Hi guys. I've been watching women's tennis for a long time, gathering a lot of info on different players and eras for fun. And I've been thinking recently, why not put all that info to good use? So I'm toying with the idea of writing tennis-related fiction, based on important facts or little-known ones from the large history of the sport. Her match
I really don't know if this is the right place for the thread. Maybe a moderator could move it, in case it isn't.
So, here we could post pieces of tennis-related stories (not necessarily historical ones) and critique each other's works. Tell me if it's a good idea.
Now I'll set the tone with my first foray into fictional tennis. Please feel free to indicate any mistakes I've made, whether grammatical or structural. Or just anything that feels wrong to you.
And feel free to post your own stories. I think the history of tennis is ripe with events that could use a fictional treatment.
“Well, truth be told, I am not an exciting lady. I’m one of those people that, when falling in love with a thing, they want all of it, they want to do it forever. I’ve always lived my life in absolutes, I’ve always wanted perfection. They say I cannot attain it, buy I say I can at least do my practice dutifully.”
Morning, the twelfth of August, sunny, the same still summer dryness of her faraway hometown. It is half past nine now and she sits on a bench outside the courts, her back facing them, her eyes watching the town’s brilliant, warm emptiness. She rests in her full usual attire, white dress barely above the ankles, sleeves barely above the elbows, a yellow belt at the waist. A white ribbon with a flowery knot pulling her black hair to the back so as to not trouble her in the midst of playing, a tight amber bead bracelet on her left hand. A wide-brimmed white summer hat resting on the bench, near her. Just like a lady should look.
She has dressed like this exactly three hours ago, in her pleasant hotel room, a three-minute walking distance from the courts. More than ever before, it’s starting to feel dreadfully hot in this outfit. Is the weather at fault?
She woke up half an hour past the usual time, the one she had respected faithfully since her childhood years until less than a month ago. She reached the courts at about a quarter to seven and tried to convince herself to step on the main court, hit some balls, but she could not. There was something about the empty club, the lifeless town that would not let her. And like a wax statue, she now melts in the rising sun.
She swept the Nationals, less than a month ago, second year in a row, singles, doubles, mixed. It was not luck – as the whole East Coast was saying one year ago – you do not hit the bull’s eye two times out of luck. And now their mouths are either shut or wide in awe. And, oh, how she had wanted all of this. A Western girl, crossing the country, a journey to the East, a conqueror.
More than twenty-four years before this day died Mary, the woman that had brought tennis to the States, the mother of American tennis. Still young, as all people of value do. She took them with her from Bermuda, the racquet, the balls, the wit, the movement of legs, the court – a sacred, ancient mix imported into New York. Mary played the first American game herself against her sister, on an hourglass-shaped court. It was a long, gruelling match and no one remembers now who won that day. So long it was that years later people were jokingly saying “Maybe they’re still playing today, the sisters”. How beautiful is that? She wishes she could have been there, in Mary’s place or in the sister’s place, or in the stands. An endless game, uninterrupted tennis, just like tennis should be. And when she died, twelve years later, Mary’s soul crossed the country to the West and the same year she was born again, her feet touching the shores of another ocean, larger, warmer – that’s what her mother was telling her in those young Californian summers.
But she has not played in a while, Mary’s scion. After the complete triumph at the Nationals, which awed the country even more so than the previous one, her father and brothers convinced her she needed rest and brought her home, in Berkeley, almost against her wishes. She had two tournaments planned in Massachusetts. But she would not go. And thinking now at the past weeks, as the streets of Seattle, warm in the virgin heat, welcome bundles of timid dwellers, she asks herself why? Why, without even pondering, did she go back home? Was she too proud of herself? She has played tennis every day, since times she can’t even remember, since she was hitting the ball against the backboard between the skylights. She won her three titles on June twenty-sixth and the next day she was already on a train to Berkeley, alongside her father and three brothers.
-- Now, will you come home with us? said Pa after the award ceremony on those Philadelphia grass courts. What was she thinking then? Something in the air. A smell of sweat, a rotten sweetness, the large oak tree overlooking the courts and casting a shadow upon them. She wanted sleep, rest and she wanted to go back to those never-ending, dreamy childhood days, maybe. And maybe – yes – she was pleased with herself. Perfect triumph. Two times. What could she have wanted more from tennis?
She had been a sickly child spending more time at home than in school – she had nearly died one fever-ish summer night, with the desperate mother and the doctor by the bedside. Her childhood memory was hidden in that weakening, sleepy mist of the dark Berkeley villa. As the train pierced the country’s heart, heading to the West, her desire for sleep, for the cooling shadows of her birth place grew harder. She dipped herself in that memory and, when she reached her home, she revived it. It was as pleasant as she remembered it to be. Endless summer days, unbroken sleep, warm, strange, humid dreams of being lost in dark forests, of the ocean, of the night sky. The days went on and on and no one dared to wake her up of this sleep. It was her rest period after all. She would only wake up to satisfy bodily needs, half-asleep.
As a child, she remembers, her infant sleep was brought to a halt by the desire of her parents to have her play a sport. So, without consent, with her crying her eyes out, Ma and Pa dragged the girl out of the villa and into the strong arms of her older brothers, on the adjacent lawn. And what a wake-up call that has been!
-- Watch sis climb the ladder!
-- Watch sis throw the ball!
-- Watch sis bring the water bottle!
And when she failed.
-- You rotten sis!
Rotten. Her second name. Oh, why couldn’t her mother give her a sister?
But because of her brothers she fell for tennis. They made her play a lot of sports, baseball, football, soccer. But one morning, oh, one morning, stepping out of the house and onto the lawn, under a cloudy sky, in front of her eyes she found laid a perfectly shaped gravel rectangle. And crossing it on the middle, some ninety centimetres above it, there was a rope, stretching from the villa – tied to a downspout – through a bush of red roses at the other margin of the rectangle, to a lamppost and tied to it. The same day she fell in love with the ball, it’s relentless bouncing on the grass, its perfect shape, the racquet, its fragile body, like some sort of airy weapon and their love, the couple, the hit, tennis. Her start wasn’t a hourglass grass court, but a gravel one where, if a short ball had fallen near the net then it wouldn’t have bounced, it would have stayed there, buried. So you couldn’t let it fall. And she did not, she ran towards it and smashed it to the other court.
She’s been playing tennis ever since, every day. It took the place of the summer sleep, in her heart. She couldn’t help following it through, giving all of herself on the court, wanting to prove herself, first to her brothers and later to the whole world.
-- Rest a little, Rotten! You ain’t gonna be perfect, you know, said either one of her brothers when seeing her hit the ball for hours on end, dawn till dusk.
-- Practice makes perfect, she replied. In truth, if bodily needs hadn’t stopped her, she would have practiced forever.
But then, a month ago, after coming back home, she had forgotten about tennis and had remembered of the stillness of the summer days. Those sleepy, sweat-ridden Berkeley afternoons. Through them , she had gotten a cold. Only those coughs made her a little more conscious of herself. What was she doing? But how could she have woken up? She should have gotten up to practice. But with whom? Her brothers? They probably thought nothing of her just like they had in their childhood. She was still rotten to them. As she was to everyone. A Western girl, a woman conquering the East. A woman hitching up her petticoat to go to the net, not let the ball fall and attack. „This is not a lady’s tennis”, they would say. Those thoughts hurt her. “Sleep through it”, she said to herself.
She could have made this last for always, a forest girl sleeping with her forever defended cup. Why would she play more if the laurels were sitting on her head? Her teenage days of waking up at five o’clock sprinting towards the courts of California University to get at least two hours of practice before the girls’ allowed playtime was up, her subsequent years of tennis, tens of tournaments, cheers and slurs, chants, hours on the train, the first time she felt the cold, grey spirit of the East, all the rich girls they loved, their ankle-length dresses, their Vitagraph Girl smiles. All these bits of life had not been supposed to happen, as her destiny had been to sleep forever, bound by the summer fever, in the shadowy villa. Somehow she had evaded that fate, but she had always known that one day she would go back, roundabout, to the childhood Summer day.
-- Wake up, rotten! Let us go outside and play some lawn! Her youngest brother. It was him who dared to wake her up of those fever dreams. And now she was ashamed. She didn’t move so as to make him think she was asleep. And he left, but it was the shame that stayed with her, a grown woman spending her weeks comatose. She managed to drag herself out of bed and face the awkward glances of her family.
-- There is the Washington State tournament in Seattle. Remember? You have been there last year after winning the Nationals. Don’t you want to go this year too? said Pa.
Could she have refused? Could she have said „I want more sleep” after a month of the same?
-- I’ll manage by myself, she said to them while boarding. And she travelled along the coastline in the same drowsy state.
The day. Her first match in over a month. But for her it feels like the cloudy morning near the gravel court. People have been starting to gather for a while now, judging by the clamour coming from behind her. It’s fortunate that she’s standing in the back of the court, the part opposite to the entrance, so she saved herself of having to talk to unknowns. She looks at the sun. It’s nearing eleven. They will need to begin soon. She wants to leave to her hotel room; it is so close. Who would dare to make a fuss about it? And yet, she arranges her hair, carefully puts on the hat and adjusts the brim, raises and starts walking towards the entrance. It’s scorching, the sweat has imbued her dress, she feels a slight tremble in her limbs and a sickly, damp soreness from the throat down to the chest. The noise increases in volume as she approaches. Grave voices, men, all of them, she is sure of it. Crassly laughing men and their silent, smiling wives.
She steps on the margin of her dress and stumbles forward, but quickly regains her footing, looks around for intrusive eyes and repositions her hat.
-- Darn this... , she weeps.
Alas, too long these dresses.
There is no one left at the entrance except the ticket-boy. She feels his gaze, he’s grinning at her, but she does not give in to it and marches forward. A shadowy, cool passage-way grips her, two lights, two worlds at each end and an endless darkness in between. She rests for one second on her right foot and then continues into the light.
Noise. A choir of disparate male voices singing a mocking tune. Why would men watch women’s tennis if not out of a desire to ridicule them, to see them in their pretty, suffocating white dresses ?
She hears sounds of rubbing pebbles as she steps onto the grass. She sees nothing, only a white, blinding light as if filtered through a grey veil. More out of pure instinct than senses she reaches her chair and finds there, by the feel of her fingers, a racquet. She hears her name said my a man, then by others, crippling it, shortening its vowels, condensing it.
-- Rotten! shout the packed stands.
-- Time! says patiently a man close to her. And she almost jumps out of the chair, startled. She reaches the place where the net should be, but she only sees a thick, brown rope in place of its top. A faint figure of a woman across the rope, through the mist of her eyes.
-- Heads or tails? asks the man.
-- Heads, says the other woman.
-- Serve or receive?
-- Serve, says the woman.
She looks at her opponent.
-- What is your name? she asks.
The woman answers. She did not hear it clearly because of the clamour, but it sounded like a man’s name.
-- No, not your husband’s name. But it’s tardy for the woman has already faded away into dark grey colour of the pebbles. She understands that it’s time for her to do the same. But as she does, she hears her name again. The man, the umpire…
-- Miss... Miss... Have you ever won a .... match? All the points in it? I think it’s impossible, he says in a condescending tone. Yet, she has not heard all his words.
-- Can you repeat, please? But there’s not time for that as the noise suddenly grows into a grave blast which swiftly pushes her onto the baseline of the court, where every lady should be. We have a match!
At the right side of the rope, where the umpire should rest, there’s a tall bush of red roses in full bloom. She can smell their scent from here. Their petals are wet so maybe a light drizzle has found its way down from the grey skies. The faint sound of a ball being hit. Oh, the baseline, such a hopeless distance!
-- Stay behind, rotten! Stay behind and defend!
But no, I cannot, I will not! The baseline is for the sleepy and the fearful. No! I pull my skirt up with the left hand and run towards the rope. The ball landing somewhere, the sound of gravel being smashed, thrown around. Billy, my oldest brother, is tall and hits mightily and his ball doesn’t stick into the gravel as mine does but is propelled forward. And still, not today! I’m there, halfway the distance to the rope, to meet the ball in a forehand thrown like a lasso to the corner of the other court. Tang! She caught it! Darn! I hear it, hissing through the air. And I march on towards the rope, to meet the ball and I smash it like only a man would do. But, trust me on this, I’m a lady!
She likes the baseline play, this girl, like that other one from the South I used to play against! But me, I’m a different kind of breed.
There’s a rainy breeze blowing to my face, through my dress, making it larger, larger than the court, almost like I’m playing nude, as an ancient Olympian would. Another ball! On the T! I hit it with a backhand that draws a floating arch over the rope towards the right corner. The girl hits it back and it is low so it should reach my court through the part below the rope, but strangely it bounces off and the rope trembles. Naturally, the point stops. What a shame! This gravel court of mine, couldn’t it take the beautiful shape of an eight?
She hits! I return, a forehand to the left corner! She’s caught it and returns. Fast, fast, towards the rope. Don’t let it fall a second time, but do away with it! Send it to the corners of the world, to the curved sides of the hourglass! You’re the master of the ball!
The man in the rosebush speaks loudly, in numbers, but I do not, cannot hear them. The rope trembles one time. I am here! It will be weaker, the second. Tang! It meets the gravel and bounces loudly! Oh, Billy! And I’m there, a backswing like the flight of a dragon, I send it back! No response, no sound, only my ball into the gravel, scattering it.
Game? Which is the game? We have barely commenced.
My height is not great enough to serve well, I know it. I receive the balls, hear them being bounced to me and catch them. But after I throw the ball into the humid, electrified, restless air, after I hit it softly, like a lady would, you’ll find myself striding forward, to catch the return in half-volley or better, a pure, bounceless volley. Be ready! Be ready! Your footwork is life! You live through this! Tang! When you have the chance to hit a volley, be thankful! Thank yourself!
This is not a game. This is THE game! Point after point, volley after volley, bounce after bounce. Tang! I need more. I need to be faster, to time myself better, to feel the rhythm in my legs. Never keep still! There’s no sound other than the one of the court. Every pause is harder to endure but is shorter than the one before. We are approaching continuity, infinity, a sleepless, tireless game. Two women caught in this for always, no memory, no feelings, no past and future, only the court. The hourglass shaped gravel court, rosebush by the side, in this ever cloudy morning.
-- Game! Set! Match! Miss... The crowd bursts into cheers, and applause, men and women, an androgynous, perfect cry.
-- You’ve done it, Miss! says the umpire, appearing from behind the roses! You’ve won a perfect game, forty-eight points. Six love, six love. You’ve made history! I’m so thankful to be here!
Perfect? What does this poor man know? It can’t be perfect if it ends!
Last edited by fauxarchitect; Nov 18th, 2016 at 12:18 PM.