When we moved back to El Dorado from South Texas, I started playing tennis seriously, and after playing most of the El Dorado players for the first few years, I thought I was good enough to take Dr. Playing Myron Shoffner, who was the best player in town. dr Shoffner had played tennis throughout his adult life and had a room full of trophies.
Well, it was midsummer and Dr. Shoffner was 15 years older than me, and I figured if we stayed on that hot pitch for a few hours, I’d win a few games…
I was absolutely wrong. We played six sets and each set was 6-0. He beat me like a drum.
It took me almost a year to win a game and almost 10 years to win a match.
By the time I turned 55, I hadn’t missed many weeks without playing at least two matches against Myron, and I was finally beating him regularly. It was a great tennis and friendship relationship.
Back when my son Ashley was playing tennis for El Dorado High School, we were traveling in Europe on vacation carrying our racquets. We were in France playing a local pitch when the players on the pitch next to us struck up a conversation and one thing led to another and when we found out they were father son we decided to play a match with them.
Well the match started with us winning the first few games and yes we scored everything against the older dad but then things changed and it seemed like we were only playing the little son. He returned 90% of the ball and when he served it was over quickly.
Yes we lost the set and the second set was even worse but it was a fun tennis morning. We were setting up our racquets and chatting with the father when I complimented his son. He replied, “Yes, he’s a good player. He plays on our Davis Cup team.”
Later that same year I played in an open tournament where I played against a young man who looked about 25. As I walked onto the pitch, I overheard my opponent talking to his friends about playing an old man, which was me. Well I was 55 but in good shape.
When we switched ends of the dish, he didn’t speak and generally showed the temper of a spoiled brat with a bad temper. He won the first set 6-4. However, when I played against him, I noticed that his backhand was suspicious. In the second set I hit his backhand 99% of the time and when the set was over he was angry, cursing and slamming the balls to the other end of the court. When I hit target, he didn’t give me the balls to start the third set, instead he hit them across the court. I went back, picked up the balls and went to the net. He came to the net and I handed him the balls, “Here you go sport. You win! I don’t play jerks!”
Earlier this year I had just turned 55 and was a finalist in the Arkansas Hardcourt Tournament. I had won my semi-final game that morning and when I gave my result I was told I had to play the final in 30 minutes. It had rained the day before and several games were cancelled. I had no choice, even though my opponent had played the day before and was rested. He was the current No. 1 in my age group and I knew it was going to be a tough match. I was sitting on the bench when my opponent came towards me. He was one of those guys who just got it back and he was a runner. I won the spin of the racquet.
“I’ll take,” I said, thinking that if I could pop out with a break of serve I might have a good chance of winning the first set.
He served one of his consistent “just get it in” serves and the first point of the match was underway. After 15 rallies I made a mistake and lost the point. The next point was about the same except I won it. Then he made an unusual mistake. He took a bad dropshot and I made it. It was now 30-15 and I did everything I could to win that first game. Finally I forced him to praise for a long time and I won the game.
I was 5-4 and serving for the set when I checked my watch. My god, I thought, this set has been over an hour and it’s not even over yet. I won the point and 20 minutes later I hit an overhead and won the first set. But I was tired – very tired, and my legs felt like lead. I dropped a bit in the next set and lost the first three games. I was down two breaks of serve and the chances of me winning the second set skyrocketed. Then I had an idea. I went to the net and my opponent looked confused.
“I want to give up this set – not the match – just this set,” I said.
“Yes, I want to do that.”
“Well, I don’t think that’s allowed. We have to make a decision,” he said.
We walked over to the tournament table and after a long discussion and a look at the rule book I was told I couldn’t concede a set, I had to concede the match or continue playing.
After a few minutes he was back on serve and I just stood on my baseline with no intention of returning a ball. He looked upset, but after four balls he won the game and I continued to net every ball on my serve. The set was over in a few minutes.
I knew that in a three set game you have 10 minutes rest before you start the third set and I went to the dressing room. I’d already gotten about 10 minutes of rest by standing around and not playing the last part of the set, and I stretched out on the dressing room floor, letting the cool air from the cooling system blow over me.
I felt 100% better going out for the third set, but my opponent was irritated with how I finished the second set. I started the set with a dink underhand serve, which he netted – then cursed; and then I netted my left serve to the ad court as I dragged it wide. He tried a safe high shot and I blocked him at the net. An hour and a half later I finally put down one of his many lobs and won the set. He was really keen on how I played the second set and didn’t want to shake my hand, but with that win I became the best player in the 55s.
Richard Mason is an author and speaker. He can be reached at [email protected]