Can a sportswriter hold serve with a pro?

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Justin Gimelstob is feigning trepidation.

“Oh, man, he’s dressed like a tennis player. I was expecting khakis and a notebook.”

Indeed, I’ve come armed with my Wilson nTour and a new one of those slick “moisture-wicking” Reebok shirts. Though I do point out that I’m carrying a briefcase instead of a gym bag.

I shake Justin’s hand and take a look around. We’re inside the stadium court at Legg Mason Tennis Classic. I doubt that’s true, but it’s a cool thought.

“So how good of a player are you?” Justin asks, standing up from a bleacher to reveal his 6-foot-6-inch frame.

“I’m a three-five,” I say, referring to the ATP Tour and was once ranked 63rd in the entire world. At that level, they give out big checks, not ratings.

“We’ll see,” he responds with a wry grin.

Justin is in town to help promote his debut with the Washington Kastles, a new World TeamTennis franchise that will begin play in the District next month. He’s doing some clinics with kids and also has agreed to play with a few schlubby reporters like myself.

We start to hit a few balls. He’s feeding me easy, waist-high forehands, and I’m getting them back in play. These are right in my wheelhouse, and I’m loving it. I flub a backhand or two. But I’m not stinking up the joint, and this is good.

I start up the small talk, telling him about how I watched him play once at a tournament in Daniel Nestor. He looks at me like I just asked him the square root of 642. I guess he’s not impressed with my knowledge of obscure left-handed Canadian doubles players. I feel like a dork.

“Do you read my column?” he asks.

I hesitate before responding. He’s referring to his column on SI.com, and I know it exists but haven’t read it in a while. I tell him I read it religiously. I’m pretty sure he knows I’m lying.

The rallies are getting more intense. Justin comes into the net, and I try to pound some forehands right at him. He volleys them back with little effort.

I manage a few successful passing shots down the line, though he’s not really going after them. He congratulates me politely. My confidence is building.

“Let’s see if I can handle one of your serves,” I say with more cockiness than I intend.

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