After four days of bright blue waves and tropical temps, some things stand out. Each morning, a team of oompa-loompah-ish gentleman scrape the beach for excess kelp which might attack the ankles of some high-paying tourist and cause unforeseen angst.
There are women wielding palm fronds to dust sand from lounge chairs that make sucking sounds when people get up. Other loompahs scatter across the resort and lift tossed lime wedges into trashcans or mop marble floors with sanitizing enthusiasm. Thankfully, they allow fallen coconuts to remain, giving me an appropriately tropical coconut eclipse of the morning sunrise.
Having completed my morning run, I’m off to wake the tennis player (my charge for this two week journey) now rebelling against the snooze button in Room 1203.
Match time is 9:00 a.m. today, so we’re hitting breakfast early to fuel up. Every morning, the exceptionally friendly hostess, Idriana, greets me with a professional smile and hand sanitizer. I confess to having some serious anxiety about whether this is a mealtime ritual or some response to Idriana’s ideas about my nighttime escapades. We engage in our morning Haiku:
“How are you today?”
“Quite well, thank you kindly, dear.”
“It’s my pleasure sir.”
I glance back to see her place the hand sanitizer back in her purse and spend the rest of breakfast trying to figure out where we’re going to eat tomorrow.
Two hundred size-twelve Nike’s from the courts, the sounds of professional tennis ring out: the thwack of well-struck tennis balls and screams of athletic ecstasy. Yesterday, as predicted, several players went down to heat stroke and we now come upon three players propped up in the trainer’s tent. Few images inspire proper hydration like seeing needles stuck into the oversized limb of a pro tennis player.
Before the match, we speak for a few moments. I can see the twitch in her upper lip, the river-ish sweat, the excess adrenalin coming forth ten minutes before game time. We have not spoken about the meaning of this match – qualifying in her first event – but I can see she senses opportunity. On the plane ride over, I took a funny photo of her sleeping. I show it to her now and she breaks out in laughter. Nerves dissipate and the umpire calls her to the court.
The warm-up is contentious, my kid starting to feel the pressure of qualifying for her first event: a determined scream, plenty of post-miss repetition, and one big forehand into the back fence. Youth, though unpolluted by experience, still has its dirty moments. At some point, the nerves settle and she falls into a rhythm. Her opponent is a 5’6 Mexican girl who plays college ball in the States and uses phrases like “Y’all” and “Y’ant’sum’n’?” with the sort of accented comfort that suggests she’s seen plenty of collard greens.
The first set goes quickly, my kid making a go of following some returns to the net and faking a serve and volley enough times to rattle the opponent. At 9:00 a.m., the heat here is enough to fry eggs, which would sound cliché were it not for the small Filipino man doing exactly that on the curb. Post-cooking, he fed it to a local iguana, which subsequently assaulted the protein-based meal and promptly attacked a compatriot. For those who’ve never witnessed an iguana fight, it’s slightly less exciting than the women’s $10,000 qualifying I’m currently sitting through.
The kid wins the second set and has now qualified for the main draw. We’re headed off to have a chat about some of the nuances of today’s match – passive tennis, improper patterns, and a strange reluctance to put ice around her neck on changeovers. Alas, youthful naiveté is so wasted upon the young.
New word of the day: Qualifrying (def) when the weather is officially hot enough to fry an egg
At six, we hit again, tuning up strokes and preparing tomorrow’s game plan. As evening descends, one can feel the Caribbean quell. Nocturnal weasels and raccoons replace iguanas and blackbirds. Poolside calypso fades into reggae’s darkness. Sunburned tourists stagger back to their rooms, hoping to delay the day’s hangover long enough to grab a lobster dinner. After the last stroke, we collect the tennis balls and return, soaked and salty, to our rooms.
Tomorrow: Main Draw