I had a long overdue breakfast with a friend today. I knew she’d have a gem for me and she did.
Ruth started by telling me about her recent singles match. First off, my hat’s off to all of you ladies who are somewhere within a decade of me, and are still battling it out between the singles lines. Those days are long gone for me. Singles used to be my thing. It used to be my jam. But truthfully, I’m not even a little jelly. I like knowing I have a partner to depend on, to strategize with, to retrieve my first serves which I often pelt at the net.
She told me that she took her singles opponent through a challenging 3-setter. Not a favorite thing to do down here in Atlanta, where even the cloud covered, late spring sky brings no relief from the heat. Instead, it replaces the hot temps with viscous humidity so stifling that if it weren’t for red faces and drenched clothing, you might get away with telling people you’d just stepped out of the shower.
But get this, they could have made it easier on themselves by agreeing to play a 10-point tie-breaker in lieu of the 3rd set but these are bad-to-the-bone, die-hard, tennis-playing, southern ladies. There’s no “in lieu-ing” of anything!
Unfortunately, Ruth lost but politely congratulated the winner who then made a curious remark about her own game, “I’m surprised that not many of my balls were 'out' today." To which Ruth replied, still short of breath from the match, “So am I!”
After discussing the lady's comment over coffee, grit cakes and a salmon bagel plate, we decided, based on other personalities we’ve met on the court, that it is a rarity these days to find an opponent who calls the “close” or questionable balls “in" rather than “out". To me, the situation is similar to the rule in baseball which gives the tie, between base runner and ball, to the runner because it’s just too close to call.
In tennis, if you're not sure whether the ball landed in or out, calling it “out” wouldn’t be fair. So, your only other option is to call it “in”.
An incident which still plays vividly in my mind is a doubles match I played and my partner called a clearly good ball “out”. The ball landed inside the lines and just to my left as I defended the ad side at the net. She called the ball from way across the court from the deuce side baseline. Well, that was enough to anger our opponents, propel them to the net and accuse us of cheating! US?! Cheating?! What the heck?! My partner came straight up to me and said, “That was out, right? You were standing right there. Tell them it was out!” I’d never felt so intimidated in my life and by my own partner nonetheless. The way I saw it, it wasn't even a close call. Besides, she wasn't even close enough to call it!
She didn't talk to me for the rest of the match and of course, we lost. I also did not get paired with her for the rest of the season so you can guess how I eventually called the ball. Thankfully, there was no love lost. That was the first and last time I ever played doubles with her.
My breakfast date recalled one of her own doubles matches. As was in my case, the offender was Ruth’s partner. Running down ball after ball and repeatedly calling baseline shots as “out", she started to gain the attention of not only her opponents but even Ruth’s radar went up. It’s a sinking feeling when you realize your very own team mate is making bad line calls. It instantly highlights the fact that even you and your honesty come into question simply because you are on the same team.
Finally, the ball that broke the camel’s back, “Out!” Ruth’s partner proclaimed. Then the team altercation began. Recognizing their opponents' anger over the call and increasing rebuttals to each line assessments, Ruth flatly accused her own partner of making bad line calls. Surely embarrassed that she was being reprimanded by her teammate, Ruth’s partner immediately came to her own defense anxiously describing the situation of the last ball played. And as swiftly as she served up the excuses, Ruth slammed back with what everyone was really thinking anyway, “Hey! Just because you can’t get to the ball, it doesn’t mean it’s out!”
Sounds rough? Well, sometimes hearing the truth can sound like a thunderous avalanche. And if you are in it’s path, it’s gonna hurt a little.
So with the cat out of the bag, they all returned to their respective places on the court to continue play. Relieved that the conflict was addressed and seemingly understood, Ruth readied herself at the net waiting for her partner’s serve. And then she heard, from over her shoulder, “Hey, what’s the score?”
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