Tennis Hubris

Last Tuesday evening, at the weekly session of the Paul Anderson Tuesday Afternoon Tennis and Tea Society, Paul and I got together for a match with John Barker and Billy Gee. First let me set the scene, with the cast of characters.


I am known for occasional excessive demonstrations. I seem to have short, Turret's-syndrome-like outbursts of cursing or yelling when I make a great, or terrible, play. I am also the designated cheerleader, praising anybody on either team who makes a great shot.

I hold the distinction of being the only Society member who has been threatened with arrest by the Wilkesboro police, after one memorably loud laudatory curse screamed at John for making a particularly brilliant passing shot, while Becky Mathis was teaching a court full of little kids next door. At the time, my playmates protected me by denying to the cop that they could tell who was doing the shouting. Afterwards, when I admitted to Becky (also my own tennis coach) that I was the culprit, she bonked me on my head with her racket.

Paul puts up with my noise by mostly ignoring me. On occasion he will make a dry joke, or sometimes remind the other players not to comment, so as not to encourage me. When I have asked him if I am bothering the other players, his answer is they are so used to it that if I quit, the game would lack spice. John doesn't mind, although a time or two he has asked for a let, if I yell before the point is over, particularly in the middle of his volley. Billy is just Billy, Mr. Cool and Calm (well, mostly, unless he misses an easy put-away volley at the net, but that is another story).

On this day, Paul had purposefully arranged for our group to include four good, strong players in anticipation of some slam-bang tennis. We also had a spectator. Danny Raymer was waiting for the rest of his foursome to appear so he could play. He sat on the bench at our court and watched our match. I was conscious of having a spectator, and wanted not to let him down. Specifically, I did not want to mess up and look like a loser.

At one point in the second set, Paul and I were uncharacteristically beating John and Billy'by a wide margin. I hit several good volleys, for which Paul expressed his appreciation. I got so excited that I started punching the air with my fist like Jimmy Connors, and roaring like Lleyton Hewitt. After one game on my serve at love (4 ' 0) in our favor, I loudly asked John and Billy if they wanted some more of that bad game! Of course, such trash talking would normally not be acceptable, but they both knew I was full of hot air, so they just grinned and enjoyed the show.

Late in the set, I had a long game on my service with several deuces, ad-outs and ad-ins. If Paul and I won the game, then we would also win the set and be heroes. Almost nobody beats John and Billy. Eventually I served to John in the deuce court, won the point and jumped in the air. I yelled 'Set point!' thinking the match was over. I believed that Paul and I had pulled off a very improbable victory against some tough opponents. I ran to Paul at the net to do the traditional hand shake. John and Billy stayed in their court and just looked at me.

Paul said in a low voice 'That's just ad-in.' We had one more point to go to win the game and set. Duh! Calling the wrong score among us forgetful old fogies is common. In fact, Paul sometimes refers to our games, not as 'old-timers tennis,' but 'Alzheimer's tennis.' The problem was my calling the score in such a self-praising way. I was so jazzed up and wanted to win so badly that I had exposed my greed. I felt like an idiot. Of course, we could also lose the next point, and the next, and maybe never win the game, or the set, and become a laughingstock for my premature celebration.

As I walked back to the service line to try and win one more point, I noticed John and Billy grinning'again. I did appear to be pretty stupid. Instead of razzing me openly, they were being uncharacteristically polite. My hubris was so obvious that I guess it embarrassed them almost as much as me. I expect they also enjoyed dragging out my uncertainty of winning. Paul looked kind of stricken, as if afraid that my excess emotion would lead to a let down and the loss of the game and set.

I tried to cover my confusion by saying loudly and self-consciously 'Ad-out'I mean'ad-in'we're still in the game'' But I was so addled that I could not remember how to correctly call the score, and let my voice trail off. A couple of times I glanced at Danny, expecting at any moment for him to shake his head and mutter something like 'Bob, you dumbass!' But he sat impassively, peering out from behind his dark shades, calm and cool as Buddha.

Finally, there was nothing else for me to do but serve to Billy in the ad court. I whaled the ball as hard as physically possible. I had no plan for the stroke, and did not even aim the ball at the court. All my power came from adrenaline and embarrassment. If I lost the point, at least I would go down swinging. Some how'miraculously'the shot hit the outside edge of the service box line for an ace! Billy wanted to call it out - and it may have been out - but he was a gentleman. He shook his head, grinned and headed to the net to shake hands.

Epilogue: John and Billy demanded a re-match. They beat Paul and me in the fourth set. But by a smaller margin. Ooo-rah!

Bob Laney

Written by:

Bob is the site curator and writer of Blue Ridge Outing. Since starting the Blue Ridge Outing travel blog in 2002, Bob has written, recorded and documented countless expeditions in the US and around the world.