Remember how Lucy would set up Charlie Brown? Surely he thought each time she held the football for him that THIS time she would not snag it away at the last minute. Surely not. Humiliate him again? No, she wouldn’t do that. Poor Charlie Brown. Ever-trusting. Ever-duped.
I know the feeling.
On the exterior, she is impressively confident. Successful in her career as an entrepreneur, teacher and mother. She’s got it all going on. She’s killing it on all fronts. She is also equally personable and relatable. She can contribute to just about any conversation and is talented at feeling out the situation and providing whatever emotional support is necessary. Basically, she’s a really pleasant gal when she doesn’t have a tennis racquet in her hand.
We were paired as a team at line 1. Granted, her regular partner at this position was injured so I got called up to fill some very big shoes. I’d been on this team for a couple of seasons and had not yet played with Karen but I remembered that she gave generously to a fundraiser I ran online the month before. I knew nothing other than she was a great person and from watching her matches, I knew she was intense about her tennis.
We got on the court and met our opponents and right out of the gate, Karen started slamming groundstrokes across the net. It was clear that she was trying to make a statement early and wanted our opponents to know that she would be coming for them. I was surprised but confident that I could work in this environment.
We kept up the aggression Karen introduced in the warm-up and stayed pretty competitive in the match but our opponents had great anticipation of our shots and many of their returns went unanswered. But all the while, Karen remained supportive and encouraging as did I for her. Fist bumps and high-fives, as we tried to stay focused. We were rocking the partner thing with a lot of communication and strategy. But sometimes even the best of matches don’t go the way of the good guys. We lost to our opponents in 2 sets which both went to tie-breakers.
I walked off the court feeling pretty good about our effort and I was washed over with accolades from my partner. It was one of those losses that was easier to swallow because I knew we had given it everything we had at the time. As I was filling my lunch plate with all the calories I’d just spent on the court, I heard a teammate (Karen’s best friend) say, “It’s ok. You guys played great!” Then the response came from an obviously disgruntled Karen, “They were a good team but if she (ME!) would have just been more consistent and covered the middle better, I’m sure we would have won.” Whoa. Seriously?! I felt a sudden rush of heat surge to my face. Why, that backstabbing little #!@*$#?!! Where I come from, a doubles team is a team. I get it, sometimes your partner and you just don’t mesh and one outshines the other but I seriously didn’t think this was the case. And by the way, a lot of their winners down the middle were because Karen sent up a short put-away shot right into the net person’s strings.
I never got paired with her again, but unfortunately her regular partner’s injury kept her on the bench for the season and a few other teammates had to step into her shoes. I’d always linger around whenever I’d see Karen and her bestie huddle up after Karen’s matches. Win or lose, she seemed to always have complaints about how her partner just didn’t seem to have the same high level of skill on the court that she had.
On another occasion and on a different team, my friend, Amy, was the the victim. She obligingly took her turn that season and voluntarily paired herself with the least skilled person on the team. Unfortunately, no one really enjoyed playing with her but as they were all friendly with each other off the court, her membership on the team was not uncomfortable. It’s just that her assigned partner on any given week knew that they were going to have to carry the match for the both of them. But who wouldn’t do that for a friend?
And they were good friends sharing more than the love of tennis. They were nearly in the same situation in life and raised their kids together in the neighborhood. Throughout the years, they often included each other on invitation lists for game-nights, birthdays and holiday parties. Their kids are grown now and out of out of the house and empty-nesting is faring well for the both of them. They have a mutual admiration for each other. But apparently, not on this particular day.
Their match went as everyone expected including her occasional cries of, “Oh! Why’d you do that?!”, after some of Amy’s few errant miss-hits. It’s a very odd feeling when your own partner and friend belittles you on the court for making mistakes in your game while the only thing she consistently does well on the court is rifle service returns over the baseline.
After their loss, Amy told me about the confrontation which surely felt like a slap in the face. She called Amy the next day with concern about the team’s success for the remainder of the season. She said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Going forward, I think it's best if I play with Molly, Pam or Lisa. I seem to play better with them.” Knowing full-well that Molly, Pam and Lisa were the top 3 players on the team and that everyone plays better with them, Amy replied with a huge helping of understanding accompanied with a side of snarky sarcasm, “Huh. That’s funny...So do I!"
I’m not sure where the delusion comes from but these double-crossers were certainly in worlds of their own. Offering no apologies for their own games and the mistakes they made. Putting themselves, instead, on the pedestal of high-level playing tennis players and confidently offering up their partners as the sacrificial lamb during apres match discussion. I guess it’s hard to assess your partner’s tennis skills from such a lofty place. But I don’t think an eye appointment will fix it.
And no matter how well you keep your eye on the ball and trust in the partnership, all is lost unless both are truly on the same team.
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