OpportunityIt began with this text:
INTERNATIONAL SPORTS CHALLENGE ALERT
Canepa World Netless Tennis Championships. 3:30-4:15 pm, Monday December 5. Because nets are for wimps and losers.
It was sent to Eli 15.4 at 2:00 pm yesterday.
"You know, some people would say that no nets on the courts, snow, and thirty-eight degrees means no tennis," he said.
"Some people say that," I said. "Other people see nothing but opportunity."
"I'm in," he said. "It's on."
The nets at the tennis center were taken down last week, much to our surprise. Because of the weather up here, all the outdoor nets get taken down for winter.
That's okay, though, because we invented our own rules variation.
Ground stroke service from the baseline, and every shot must land beyond the service line. That makes for a surprisingly satisfying and intense game, even without nets. It's kind of racquetball, kind of tennis, kind of its own thing.
Going into this championship match, though, I had a problem.
Eli is so much stronger than I am now, and he hits so much harder. I wasn't sure I could beat him at regular tennis anymore.
For the World Championships of Netless Tennis, though, I had a secret weapon.
"New balls," I said, handing him the can.
"Finally!" he said. "Every practice ball we have is so flat."
"Hey, World Championships," I said. He laughed.
The court was about 90% dry, with snowdrifts along the fence. During warmups, Eli hit a ball past me that rolled to the fence. "Hey, keep that ball out of the snow, and oh my god did I just say that?" he said, laughing.
We were both laughing. A lot.
"Okay, three sets to ten points, have to win by two," I said, as we finished warming up.
"Sounds good," he said. "You're toast."
"I have one request," I said. "Since I'm an elderly gentlemen compared to me, allow me to pick the balls we use."
"Oh no," he said. "What are you up to?"
"Well, you won't find out unless you let me choose the balls," I said.
"All right," he said. "I'll regret this."
I reached into my bag and pulled out three red and yellow balls, and held them up. "OH MY GOD!" he said, laughing so hard he almost fell over.
These were training balls for young kids learning how to play. They're 15% larger than a regular tennis ball (which doesn't sound like much, but they look HUGE), with 75% reduced bounce. Plus, because of the size increase, they're much, much slower.
My personal highlight was serving and volleying (an underhand serve, lobbed almost to the baseline), after which Eli held up his hand.
"Need a minute?" I asked.
"I can't see," he said. "I'm laughing so hard I'm crying."
It was over in two sets, 12-10 and 11-9, equal parts drama and comedy. I sank to my knees and held up a "WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP" that I had secreted away.
"That was an unbelievable amount of fun," Eli said, laughing.
"Let's keep going," I said. We played a third set, just for fun, and laughed all the way.