad way, but a funny way, always making little comments.'  His death was a shock just the year before.  Quick and unforgiving.  Esophagus.  A huge poster was displayed with many pink tennis ball stickers full of written prayers and names of loved ones that have battled.  and all battled successfully.  For to battle is to win.  Everlasting life is as good as it seems.


     The format was 4.0 doubles for me.  Three 8 game prosets, no ad.  Each played with a different grey shirt partner.  First match, played with Blake, a member and a very solid player.  A huge backhand and solid serve.  Tall and smooth, and consistent.  Later, he lamented his 'bad knees' and I sensed that as a younger player he was an ace.  Easy going and friendly, we got along right away.  We won our first match 8-2.  Next, I was paired with David.  A player with no second serve, which I admired greatly.  first serves only.  blast after blast after blast.  he was very competitive and focused.  Although we both waited over two hours for our match, we defeated our opponents 8-5 in a highly contested match.  Finally, late in the afternoon, teamed up with Rich to defeat a father son duo in red 8-6.  The young one, 18 or so, seemed put out to be there.  He was easily frustrated, but evidence of a once emerging game was apparent.  his dad later confided, over beers, that his frustrations could have been due to the realization of lost dreams.  Rich was a solid player and fine fellow.  a bit older, sporting ray bans, and a money return of serve on the forehand side.  Going 3-0 in my matches left me feeling like I pulled my weight for the Blowfish team.  Finding out later that our team won the Fries Cup when all the #'s were counted made me even more satisfied.  winning is always better than losing.  points, games, prosets, mahuts, royal titles.  the Earl of Nantucket is on a roll.  it will end, as it does for everyone.  Nadal knows.  McEnroe too, although he is still destroying the likes of Courier, Chang, and James Blake in the master's league.  But, Roddick still has his number.  Along with Isner, he is our only post- Sampras American tennis hero.  the 2002 u.s. open was important to Americans for obvious reasons given the events in New York the year before.  Roddick showed up!


     throughout the day, on the court and on the large porch containing all the idle players, I was asked about where I played out of or which club I was from.  searched for appropriate answers all day.  joining a place never occurred to me.  I have opponents at the ready.  courts are plentiful and accommodating, day or night.  KOtC is established and played twice a year.  Keck and i have Wednesday on the schedule.  Bill Vita same thing with Saturday morning.  Periodic Joe Vita mahuts.  T-Roy.  Bobby.  I stammered and searched for responses.  "I don't really play out of anywhere" to "play around town here and there" to "with some dudes" to "eagles landing" to "public tennis" to " I used to belong to eldorado" to "I might join eldorado" to "the tennis underground", which I stuck with. 

    the idle time, inevitable when 150 players show up to fight the hated cancer, led to significant socializing and drinking time.  I met many fine people.  Bill, who stretched out a wobbly knee with huge leg kicks.  Gil, the old man of our father/son duo, who was in a similar business and knew the Forts of mckinney.  another dude, who told me the story of Doug Fries.  He had tears in his eyes.  Everyone was nice.  Even the SMU tennis team was nice, despite sitting at the same table looking like hired assassins early on.  they loosened up and were scattered throughout the draw, playing for different teams.  they put on a show.  one got hit right in the kisser.  yes, that kisser. poor dude laid on the court for a few minutes, withering in pain.  there was a large crowd gathered.  the oooohhs, the laughs, the awwwws.  he was a good sport and waved to the crowd as he limped to the changeover bench.  the mustangs have a chance to make some noise this year.  poise, empathy, and the look of winners.  other former college players were there.  they reminded everyone of our place.  there is another level and another and another after that.  for now, we play tennis.  Mahut!!


Thirsty For The Throne

   
    Considering the KOtC5 draw, I immediately plotted my path to royalty.  The Earl, the common royal, seemed my only potential place.  Only 2 years ago, during the first KOtC, I was firmly in the thick of things for the Prince title.  Then the famous Leo Escario, the marathon runner, proud son of The Philippines, and owner of a permanent smile, outlasted me for the first KOtC Prince title in what I thought was going to be my last mahut on earth.  It was hot.  Death was at my doorstep.  My family was watching and the air was dizzy.  Heat exhaustion, hell, heat stroke, seemed inevitable.  Really, it would’ve been a good way to go, but our good God kept me around.  That was my chance and Leo slammed the gate, pulled up the bridge from the mote, and lifted the Prince prize.  Since then, its’ been a series of defeats, disappointments, a Frank Friday destruction of the KOtC establishment, and a back spasm roddick in KOtC3.  Only an 8-2 mahut win over Keck in KOtC4 serves as a highlight.  King James has gone royal, King The Todd of course, Keck and Joe have tasted the Duke title.  With Huffman, a tireless tennis warrior, Prince Coronado, a trendy pick for King, and Dayton Hancock, an Eagle returning to his tennis nest after college tuning, my morning draw is loaded and clearly the Earl is my most likely path to royal.   

     The quality of the overall KOtC field has continued to improve tournament after tournament.  Even now, even with the absence of King The Todd and the internationally famous J.D. Miles, we begin with the finest KOtC field ever.  There is King James, the dignified 2-time King who is always thirsty for the throne.  The possible return of JET to the Mavericks has him especially motivated.  His acceptance of Dirk’s new role as 6th man ushers in a new hope.  Hope for things to come.  The hopeful King.  He’ll have to play well early and avoid his notorious loose starts to put himself in position for the afternoon.  His morning draw is loaded with dangerous players.  Joe Vita is no joke.  He is back from Hawaii.  He is tan and rested.  He is the face of KOtC and always a threat.  This Jonathan Wraith person is a huge South African.  Tall and lanky, uncoiled rockets for serves.  Like fellow South African Kevin Anderson almost, who just took Novak to the 5 set brink at Wimbledon.  Nice fellow, that Anderson.   Along with King The Todd, Keck and I hung out with him a bit in Houston at the U.S. Clay Court Championships, eventually won by American Jack Sock.  He’s almost too nice to break into the world top 5, or Top 10 even, but he is talented.  Talks with a lisp.  Wraith kinda looks like him.  Rounding out King James’ early draw is Berco Neiman, a first time unknown to Isner tennis culture.  A true X factor.  Despite these obstacles, King James is likely to advance to the King division in the afternoon.  He will have plenty of nutrients and water, his KOtC experience will give him the edge over the newcomers and he just has too much game for Joe. 

    Despite King James’ accomplishments and preparations, first timer Jeremy Stone comes into the tournament as the favorite.  His reputation precedes him.  Machine-like and smart, tireless and deadly, unforgiving and quick, experienced and indestructible.  He should cruise into the afternoon King division.  Word has it that Eli Yaremenko is highly competitive, but probably a better bet for Prince this time around, like Prince Coronado this past Fall.  Frank Friday could derail Stone if some physical altercation breaks out over disputed line calls.  This is unlikely.  Frank’s intimidation tactics are deliberate and he is in control at all times, but perhaps he can bait Stone and pull off a miracle.  We haven’t discussed a fighting policy, but we are big advocates for peace—just for the record.  Flash flooding, tropical storms, and hurricanes will not keep Frank away after over-reacting to weather conditions in KOtC4.  He heard the whispers regarding his roddick and carries a chip.  Too much Delkus, too much USTA.  He’s never attended a KOtC where he did not go royal, claiming Prince in KOtC2 and Earl in KOtC3.  I want no part of Frank Friday.  Current Earl Vito could make a run for Duke or meet me in the afternoon.  He will be tough, but perhaps 6 months of living royal has made him vulnerable.  Maybe there is an opportunity.  Maybe he has rested on his royal butt a little more than normal.  Vito has what I want.  This could get ugly.

     The most intrigue and mystery is reserved for the final morning group.  Nick Pena, another collegiate player and returning Eagle, on his most familiar courts.  If it’s the dude I remember, he was slightly better than Dayton.  But that was years ago.  I remember the Saturday morning doubles match, where Keck and I took them to the edge before eventually losing our mahut 4-6 to the Allen Eagles #1 doubles team.  Coach Quest had sent them down to play Keck and I after their normal workout.  If memory serves, which it doesn’t always these days, Keck had some late serving issues and performed weakly at the net.  It was all his fault.  I believe that’s how it went down.  He smashed an electrical box with his racquet and screamed the loudest F-bomb ever heard.  A few parents of young children came by and voiced their displeasure with his profanity, but he cussed them off the court too, fire in his German eyes.  Like Boris Becker or Stephie Graf or something.  I’ve been leery of him since, but still maintain good relations off the court.  He took it tough, but Dayton and Nick are now college players, almost validating our loss and making it seem more acceptable.  Joining Nick is Chris Fess, of which nothing is known, Duke Keck, and Bill Vita.  Keck’s story is well documented and his royal credentials established in KOtC4.  Billy Vita, bonafide and certified by the Philadelphia School of Italian Tennis Professionals, is the wildcard.  Just recently, he tied his brother, and lifelong superior player, Joe 10-10 in a 20 game mahut.  His game is on the rise, enhanced by Karate-like maneuvers, a new stringer,  and his tremendous knowledge of the game.  In all honesty, I hope he makes it into the Duke division.  If he claimed the Earl, my depression would be complete and prolonged.


     Survival is only temporary.  One day we will all succumb.  For now, we play tennis.  Mahut!!!    

Red Clay And Jack Sock

   Riding home with King The Todd, hearing of his philosophies on tennis and his thoughts on peace, I felt like the 2 day trip to attend the men's u.s. clay court championships in Houston was about a bit more than just tennis.  Discussions with Keck and the King about zoning laws, European developments, Nugrape, class distinctions, dress codes, the tsunami, seating charts, USTA appreciation day, court conditions, 6 cylinders, the father of Texas, Arabian mansions, warm up routines, shades, house cab, ACC Women's soccer, westheimer street, cans of Mexican beer, bulldogs, wedding expenditures, burned outs, real eggs, weather forecasts, walk a bouts, clay court colors, player incomes, courtesy cars, parking schemes, modern fabrics, apps, serve speeds, rare infections, Adidas, Santa Fe, riff raff, airport proximity, financial advisers,  Houston confusion, cantinas, garland, schlotzkys, motivations of religion, eternal life and ever expanding space.....

     The dark red clay courts at the River Oaks Country Club were in good condition when we arrived.  After initially finding ourselves at a poolside women's fashion show luncheon, we made our way over to the main court.  It was early, and play had not started.  The big draw board and a beer garden were under the huge live oaks outside the stadium.  The Club has hosted the event since 1991.  Past champions include American players Andre Agassi, Richey Reneberg, John Isner, and Andy Roddick.  Former President George H.W. Bush attends the event every year.  Right away it was evident the event was about much more than tennis for a large portion of the attendees.  The class separation was intentional.  I felt somehow elevated by the culture, like I belonged and was wanted.  Treated like a member, the run of the place.  Peaceful.  The players were just walking by.  Frenchman Jeremy Chardy was running laps prior to his epic 3 set match with South African Kevin Anderson and I was able to give applause and encouragement.  As King The Todd was napping in the grass under a shade tree, Teymuraz Gabashvili was stretching outside the players area after his greatest ever doubles win preparing for a singles match with the 6'9" Isner the same evening when Keck approached him.  "You go by the name Tsunami, right?", he asked as he congratulated him on the victory over the vaunted Bryan Brothers, six time winners of the event and bonafide legends.
     "Not anymore", he said in low European tones, "But I could use some tsunami against Isner tonight."  He would go on to win that match, wrapping up a lucrative day of professional tennis.  In money and points.  The defending champion Verdasco took him out in the singles Quarterfinals, but he would go on to win the doubles title with Ricardas Berankis.
 
     Perhaps the most noteworthy singles match we watched was our first, Jack Sock vs the #2 seed, Juan Bautista-Agut.  After warming up outside the stadium by tossing footballs around with his coach, Sock destroyed the vaunted clay court expert with massive serves and an incredible forehand.  Agut never had a chance.  Despite some sloppiness, it was clear Sock has the game for the top 10.  Hearing of the adversity he and his family had overcome the previous year cemented our admiration as we continually seek the next great American player.  Roddick was the last.  A favored American tennis son, especially after his 2002 u.s.. Open win exactly a year after 9/11.  Those bastards.  Since then, only a string of unfulfilled American potential as Federer, Nadal, Novak, and Murray took over.  Others, including Warwrinka, Berdych, Tsonga, and Ferrer were the persistent 2nd tier.  The 4th tier was where an American could be found.  James Blake, John Isner, Sam Querry, Steve Johnson, or Mardy Fish.  Gamers at points in the careers, but never a break through.  Only Isner's historic five set Wimbledon match against Mahut sticks out, and he lost in the next round.  Exhausted, but a legend. Now, the emerging wave includes Nikoshori, Dimitrov, Raonic, a couple of Australians, Anderson, and maybe, just maybe, American Jack Sock.  At last report he had reached the finals against Querry, which will be broadcast on the tennis channel this afternoon.  Tough time slot, up against the final round of the Masters.  It will be re run and I'll record it for sure.
   
     All this really inspires KOtC5 preparations.  Keck has already received inquiries, court logistics are coming together in partnership with Justin Quest, King The Todd's early summer schedule is known.  July 11 seems the likely tentative date.  My health is adequate.  Foot feels really fine since customized insoles were utilized.  Back cleared up too.  Only a recent elbow injury has me concerned, the victim of a huge Joe Vita forehand in a recent 9-11 mahut loss.  He hits a heavy shot.  Adoption of a two handed backhand and ice treatment should help.  It will not threaten my appearance in the tournament.  Tempted to compromise my goals and maneuver for the Earl crown, I continue to shoot for the Duke.  I see how Duke Keck is treated.  I saw how Duke Vita was beloved.  Leo, of course, held the Duke title at one point.  It is a realistic goal, especially since Keck is having his best tennis year ever and has his eyes on the Prince.  The Duke could be wide open this summer.  The field is shaping up.  Can former King James capture the crown and continue the pattern of trading the throne with King The Todd?  Will Frank Friday show up?  Billy Vita maybe?  The regulars will be there.  Sellers and his dog.  Keck has scouted the downtown Plano Austrian eatery, Jorgs, for post tournament festivities.  Rain is very unlikely.  J.d. Miles should return, but the USTA players can be unreliable.  They are buttered up with appreciation lunches and free bags.  As we walked quickly to King The Todd's car after the Friday early session rainout, his lifetime USTA membership served him well.  The folded bag kept him dry, while keck and I just absorbed the drops.  As we wound our way through the mansions, the ones that kings, and queens, and presidents live in, we felt the connection.  We knew we were supposed to see what we saw.  We knew we were supposed to be disappointed with the uncontrollable rain out.  We knew our patience would be tested in the crazy Houston traffic.  It was good to leave, to return to the northern part of Texas.  We will avoid sugar and further the peace movement.  We will cheer for Jack Sock.  Come on man, America needs you.

Five Hour Window


     The wreckage of KOtC4 is just being swept off the pavement.  Traffic was jammed for miles.  But no one gets through before the King.  Re-introducing--King The Todd.  In a test of resolve, faith, and understanding, King The Todd slid the best on the wet surface, King The Todd ignored the wind and hit the most perfect shots, King The Todd broke the will of even the finest competitors.  Cushman The Kid, wanted another shot at him from the morning session but had his own battle in the Duke division, where the tournament administrator, and co-founder of the Isner Scoring Method, became a royal.  That's right, Duke Keck.  The Prince was claimed by the mysterious Mir sub, Victor Coronado.  A seemingly proud man, he'll be an honorable Prince, but he clearly has his eye on the throne.  Prince Coronado will get his chance at King The Todd in the summer KOtC5.  Bulldog Bobby saw his game firsthand as he clawed his way into the Prince division.  His demo days are over.   Vito Nyguyn claimed the Earl from Leo Escario after an epic, and historic, 20 game winner take all mahut.  The Royal Escario no more, his familiar cackle and grit, his marathonian conditioning.  Nope, it's Vito The Earl.  This royal court, in perhaps the finest field ever assembled, on perhaps the severest court conditions possible, endured.  They showed.  King The Todd, Prince Victor Coronado, Duke Keck, and Vito The Earl.  They are royal.

     The early morning hour was dreary, Keck ignoring forecasters predicting 100% chance of rain and trusting Delkus, who foresaw a 5 hour window of dry conditions weirdly aligned directly with our tournament time frame.  All the players must have thought Keck mad when he sent out the prearranged, early morning green light.  A pouring rain was covering the whole metroplex at that point. Frank Friday roddicked, which seemed a reasonable thing to do, but surprising from him.  He was the only one.  Player by player they showed, leery to be sure, but inspired by the faith of the tournament administrator.  When King James instructed everyone to ditch the squeegees and get used to the footing, KOtC4 was bonafide.  The overcast skies lit a bit, the wind picked up and partially dried the courts.  The rain had stopped.  There was trepidation, there was doubt, there was suggestions, there was anxiety.  Puddles were still all over, it was slick!  Reports of massive USTA event cancellations and alterations only added to the whispers and mumbling.  Keck understanding the significance of the moment, called the group together, explained the format for the benefit of new players, and officially started the morning session of KOtC4.  Rain came and went a few times, but progressively the weather improved.  The sun even peeked though briefly.  It was almost muggy as the players shed the pullovers and got down to business.

     Because my morning group had an unsubbed roddick, I had a chance to check out the early action.  Usually, idle time is very minimal during the event, but unavoidable in this scenario.  The players were clearly adjusting to the footing.  Deliberate ground strokes and patient footwork overcame the conditions and points were being wildly contested.  King James was playing Sellers, who had his menacing dog chained to the net post.  King James was dominating, but Sellers was scrappy and took a game as I watched.  He got to everything and kept the pressure on with slicing shots of varying distance.  His dog growled and whined.  King James seemed vulnerable, perhaps a foreshadowing of the events to follow in the afternoon King Division.  New player JD Miles took King James down 6-4 in the afternoon before calling it a day at 1-6 in his mahut with King The Todd.  He then sped off in his sports car, cursing at the King and promising revenge.  New player Huffman rounded out the King Division in the finest field ever assembled for the format.  Incredibly, he went off to play more tennis, indoors of course, after KOtC.  He expressed shock at the 5 hour window.  Later, at the post tournament drinking table, Sellers had incorporated Isner terminology with complete understanding, commoner James predicted we burned 5000 calories, and Duke Keck continued to preach and explain the benefits of the format.  Sellers even had suggestions for improvement.  Almost Prince Bobby moved slower after some idle time and my back and plantar fascia needed a hot tub.  King The Todd, on his own, implemented the even game changeover.  A kaizenian spirit.  He'll go to the Southern Hemisphere early next year and learn from Australians and New Zealanders.  He will leave them with well wishes and peace.  A King for the good times.

   Due to the Frank Friday roddick, my morning group only had 3 players.  The flexibility of the format automatically adjusts to this eventuality by not sending anyone to fight for the Earl in the afternoon.  I was grouped with two former college players, Kirsch and Huffman.  Both new to the format, I felt an obligation to explain some of the nuances and benefits.  They looked at me somewhat strangely, but I knew they would know later.  It must be experienced for true understanding.  I went 3-7 against both. The huge German Kirsch hitting backhands from extreme angles and the relentless Huffman hitting nonreturnable serves.  His game was too much for Kirsch too as he destroyed him 8-2.  As they were playing each other I asked the score.  "0-6," bellowed Kirsch as he pointed at Huffman.  They looked at me strangely again as I explained the moulette.  To remind:  moulette is the French word for skunk and is incorporated as ISM terminology in honor of the Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, one of the survivors of the incredible 2010 Wimbledon match that went on for days, when the American John Isner finally won the 5th set 70-68.  Overall, I was pleased with my play and understood my place in the tennis galaxy. The Duke was highly contested.  Up 4-1 on Joe Vita, he came back and been me 6-4 in our mahut.  I fell apart after he complimented my play.  Keck, noticeably motivated, took me down 7-3 and Cushman The Kid made me feel my age in front of his mom.  Keck's destruction of Joe and the Kid made it official--Keck was royal.  His early morning leadership and optimism only solidified his worthiness.  As he sat drinking Newcastles at the post tournament gathering he was beaming.  By that time the skies released the promised heavy rain.  It was like God had affirmed our influence on the tennis culture.  First time players were amazed.  And understood.  Mardy Feldman, who roddicked for unavoidable reasons, had clearly succumbed to the pressure of USTA sanctioned play. But 'cancelled play due to the treat of rain' was what he got.  His feeble last minute offer to step in for Frank Friday was too late. 

Heavy Air


   Being put in charge of trophies for King Of the Court 4 is a massive responsibility and a massive challenge.  Previously, the standard had been raised and the trophies I devised for KOtC1 seemed inadequate.  Keck told me his expectations were high and that I must deliver.  Like the future of the tournament, and possibly the sport of tennis, was at stake.  I felt the full weight of his trust and finally settled on my plan.  Possibly the most coveted, certainly the most valuable, and absolutely appropriate.  Their unveiling at the check in card table will inspire the field.  The best field to date.  16 players ready and committed.  2 Isner round robin sessions, 6 opponents each, 60 total games each.  For the tournament, 96 total mahuts, 960 total games, a King, a Prince, a Duke, and an Earl.  All in about 5 hours.  The trophies must be nice and significant, and will be.
     Do not envy Keck.  Yes, he is an incredible tennis artist.  Yes, he knows Billie Jean King.  Yes, he is a metal head.  Yes, he no longer has to be a cowboy fan.  But save your envy.  Keck is in charge of assessing weather conditions for KOtC4, and will ultimately decide to postpone or play through the elements.  It is 6:30 am now.  Surely he is up, walking the streets of his neighborhood, kicking the pavement with his backup pair of tennis shoes, listening for the right squeak.  It is a huge burden and the ramifications of his actions will reverberate and reverberate.  The second guessers.  The know it alls.  The Delkus wanna Bes.  He will make the right call, either way, after anguish and woe.  In this he must be trusted, not envied.
     Overcoming the usual dropouts, we will move forward.  An impressive self replacement culture has evolved.  The Todd's brother, Mardy, and Mir both getting subs when unavoidable events required them to roddick.  The kid from last year replaced by a new kid.  Organic ethics are developing.  Keck's communication processes, the familiar "Mahut!" as the server begins each mahut, the determination to continuously adjust the format.  This year we could try the even game changeover.  Or possibly the 5 game changeover.  Talk of a royal doubles finale mahut pitting the King and Earl vs. the Prince and Duke is likely too ambitious.  The crowds would love it, but the players might revolt.  Best to keep the focus on the tennis, not the crowds.
     The mist is covering everything.  It is strangely muggy.  Steady rains and lightening are a 100% certainty if weather professionals are believed.  Clouds and fog of pure vapor are all over as the sun is giving glow to the overcast sky.  Heavy air.  It will be a tough call for Keck, but I wanna slide like Novak, I wanna serve the spitball, I wanna fight like Isner, I wanna be the King!  In truth, I'd be thrilled to be the Duke and proud to be the Earl.  Just wanna be a royal.

The Wilson Hope

    The winds blow wild in Wylie.  Always.  The 4 courts are set on a hill, enclosed by a single fence.  One side has no windscreens and the ones loosely attached along the remaining sides hiss and howl when it gets breezy.  Halfway between Rockwall and McKinney it's proximity was ideal for a Saturday morning Isner Roundrobin.  Joe was already there when Keck and I drove up around 7:45 am.  Bobby arrived a bit later and we got loose.  Because we knew 40 games awaited us, the warm up was brief and we spun racquets quickly.  2 up, 2 down and the pairings were clear.  Keck and I, Joe and Bobby.  The format calls for a 10 game mahut against each player, with #1 and #4 playing #2 and #3 in a 10 game doubles mahut to finish it off.  The first 30 games replicates a morning or afternoon KOtC session.

     Predictably, Keck took first.  Bobby and I battled for #2 and at deuce in the final game of our mahut, our 30th game of the morning,  it was still undecided.  Exhausted, I fought off the swirling winds, kept my toss low, and served it out.  Bulldog Bobby is always tough.  Our 5-5 finish left him #3 after Keck destroyed Joe 9-1.  Despite Joe's 6-4 win over Bobby and a never say die 4-6 loss to me, his final mahut destined him to #4. My Wilson Hope racquet was wobbling at the handle.  It's bent frame was noticeably warping the head.  Factory strings, strung at about 51 it seemed.  I had played great with this racquet and was reluctant to make a change.  Two of my racquets are getting fresh strings for KOtC, but for now, I was playing confident with the white and pink Hope.  They'll cure that cancer one day.  For now, keep on walking across the city.  Keep on being pink.  Joe was blasting forehands, mostly out, Keck was hanging in every point and keeping the pressure on.  His intolerance and disgust of mistakes is a powerful weapon.  Bobby has really gotten to another level.  His results are clear.  My serve was maddening all day but eventually put me at #2.  Double fault mumbling.  The unkind tape.  Bobby and I tied Joe and Keck 5-5 in doubles, with every point contested to the maximum.  Thought about the Lone Survivor movie, the true story of 4 Navy Seals in Afghanistan.  Markey Mark stars in it.  Incredible story of people who always see a way to win. Serving, but down 1-3, 15-40 to Bobby, I thought of them.  We changed over at 2-3.  Only one survived.  Remember them on Veterans Day.  11/11.  God's Will, amen. 

Chicken Wire


     The courts were brand new.  Possibly, we were the first to ever play on them.  We were bringing high level tennis to Spur, Texas.  Now they had the facilities.  Chicken wire was needed between the bottom of the fence and the court to prevent balls from rolling under, windscreens are mandatory in the west texas wind, and locking the side gate serves no purpose.  Also, the lights seemed insufficient for reasonable night play and the absence of a backboard was noted.  Still, despite these needed adjustments, the two electric blue on forest green courts was the nicest, and newest, construction project in town.  Somehow it put Spur in another category.  Keck an I had played on the old courts the previous two years during the annual tx.ou weekend gathering at Rio Blanco canyon.  They were older than old, neglected and sad.  Not played on for a decade, not stepped on for years, we took to them for 10 game mahuts.  That first year, I took Keck down 6-4, mainly due to an unstoppable inside out serve on the backhand side.  The drooping 2 and a half foot net only assured my victory that day.  Chunks of court would fly, we slid like we were on clay, shattered glass was all over, cracks plagued the courts badly.   Keck mauled me 8-2 the following year.  Vindication is one if his defining traits.  We showed up on the new courts excited and prepared after seeing them the day before on the way to the canyon.

    The turnstile was cleaned up and replaced to its original spot, the nets were brand new, the lines were perfect, thick and white.  The ball left incredible marks, the west texas red dirt providing perfect frames.  Like having laser beam technology.  I was obsessed with it, and impressed with a few of the calls that were made and validated by the marks.  Calling lines is like seeing visions.  Integrity and honor are required.  Tennis is a civilized game, dependent on the competitiveness and effort of each player.  After winning a few early games, Keck took control and won 7-3.  His forehand winners were deep and dove sharply inside the baseline, his swift feet were active, he kept the pressure on.  He became quickly disgusted at any error, he cussed missed first serves.  It was good to play fairly well.  4-6 was realistic and I had held out hope for 5-5 til he fought me off from love-30 in the 8th game to prevent a break.  As in years before, a small crowd watched from the porches and car ports that surrounded the area.  We recognized some of them from the years before.  They seemed proud to see us back, to see what they had built.  We hustled for drop shots, we screamed out in frustration, we moved from side to side.  We owed them our best.

     Preparations continue for King Of The Court 4.  A lot has happened.  Keck has met personally with Billie Jean King.  He has told her of the King Of The Court Tournament.  She was very impressed and, predictably, inquired about the girls.  The Queen Of The Court has already been discussed.  The format is the same with a Queen winner, a Princess, A Baroness, and a Countess.  We just lack the woman players, for now.  He also briefly met Andy Roddick.  All this happened in Austin at a convention of some sort.  Of course, keck was there with his wife on an unrelated matter.  The names are bigger than ever--Jeremy Strong, JD Miles, King The Todd, King James.  Mir is back.  Joe Vita, Leo Escario, Mardy Feldman too!  Frank Friday returns.  He and Leo have never missed being in the Royal Court.  Frank, first as Prince, then capturing the Earl in the summer.  Leo, going Prince, Earl, Duke in KOtC 1, 2,3 respectively.  Bobby Peirson is in again and Nielson returns after missing KOtC 3.  Another kid is playing after the previous kid went off to Shriner College to play for their tennis team.  He a student of Justin Quest and Jeremy Strong and the number one player on the Allen high team.  He could win the whole thing!  There are others.  Keck seems to be angling for the Duke, but will likely get in the Prince afternoon round.  My hope is to appear, healthy and loose.  Rugged preparations have given way to swimming routines and light drills.  One 20 game Mahut a week is all.  My roddick in KOtC 3 was humbling.  Watching from the fence line is not for me.  A tennis revival is  taking place.  The tennis channel has arrived.  In Spur and everywhere.

King The Todd

It was breezy with heavy air as the players began arriving for the 2nd King Of The Court (KOtC). Keck, the tournament administrator and co-founder of the Isner Scoring Method, supplied blue duct tape to secure the brackets to the cardboard registration table. Sixteen players would battle for the title of King of The Court and a few more would become members of the Royal Court. As the players gathered around the scoring table, I reflected on the group and was proud of their commitment and eager to see them in action. The first round draws, established by the competition committee, had been set for weeks. In the Wimbledon draw, there was King James, winner of the first KOtC tournament and favorite once again, Russell Fires, and huge man from the northern woods, Keck, tournament administrator and slayer of USTA 4.0 sandbaggers, and Sergio Oporto, former ranked Bolivian player. The US Open Draw contained Mike Zhuang, with mysterious spin shots, The Todd, who lost in the final to King James in the previous KOtC, Roy Albrecht, established USTA coach willing to try alternative formats, and Duke Chase Kahn, who looks similar to Novak Djokovic. In the French Open draw, Chris Nielsen, an unknown wildcard from the Courts of McKinney, Prince Leo Escario, the Filipino marathon runner, Rueben Decoud, with his incredible leather water bottle, and myself, looking to win the Prince title with a Kramarian game. Finally, the Australian Open draw contained Marty Feldman, known as brother of The Todd and former tennis pro, Frank Friday, an intense Tarrant county player, Earl Nick Keney, who supplied the trophies for the event, and Joe Vita, nursing a plantar fascia injury. Keck had secured the courts through his friend and buddy, Justin Quest, coach of the Allen High school team and recognizer of Isner tennis culture. Without his support and graciousness, the event would not be possible. Allen ISD should be proud of this man and his partnership into the broader tennis community should be applauded by all. His lighted, wind-screened courts are always open to the community, unlike his stingy counterparts in McKinney with their locks and hours of operation. Eagles Landing Tennis Courts, where Isner tennis culture thrives. Half the courts in the complex were undergoing resurfacing so Keck, the tournament administrator, made last minute arrangements to use two courts at the Freshman Center across the street. These courts were the very courts where Isner tennis culture was born, so we Roe-Sham-Boed for the opportunity for one of the draws to play on the hallowed courts. Once decided, the players dispersed and the 5 hour test of tennis gumption and guts began. Profuse sweating was not anticipated, but the unseasonably humid air was drawing fluids from everyone quickly. King James easily won the Wimbledon draw, The Todd took care of business as the US Open group returned from the Freshman courts, Chris Nielsen easily came out of the French Open draw with 2 moulettes, and The Todd's brother Marty Fledman dominated the Australian group with his complete game and despite a tight hamstring. Fighting for the Prince title in the second round was Keck, tournament administrator, Chase Kahn, looking to upgrade his royal status, myself, with a moulette of Prince Leo, and Frank Friday, who proved to have an intimidating game. The prospective Dukes were Sergio Oporto, Roy Albrecht, Rueben Decoud, and Joe Vita. Nick Keney was set to defend his Earl title along with Mr Fires, Mike Zhuang, and Leo Escario, who dedicated his efforts to the typhooned people of his homeland. After a quick rest, the second round began and the true rigor of Isner toughness and preparation was realized. Leo took the Earl title with a final tiebreaker against Nick Keney, who fought hard to keep his title. After the final point, Leo fell to his knees and looked up to heaven. He inspired all of us and prayers are lifted to the people of the islands. Your Earl won a battle as the future brings renewal and hope. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Joe Vita, your Duke. A Duke for the people and by the people. His game, altered to accommodate an injured plantar fascia, grounded in pace and enhanced by the latest tennis technology and fashions. He is regal, he is stoic, he is your Duke. The Prince is Frank Friday, who demoralized all of his opponents with intensity and desire. His memorable and loud celebrations after each victorious point are uncommon in the passive mainstream tennis culture. He truly represents the ideal Isner player. Never before had I head the loud "Out!, Yes!!!" as he called the lines. I was very impressed with his game. For the day he demolished me, Duke Vita, and Keck (the tournament administrator) 7-3 in each of our mahuts. The Tood and King James worked their way into the final to determine the throne. In a surreal development, Chris Nielsen and The Todd were opponents in the Minnesota junior tennis scene years prior. Only King Of The Court could bring these guys back together. The Todd had progressed a bit more since then and slipped by his old nemesis. He demoralized Marty, his older brother, and faced King James with a chance to take the title. King James breezed through all opponents with little effort and looked to be a lock to retain his throne. The Todd was, in fact, serving underhand due to a hockey injury and the odds seemed stacked against him. The final mahut was observed by an exhausted group of lesser players, including Prince Frank Friday and Duke Joe Vita. The stands were wild with 'We Will Rock You' foot stomps and claps. Marty, with his ailing hamstrings, heckled relentlessly. Keck, the tournament administrator, was beaming as it went to a tiebreaker, the success of the event evident to all. King James had mahut point and The Todd battled back. In the end, The Todd became King The Todd with a unflappable game and complete confidence. King James seemed to lose focus a time or two after losing mahut point and was classy in defeat. He handed over the royal bobblehead to King The Todd with a smile, although just below the surface a steaming regret was noticed by those who knew him well. The lost mahut point will haunt him, no doubt, but he will get another chance to sit upon the throne. King The Todd is a worthy king. As he strolled into the Londoner for post tournament beers and recollections, he looked like a King. At the outdoor table, he talked like a King. He told stories of points and strategy. He recalled moments of testing and games of will. The entire group was captivated by his every word. English ale flowed and flowed. I was honored to buy him his first beer, a New Castle. We sat there for hours. Marty, King The Todds big brother, kept ordering food and tentative plans were made to gather at Keck's for a card game. We wanted to hang around King The Todd all day and night. To understand his mind and game, his insistence that the underhanded serve was here to stay, his Kaizen thoughts on improvements to the format and next KOtC. The realities of the evening took over, however, and the needed players would not, could not, commit. King The Todd was up for it--only the commoners were spares

Dunlop And A Three

"Throw me high. Bend the back and turn the torso. Hit me at the top, just as I start coming down. Give me about a three foot clearance over the net on ground strokes, those net shots sting. To make me spin properly, you must flick the wrist and finish the swing. I will nail lines, slide low, kick up, and drop dead. All the manipulation you can execute. Newly opened and just burst from the controlled air. Swooooshhh, when the top was popped from the can, my sister and brother carrying the same label and number as me. Dunlop and a three. We were ready to provide for a spirited game of tennis. The opponents, Keck, who took us off the shelf and bought us and Gorman, who is known for frustrated whacks into the fence and irrational blasts into the nearby creek when really frustrated. Especially if you've become a just a little dead. I don't want to end up in some bird nest or sink to the bottom of some damn creek. He's not too bad, and seems to have mellowed with age. He does have Keck's backup racquet and got it restrung with modern German spin strings. It is fun to be hit by and gets me spinning easily. It could lead to a better mahut result for Gorman. If he can control his tennis anger and reduce his backswing. I'm getting soaked.........". The play continues in the cold, heavy air. The surface slippery with a puddle or two. After getting up 5-0, Keck was challenged a bit more. In the end, he won 11-9. A good pcr adjusted result for the loser. We pick it up with one of the Dunlop and a three brothers.".......what a mahut that was. They stuck with it and didn't blame us too much. Of course were gonna get a little heavy and wet. Lost a couple of cousins to a couple of tree blasts. It was their time. They were really dead. Maybe a dog will find them, a tough life, but active. If you can stand the slobber. I wouldn't' mind being on the end of a walker. Seen that in olds folks homes. Probably where I belong after this mahut. Those guys are serious. Every point. however, when they left, the just looked at us with disgust. They even cursed at us, calling us shit and saying we suck. I'm glad they left us. Hopefully, we'll get put into a big basket with a bunch of others. City living. Out of the trunks and garages. He just bought us today. I see my sister next to me at the net. Not sure about my brother, but last I saw he was sitting in a corner puddle. It should dry soon. Those guys were intense.

ISM

     To create the needed long suffering, serve intense, mind-bending tennis experience, I along with Jason Keck of Allen, Tx. developed the Isner Scoring Method (ISM). The match goes to whoever gets to 70 games, utilizing traditional deuce/advantage scoring to determine the winner of each game. It is played on a traditional tennis court, respecting the size, length, spacing, and height of the lines. The match can be played over days, weeks, months, years, or perhaps, a lifetime. Doesn't matter. What matters is John Isner, Nicolas Mahut, and the epic Wimbledon first round match they finally completed in the summer of 2010. To honor the beforementioned, but ultimately defeated Frenchman from the Parisian suburb town of Boulogne-Billancourt, each 10 game section of the match is referred to as a mahut. Serve is determined by a spin of a volunteer's racquet before each mahut. The other player indicates up or down. The winner serves. The loser gets to pick the side. This happens before every mahut. A mahut ending at 10-0 is called a moullette, the French word for skunk, again honoring Mahut with the inclusion of a French word. A change in sides happens after every odd game throughout the entire match. Each player is awarded two waivers of play (called roddicks) per match. A waiver of play allows the player to cancel a pre-scheduled meeting or call play before a mahut is complete. Injuries, unplanned (or planned) events, and weather qualify for waivers of play. Maintaining a log book is strongly encouraged (noting the general weather conditions, the score of each mahut, the combined Isner match score, and the physical and psychological state of each player). Water should be abundant and proactively shared. Warm ups for each meeting are limited to: 15 and can be reduced to any amount of time upon mutual agreement and may be skipped altogether. Each player should arrive for each meeting with two unbroken (strings included) racquets. Condition of the tennis balls is not monitored and each player is counted upon to deliver trustworthy line calling. There is no appeal process for line calls or scoring errors. The server is responsible for keeping score of each game.  The first player to reach 70 (do not need to win by two) shall receive 2 bottles of cold English-made beer from the other player. 

Kramerian Game

     Refinement of the Isner Scoring Method(ISM) is a continuous deliberation of incremental improvements over time.  Time, as we know it, has no end.  Therefore, this scoring method will be subjected to the American developed and Japanese implemented theory of Kaizen which is founded upon the principle of improvements implemented in a continuous cycle ad infinitum.  It is with this intent that two changes were made to the scoring method that significantly impacts isner tennis culture.
    
     First, the definition of a mahut has changed from 10 games to 15 games.  The benefits of this improvement are:  (1) increased physical exercise.  (2) quicker Isner matches.  (3) rewards stamina.  (4) elimination of mahut ties.  The change has also led to the increased importance of the pre-mahut racquet spin.  No longer is it an indifferent net gathering ceremony prior to play just to get started.  Going forward, its result will determine who serves 8 games and who serves 7.  This significant advantage, especially over time, can have an impact on PCR.  Keck has recently been seen practicing the toss and spin and volunteers at a higher rate since the inception of the 15 game mahut.  Perhaps this task should be rotated and standards set.  Another advantage of this change is the ability to break down each mahut in thirds to reflect, motivate, and strategize.  Going 4-1 in the final third of a mahut can make a 5-10 loser go home enthused and eager to play the next mahut.  The dejection of the opposite scenario is just as impactful.  Up 7-3, imagine the mindset of a player who goes on to lose every game of the final third of a mahut.  Not only loses the final 5 games, but loses the mahut itself 7-8.  The overall impact of the 15 game mahut format is profound.  The word corpse is now used to describe a mahut skunk, although the term moulette, formerly used to describe a 10 game mahut skunk, is still used within the context of the first 10 games (or two thirds) of a mahut.  To date, Keck has scored 3 moulettes, one against J. Vita and two against me, the most recent during a 15 game mahut that was close to the first ever corpse until I broke serve to make it 1-13.  Only two mahuts removed from my second ever mahut win against the man and I was fighting off a corpse.  Keck's recent dominate play has been greatly impacted by two things:  (1) drills and practice sessions with a certified coach, B. Vita. (2)  integration of wood racquets--vintage tennis.
    
     The next change in the scoring method involves the decleration that the first and seventh mahut of an isner match be played using a wooden racquet.  Modern grips are acceptable, but tension absorbers are not allowed.  The benefits of this improvement, known as vintage, are:  (1) the actual game of tennis is being played.  (2) promotes a focus on swing form and proper pace.  (3) reminds us all of a great American and 1947 Wimbledon singles champion, Jack Kramer.  As executive director and founder of ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals), the retired Kramer also led a principled and heroic boycott of Wimbledon in 1973 for the banning of Croatian player Nikola Pilic from the tournament.  Pilic had refused to play Davis Cup for his native land and was banned from international play.  The American Kramer could not support this draconian state-issued madate in the game of tennis.  That year Czech Jan Kordes defeated Russian Alex Metreveli for the tainted Wimbledon title. 
    
     Jack Kramer and and his game were described in the free encyclopedia this way:

     Tall and slim, he was the first world-class player to play "the Big Game", a consistent serve-and-volley game, in which he came to the net behind all of his serves, including the second serve.  He was particularly known for his powerful serve and forehand, as well as his ability to play "percentage tennis", which he learned from Cliff Roche, a retired Railroad Engineer, at the Los Angeles Tennis Club.  This strategy maximized his efforts on certain points and in certain games during the course of a match to increase his chances of winning. The key was to hold serve at all costs.

     Who would want Jack Kramer serving on the other end of the court, tied 7-7 in the final game of a mahut?  Inspired by my unpaid for Jack Kramer wooden racquet, the same kind I had played with in my youth, I had put Keck in position he's never been in during the inception of isner scoring methodology. By losing the first mahut of our 7th isner match 7-8 (and the first ever vintage mahut), Keck had the opportunity to understand the mind of a player down in an isner match.  The week of restlessness, the constant air swings, the drawing board.  Keck's response to this challenge was quick and resounding.  A customary 10-5 mahut win the following week and the 14-1 near-corpsing partially described earlier.  Again, the extra focus and coaching was important, but the more deliberate swings required for the vintage racquets has sharpened Keck's forehand considerably and will eventually lead to the same improvement on the backhand.  After witnessing the 1-14 mahut, B. Vita offered me some advice, "You got to slow it down. Get a bigger loop going on your swing. You can beat him, Keck makes mistakes."  I wasn't so sure and I questioned the coach's intentions, knowing that we had just entered into our first isner match, one in which he had won the first mahut 9-6.  Vintage racquets, of course.  Keck was now the least of my insner problems.  My game was in shambles and I was behind in both my isner matches.  Vita tennis players were notorious mind gamers.  Joe with his memory, Bill with his reasons, Nick with his possum playing.  Heard this song, cowboy quarterback opinions, tennis apparel and equipment, east texas days, dollars and cents, prayers too, line calls, string tension, nascar, dirk, smoking habits, smartphone nuances, new york and philly stories, and just about anything to keep you off your game during a changeover.  Due to this, and knowing our inser match would continue to 70, I was initially leery of his advice.  Upon reflection, my pace of play has accelerated greatly and should be tempered.  The looping swings seem like spitting in the wind against Keck's current precision and an adoption of a more Kramerian game seems more worthy of execution.  Never had a coach and it's too late for one now.
    
     Taken as incremental changes, the evolution of the mahut and the integration of vintage, were easily accomplished.  Two rule changes that have led to the improvement of the tennis experience.  If we are to play this game, if we are to devote a portion of our finite time on earth to the art of playing the game of tennis, we must continue our pursuit of constant improvement and change.

The Final Mahut

     When I walked on the tennis court for what turned out to be the last mahut of the first Isner Cup, I was weirdly optimistic about my chances to delay the inevitable end of the match. Keck had played brilliantly over the previous three months to find himself up 69-31 and after ten mahuts he was one game away from reaching the iconic 70, which would finally secure him the first match utilizing the Isner Scoring Method (ISM). After an extended warm-up, I spun the racquet to determine who would serve the first game. Keck, with a grin, confidently called up. When I looked at the butt of the racquet the Dunlop logo was clearly down and I felt like I had the early momentum. "Here comes the beast!" he said, "Your serve. Uh oh, could be your day." His condescending tone irritated me and I felt rage toward the man who, deep down, I knew would hold up the first Isner Cup later that evening.

     After a few practice serves and token stretching motions, I signaled the beginning of the eleventh mahut of the isner match by raising a tennis ball in the air with my pitch hand and making eye contact with my opponent. Keck was bouncing around with light feet and his racquet was spinning in his hands. He nodded, "Mahut!", he bellowed. He wore a sky blue bandana like a crown and he was perfectly outfitted for the occasion, always preferring the most modern athletic fabrics. With the toes of my left foot, I took my spot and with a single sweeping motion, lowered the ball, took my racquet behind my back, tossed a spinless ball high in the air, arched my back, bent my legs, and exploded into my first serve. I had decided to start with a flat fastball and possibly catch Keck off guard and bouncing, waiting for the more routine topspin first serve. I plastered one down the mid line and he lunged for it after hesitating the other way. His racquet nicked it, but the fence rang loudly behind him. I was running toward the net and abruptly stopped, turned around, and walked back to the baseline. "15-love", I shouted as I positioned myself for the next service point. After a couple of bounces of the ball, I hit another nice serve. This time high and arcing with a left kick due to the topspin and follow through. Keck adjusted and made good contact with the ball with an inside out cross court forehand. I lunged to my left as I rushed the net and as the ball hit my backhand volley I absorbed the pace and dropped a dead shot just over the net. Keck stood behind his baseline without taking a step forward, "The master of the net. Like McEnroe." he said. "This could be your night. Too bad I only need a game, “he continued. I glared at him. "30-love", I said slowly with extra articulation.

     As I was lining up to serve the next point something caught my eye. A pink ball was rolling across our court with a middle-teen age girl following behind. Not running, but walking fast. In obvious embarrassment and inadequacy. "I'm so sorry", she quietly muttered as she chased the ball. Hiding my irritation, I smiled pleasantly and assured her it was no problem. "Go ahead and get it", I said and she finally began running and picked the ball up. She went back to her court after another apology and I once again shouted out the score to Keck. I tossed the ball high and hit another solid shot that went in but nicked the net for a let, take two. My second first serve was swallowed by the net as I went for another flat heater. Keck hit my second serve at a severe cross court angle for a winner. "Why would someone play with pink balls?" I thought.

     Keck won the next three points with laser beams and footwork, moving me all over the court in desperate reaches and loss of breath. I admired his play, though he would never know of my admiration. He was certainly worthy of the first Isner Cup. Consistent, thoughtful, and executed play. Never used a roddick; showed up mahut after mahut. The toughest loss he took was a 5-5 mahut, the same mahut I had my finest moment. My family applauded me that night. I kept the odor filled shirt on until my bedtime shower. Yes, Keck was worthy of the Isner Cup, and gracious in victory. I believe he felt sorry for me, which enraged me further. I didn't understand that about Keck. Perhaps I never will. Look who has the title. A true champion. "Wanna play the full mahut?" he asked after we shook hands at the net and downed some water. "The final mahut ends with the first to hit seventy." I said with breath-less mumble, and added, "You see, a mahut cannot be strictly defined as a 10 games, due to the final mahut having the possibility of going less than 10 games. Let's play a regular match, two out of three sets and then go get some beers."

Anatomy Of A Roddick

     As mentioned previously and explained sufficiently, a roddick is the term used in the Isner Scoring Method (ISM) for the need to postpone or cancel a prescheduled match. For any reason--injury, conflict, weather even. Last week's mahut ended 2-8 in Keck's favor to take it to 45-15 after six mahuts of the third match to be played by the ISM. J. Vita had recently lost his first Isner match, the second ever, to the same Mr. Keck by a score of 70-35, less worse than my previous defeat to Keck in the first ever Isner Match. During the 2-8 mahut, as I was rushing to the net after a first serve, I felt the plantar fascia pop a little. According to Wikipedia, The plantar fascia is a thick fibrous band of connective tissue originating on the bottom surface of the calcareous (heel bone) and extending along the sole of the foot towards the five toes. I surely felt it but at the time I was getting mouletted 0-7 by Keck and I was more concerned with avoiding the humiliation of that development. To refresh, a moulette is the french term for skunk. A mahut ending in 10-0 is a skunk and as a tribute to Nicolas Mahut, we use the french word. Vita had been mouletted in his Isner match and I shuttered at the thought. I never followed up with Joe immediately after his moulette, but I heard he was wrecked. He came back strong and actually took a few mahuts from Keck, but the start was so poor the inevitable loss to Keck happened a few mahuts later. He seemed changed when I talked to him recently and he's challenged Keck to a more traditional contest, but he will play ISM again one day, probably seeking revenge and, likely, successfully. I did win two of the last three to finish 8-2, even after I was suffering from plantar fasciitis.

     I limped through the night at home, even applying an ice pack at one point. When asked about how the match went by my youngest daughter, I lowly claimed, "Keck, 8-2. He's just tough girls. I think I even tweaked m'foot. I like playin' with guys better than me. Keck's like a machine. A tennis machine. What chagonna do?" All the girls gave my sympathetic nods and assured me that I was one of the best tennis players they'd ever seen. In person, anyway. The "one of" comment hurt, but I knew it was true. Now I was injured and beat. The pop seemed different. More sudden than a sore muscle. It tightened up my calf and howled in the morning. It was painful and it concerned me.

     After the internet helped me with my diagnosis and I began developing my rehabilitation plan, I was mainly trying to stay off the foot and creating reasons to sit. In a foolish act, two days after the injury I went to a Ray Wylie concert at the Granada in Dallas and stood by the stage the entire time. Never understood why the girl singers never came back out after the first two songs, but he only played Snake Farm once and his kid was playing a very blues/rock lead guitar. Lucas Hubbard, I think. His bass player was really good and Ray was excellent. The drummer made the show go very smoothly, lifting the audience when needed and shaking the noise when an important lyric came from the songwriter. Forget his name. Ray Wylie remembered, or made up, all the words and a full shiner bock was poured on me by a guy holding six in his hands. He apologized and offered me one of the remaining beers and we went back to watching the show. Hosted by Okra and attended by David Kent and John Kylie, the concert was worth the additional pain endured by my case of plantar fasciitis.

     Through the weekend I rested the injury, continuing a series of cold packs and keeping to a stretching regimen. Monday brought work shoes and further pain. Tuesday was worse (the morning!). Wednesday was scheduled for our seventh mahut of the Isner match. Keck, anxious to get closer to seventy, was surely anticipating a match. I had not let on that I was experiencing the level of discomfort that had me considering the use of a roddick. Early in the morning, I sent him the message. The foot ached after a brisk walk in to work, and I was confident with the decision. "roddick" I wrote on the title line, then explained my rationale for using one of the two roddicks allowed per match. The next day, after my continued rehabilitation efforts, my foot felt much better. It was a good use of a roddick. The plantar fascia is an important rubberband-like feature of your foot. Stretch your calfs and make sure you got arch supports. Painful if inflamed.

Fresh Oregano

     Much of what I was taught about competing in tennis was adopted from one family. The Vitas of McKinney, Texas were wild, rough, and full of go. Both of 'em. Joe cut a figure, VITA with blue lettering on the back of his gold helmet in the summer of 84 two-a-days. First time I ever saw the word Vita. Standing in line with the receivers, new in town and waiting to run my first 10 yard button hook. My hands were among the best to ever cradle a football, but my speed was never near enough. Had quick feet, just couldn't run fast. Soon they moved my 160 pound body to guard, hoping I'd follow my older brother's growth patterns and become something. Church on Sunday days. Billy, William Vita Jr., was younger, wilder, and more rebellious. Won some brother battles, I'm sure. Saw a couple. Seemed to always have a rip in some part of his shirt. From tugging, pulling, rustling, something. Italians, of course, but very distinctly Philly and very distinctly, for me at least, McKinney. Both played tennis tenaciously and followed exotic tennis players. Lendl, Wilander, and the argentine Guillermo Vilas. I was a disciple of McEnroe, Conners, and Borg. They had stacks of tennis magazines. Imagine, 14/15 year old boys staring at tennis magazines for hours. Thinking back, what were we doing? We thought we lived on a higher plane. Just as well, we did play a lot of tennis and won and lost many games, sets, and matches.

     Joe held an unbeatable aura that has held to this very day in the 41st year of my life. I've never beaten the man in singles. Taken some sets, won some pong, plenty of doubles victories, but never a singles match. He may not even be aware. We've played consistently, and competitively, through the years. Through various stages of shape and the normal maladies and struggles that hinder men living their lives. Joe is a man with a strong family, because he is a man from a strong family. Same with BV. The Vitas are people that live. Because they grew up with a cross above the doorways and on the shelves and on the necks of their father and mother. Bill Sr. and Mary Anne. Food in the fridge. Fresh food all the time. Always something on the stove. Huge pots cooking. Bill Sr. stirring and talking. Talking about the squid. "See boys, we cook it slow, simmering, all damn day. The octopus is a tough fish. The meat is tough unless you break it down. Add a little salt." He shook the salt vigorously over the just boiling soup. "Mary Anne!” he cried above all the noises, "We got the good oregano from the market, or do we got only the bottled kind?" Of course the fresh oregano was available and used once Mary Anne quietly and with a huge smile presented it to him :15 seconds later. "Can't hear ourselves think in here sometimes. These damn birds." She laughed and talked. She knew her boys and she knew her husband. A loud family, in love. Prayers ascend, now especially, for the loud, and in love, Vita family.

     Joe Vita seemed melancholy and preoccupied during the first doubles mahut ever played. Along with Keck, we had arrived, after scurrying around Allen for an available court, onto the middle court of the Allen Freshman Center expecting to drill and perhaps play some Australian or California version of regular scoring. The singles player gets the doubles lines; the doubles players only get the singles lines. It's a good method to create some match like conditions. In fact, ISM (Isner Scoring Method) could be leveraged through 2 on 1 matches, especially if there is reliability and commitment from the players. At this point, I don't think it's ever been tried.

     The court lights were decent. The early January night came quick. Cool and breezy, but no bite from real cold. We commented on long time lapses, business deals, family deals, traffic deals, insufficient court deals, music deals, and other deals. Joe, perfectly outfitted, and Keck, in a green Fila leisure style suit, started on one side and we began to warm up. With my planter fascia tendon well enough to be forgotten and my legs and shoulders fairly well stretched, we started blasting forehands and backhands. Joe had powerful swings that produced violent spins and made consistent solid contact. Keck was the machine, tuned by ISM scoring methodology and in the midst of a prison workout process. No weights or machines he previously informed me, just what you can do with your body. Maybe a crossbar. Mainly, it was back to the basics, in an extreme manner. The hope is to get an authentic ex convict to be on the DVD. Or he could just stream the video on the internet. Let customers burn their own DVD if they wanted. Really, this could be up and running quickly through a blog site. From there it's marketing. And sit-ups, pushups, pull ups (the crossbar), running, no sugars, lose the bread (and chips); take vitamins, every dang day. Keck could make it work. He flicked his forehands, he sawed his backhands, he returned everything. Joe, not as much, but I was having trouble handling the increased pace of his shots because I generally play with the slower paced Keck. Joe moved his feet very well, no dragging or giving up on wide shots. He knew those were the shots that won matches. Perhaps a desperate running forehand down the line to make it deuce and fend off game point in the 9th game in the 5th mahut of an Isner match. Perhaps you came back and won the game to make it 3/6, a chance at a 4/6 mahut, relieved that you avoided a 2/8 mahut, and highly motivated to avoid a 3/7 mahut. Perhaps 4/6 would bring the Isner tally to 17-33, above the important 0.5 (0.515) Isner player comparison ratio. Fall below the 0.5 mark and your partner should really find someone better to play, his 1.94 player comparison ratio with you is still in a productive range, worthy of his time, but unless you sustain your efforts the ratios can move quickly. Either way. Every point matters. Every game matters. Every mahut matters. Every Isner match matters. Joe could be the greatest of all Isner players, but he hadn't embraced ISM fully. Yet. To his credit, he had played the 2nd Isner match with Keck the previous summer/fall and his ratios were significantly better than mine and above the 0.5 mark. I had a 0.44 player comparison ratio with Keck, from a 31-70 finish in the 1st ever Isner, completed a month prior to the completion of the Keck/Vita match (70-35). My second Isner match with Keck was coming to a close and the ratios were very similar. Considering two consecutive 1/9 mahuts in mahut #1 and mahut #2, my improved ratios of late were encouraging and a 6/4 win in mahut #7 was my first ever mahut win. I currently stood at 1-17-1 in mahuts with Keck. Humbled, but aware of what it takes to improve, fight, and win. I should be grateful with a ratio in the forties, especially considering the planter fascia injury. As we continued to warm up, a man with 120 tennis balls all over the side court was hitting shot after shot furiously. He was drenched. Eventually, he approached us about playing doubles. We all seemed fine with it and, after introductions and handshakes we moved to his court (the better court due to being near a fence) and teams were formed. Keck and I were on the same side and standing next to each other so we nodded and teamed up. Joe and the Floridian Jim did the same. As we continued warming up and I began thinking about the note-worthiness of the moment. This was to be the first Isner doubles mahut.

     Keck and I performed as we expected, our play sharpened by the previous month's ISM matches and mahuts. The Floridian seemed a bit flustered at first, but settled in and tortured us late in the match with swirling, spinning serves. The kind of serves cooked up on the clay courts of Florida. No clay courts in Texas. Outdoors at least. The Texas sun, hotter and longer than the Florida sun, would burn them and the cracks would grow wide and deep. Only hard, concrete courts outside in Texas. Fast, but still not as fast as the Wimbledon grass Isner and Mahut occupied in the summer of 2010. Despite the Floridian’s service tricks, Keck and I were too much and too constant. The Isner match was played under the cover of a regular match (no time to explain ISM to the Floridian) and at 6-0, 2-2, I looked at Keck after he put away a forehand volley to win the game and said, "8-2 in the first ever doubles mahut." For a moment, he hesitated, then finally offered a knowing look and gave the accomplishment its propers. Keck and I would go on to win 6-4 in the final antique set to win the antique match, our focus and sharpness somehow diminished after the quiet mahut celebration. Joe found his tennis game during the match and nearly broke my wrist as I attempted to volley one of his screaming down the line attempts, but was handicapped by the Floridian. Despite his late serving success, the rest of the man's game was in shambles. The electric ball machine he was using before we arrived needed more court time. On reflection, maybe it needed more storage time. Only constant human play can sustain success. Like fresh oregano, authenticity cannot be replicated.