The final round of Dothan’s 80K women’s tournament took place today. At this point in the event, 28 main draw players wander the grounds Alpha-dogging the rest of the playing field. Top seeds walk with a my-ranking-is-higher strut, while lesser-ranked players step right or left to let the seeds pass. At some point, they all hit the practice courts to feel the speed of the courts, to test the weight of the balls, the direction of the sun, the flow of the wind. During practice, they play from both sides of the court and note any elemental variations. The local stringer has strung many of the racquets and the players test their equipment before returning it to the stringer tonite for any requisite adjustments. The goal? To fine-tune the game for tomorrow’s competition. These players want to feel the ball on the center of the strings, to hit their best shots successfully and to get their feet flowing after long travel days – some have come from thousands of miles away.
The screaming and ranting now making its way across the facility is the first edge of a hurricane about to make landfall. Imagine knowing you are “off” your game and about to compete. Imagine knowing you’ve paid a thousand dollar plane fare, another thousand dollars in hotel fees, and traveled for fifteen hours to come to this American club where the local hotspots are Cracker Barrel and Walmart. Imagine your competitor is on the adjacent court repetitively ripping fantastic shots and fist-pumping faster than Floyd Mayweather on a training bender. You can understand the frustration.
As the qualies close, the screams continue. For three days, these ladies have played seven or more sets beneath a scorching Alabama sun. They are fatiguing, frustrated and furiously fighting. Four of them will enter the main draw. Four of them will compete tomorrow. Four of them will consider this week a success. The rest will be on planes again, looking back out over the wing to wonder “what if.” Those two words, “what if” are the toughest ones in this business. Regret, after all, has a long blade.
On another note, for those who’ve followed my previous escapades, you know I have a thing for chambermaids (see the towel fiasco in Mexico). It’s not sexual, but rather, more of an arm’s length flirtation to ensure my room stays upkept. Here in Dothan, her name is Imelda. With black hair tucked into a bun and a bend in her back, which suggests she may have a few decades on this job, Imelda wields a thick Guatemalan accent and one predatory eyebrow. Each morning, she places several tiny bars of soap on my sink. With them, I’ve begun constructing a soap house. Whether Imelda finds joy in this little homage to home will likely determine the level of my room service this week. We’ll know more this evening.
Note: Back in my room, Imelda has left me a gift. Twenty tiny soap bars now rest on my vanity. Clearly, she supports my architectural ambitions. Tonight I set my plans – a strong foundation with little risk of collapse, minor adjustments if things are not working as planned, and perhaps a few aesthetically pleasing additions. I’m assuming most of the main draw players will be doing the same.