They arrived early this morning, the sore stagger of tired souls walking into the breakfast hall with an uncomfortable enthusiasm. Yes, uncomfortable. These people scare me. They are Balboa at the end of round fourteen. They are mid-sentence Mandela and cockroaches after nuclear war. They are of a resilient ilk never-before-seen in this tennis world. And they are still out there, at 8pm, playing sets and taking lessons and doing cardio clinics and running on god-only-knows what fuel source since they’ve skipped every meal since breakfast just so they could keep playing.
It is day three of the US Tennis Congress and the number of knee braces and K-tape has increased significantly. The athletes display the black bags of dehydration beneath their eyes and, from the soreness, their split steps are narrow enough to make them all look like they need a restroom. Yesterday, they played for seven hours and welcomed the moon into the sky. Today, as if challenging the previous days record, some of these people are doing their eleventh on-court hour. They are over forty, or fifty, or in some cases, seventy years-old. They are addicts in the best sense, drinking from the firehose of world-class information they’ve had shoved in their mouths since they moment they arrived. They don’t want to wait until they get home to improve. They want it now, today, tonite, and maybe even in the wee morning hours when the clock hands point due East. I’m beginning to believe they will never stop. Imagine that, sleep foregone for the love of thegame. I’ll say it again – these people scare me.
As the dinner buffet hosted a mere trickle of a line, diners ate rapidly before heading back out to the courts to watch an exhibition between former top 100 player Jeff Salzenstein and 45’s National Champion Jeff Greenwald. Adding to the drama, both players wore headsets and the crowd got a chance to be inside the heads of elite competitors. What played out was a dialogue of fears and anxieties, strategic insights, the physiological changes in the body, and an enormous dose of ball-busting. It was educational and entertaining and something the USTA should bring to the US OPEN. But then, that’s really it isn’t it? The things happening here at the Congress are the types of originations we don’t see on the US tennis landscape. This place is becoming the trailblazer for tennis innovation and only the locals know about it.
Tomorrow represents the final day here. It is possible some of today’s warriors won’t make the stagger to breakfast. It is possible the courts will have a few less competitors clamoring for the wisdom of Allistair McCaw or Joseph O’Dwyer. It is possible some will succumb to the heat, the fatigue, the pain. But then, anything is possible, and from what I’ve seen, there is no way I’m betting against these folks. Did I mention these people scare me?