Wednesday, July 24, 2013



            Smash!  Grunt!  “30-Love!” calls the umpire.  Ivor takes a couple new balls from the ball girl, Linda, he thinks her name is.  He tries to learn all their names, but with over 30 tournaments in a normal season, and half-a-dozen or more matches in a good tournament, it’s hard.  Bounce, bounce, toss…Whack!  Damn.  Let.  The crowd whistles with the Cyclops and the umpire calls for silence.  OK, still first serve.  Bounce, bounce, bounce, toss…Whack!  That one feels good from the moment he reaches up, a high kicker at the corner.  But Joseba “Joe” Zulaika, the Basque great currently ranked in the top 30 in the world, has read Ivor’s motion and is ready with a backhand down the line.  Ivor comes up to the net following his serve and cuts it off, slicing it hard to the other side.  “40-Love!” call the umpire.   Set point for Ivor, to win this best of three match 2-1.

The crowd of Spanish fans here at the Olympic stadium in Barcelona doesn’t know who to cheer for—their Basque neighbor, or the ex-Norwegian pro, a man without a country.  In the end, the excitement of the match carries every one away and they cheer for every point, lost in the excitement of the game.  The Umpire has to call for silencia again.  As Ivor walks slowly back to the line, buying an extra moment or two to breathe, he looks up in the stands and catches the eye of his coach, the Englishman James MacGruder, and sees the confidence in his gaze.  Ivor is ready.  He takes another ball from the ball girl, not thinking about her name this time, knowing that Joe will notice that he only took one.  A deep breath…bounce, bounce, toss…Whack!  And Ivor’s running toward the line, racket already half cocked but Joe lets it go by.  Ivor pulls up short and heads back toward the line, but suddenly the noise from the crowd comes through and he realizes that Joe didn’t let it go by.  Ace!  Game, set, match.  As Ivor heads back to the net to shake the hand of the ruefully grinning Zulaika, it starts to dawn on him that he won.  He allows himself a moment to enjoy the feeling while he and Joe share the few words they have in common, before starting to look forward to tomorrow’s semifinal match, and the strength he’ll need then.  As hard as the last 75 minutes had been, tomorrow will be harder. 

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