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Can a sportswriter hold serve with a pro?
“All right,” he says, clearly reluctant. He has a cranky back.
After a handful of warmup serves, Justin starts to turn up the velocity. He’s acing me right and left and down the middle. These are topping out at well more than 100 mph, and he’s probably only giving 75 percent. But it’s the placement that’s killing me. Out wide with a kick that sends it high over my head. Or down the center stripe when I’m leaning the other direction. I’m a soccer goalie, just guessing where the ball is coming next.
Justin serves one hard into my backhand, and I’m stunned when I chip it back successfully. We get into a rally, and somehow I win the point when he sends a volley long.
I’m feeling good. But then I look down at my shirt - the one that’s supposed to stay nice and dry - and it is soaked straight through. Soggy as all heck. I am sweating like Roger Clemens in front of Congress. I realize that I am killing myself out here, and Justin is not even trying. It’s not fair.
“Wanna play a tiebreak?” he asks.
“Uh, sure,” I respond as a mixture of nausea and excitement sweeps over me.
It’s best out of seven points, and you have to win by two. Something tells me he will win by at least that much.
I serve first. First ball goes into the net, so I dink the second serve in lamely. Mercifully, Justin declines to smash it back, instead hitting it gingerly back into the court. I respond with an acceptable forehand.
He yells “crosscourt!” That’s right: He’s announcing where he’s going to hit the ball - actually telling me where the ball is going next. And yet, when he sends over a sharply angled forehand, I miss it completely, waving my racquet at empty air.
1-0, Gimelstob. I mutter an expletive.
His turn to serve. He pounds one down the middle. By the time I swing my racquet, the ball already is rattling around up in the seats.
He follows that up with an ace out wide. I grunt, more out of aggravation than exertion.
Ok, I’m down 3-0. I take a deep breath. I’m mildly annoyed. I’m taking this way too seriously.
And then something happens. It’s my turn to serve, and I crush it. I mean, I hit the snot out of the thing. It clears the net and bounces right around the service line. Justin is surprised. He nets the return.
“Woah, nice one,” he says.
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