Ladder is one of those universal terms in the tennis club world. It signifies how players stack up against each other – the top of the ladder representing those whose competitive prowess is lionesque and the bottom denoting those whose swings resemble unfolding lawn chairs. For the aspiring professional, the bottom of the ladder is the $10,000 qualifying. It’s filled with has-beens, also-rans, down-and-outers, and the infrequent high-flier on her way to an endorsement contract and some serious Simoleans. Round one of $10,000 qualifying commences today.
The opponent is Mexican, spawned on clay courts beneath a sweltering sun. She is 5’3 with close-cropped hair and legs like rodeo barrels. I apologize to the reader for lacking an accurate description, but it’s fairly close to the top half of a monkey and the bottom half of an elephant. My player is 5”11 with a bright smile and natural power. As tennis aficionados know, all of this means nothing as far as winning is concerned. We’ve reviewed the game plan – the Mexican likes to be eight feet behind the baseline and prefers to play with her backhand crosscourt, come in behind a few kick serves on the ad side, keep your feet moving forward when she slices because the courts are slower than Marion Bartoli’s trip through the buffet line, etc., but one never knows what a sixteen year-olds brain will do when confronted with a new experience. I drop into a plastic chair and set my phone for vibrate. On the ground beside me, a nineteen year-old male has just finished a third set tiebreaker and is undergoing a series of full body cramps that suggests either epilepsy or drug addiction. People around him get upset if you laugh.
The kid serves well to open and wins the first game.
When tourists pass the courts, their jaws drop off to the left to form a sort of misshapen“O” and, when accompanied by the primal “oof,” hints at someone getting punched in the stomach. They generally stand for a few minutes, awestruck by the force of the game. But too, at least for the older men, ogling these half-clad teenage girls whose groaning and screaming can get, let’s face it, pretty uncomfortable. They gaze with city bus-ish vacuity and you just know inappropriate thoughts are going through their heads.
The first set comes easily, along with more confidence.
With so many countries represented, we get a mix of styles. Driven by their conditioning and willingness to play long points, the macho clay courters who grind their opponents into submission and get athletic hard-ons when an adversary makes an unforced error. Also, the American hardcourters who blast serves and forehands in hopes of ending points before any sense of rhythm is established. Plus, the little Asian ball machines who scamper back and forth, hitting half-paced crosscourt balls with technical perfection but have about as much power as Joe Biden. And lest we forget the Euros, who spend several Speedo’d hours sunbathing and then don tennis gear and display all sorts of artistic flair with what seems like an absolute lack of concern for winning or losing (except the Germans and the Czechs!).
Forty-five minutes later, it is over. The girl has executed well and we go off to celebrate her first professional victory – this means twenty minutes of on-court practice followed by another twenty in the gym. Dinner tonite comes from a steakhouse, and based on the scarcity of small rodents around town, I’m pretty firm on settling for the pasta.
On the resort front, things seem to be regressing. Everyone within sandal-wearing-viewing range is wearing sandals. There are young men who should not take their white t-shirts off, and others who have taken their white t-shirts off and look like they still have them on, and there are old men who have the same sagging breasts as old women and old women who have more hair on their chests than their husbands have on their heads. There are fierce-faced children jumping onto fake flamingos and shrieking for ungodly reasons, while parents suck straws dipped into equatorial fruit juices overrun with Two-Buck-Chuck-value liquor. Loads of dead-looking but not-dead bodies are all over the place. Too, there are raccoons that will give you high fives to keep you from noticing their friends stealing your taco – bandit bastards. Man-made waterfalls are ubiquitous enough that you have a constant and almost unnerving desire to hit the urinal. Since several local men in cotton pants and long sleeve button downs sport enviably dry (not wet) skin, I’m also pretty certain I’m the resort’s endocrine mutant, constantly perspiring worse than Marat Safin trying to write a love letter.
New word of the day: Suspendocrine (def) the desire to stop sweating
Tomorrow: Another Step on the Ladder?