The Fantastic Formalities Of Tennis

Table Of Contents

Part I:  Isner Scoring Method

1.  Shambles Of My Game
2.  Double Fault Worries
3.  Highlighter Orange
4.  Tennis Is Peace
5.  Rainout Beers
6.  The Tennis Underground
7.  Thirsty For The Throne
8.  Red Clay And Jack Sock
9.  Five Hour Window
10.  Heavy Air
11.  The Wilson Hope
12.  Chicken Wire
13.  King The Todd
14.  Dunlop And A Three
15.  ISM
16.  Kramerian Game
17.  The Final Mahut
18.  Anatomy Of A Roddick
19.  Fresh Oregano
20.  Like McEnroe

Part II:  The Junkyard Court

1.  Vantaggio Side
2.  Strawberry Cream
3.  Grass Transition
4.  This Ain't No Exhibition
5.  Deuce Juice
6.  A Recognizable And Distinct Gesture
7.  The Complete Obsession With Opponent Destruction
8.  Between Hippie And Preppie
9.  This Potential Madness
10.  Athletic Apparel Hypnosis Syndrome
11.  Instantaneous Automatic Maneuver
12.  Best And Worst Tennis Kits Of 2019
13.  They Dream In Green
14.  The Yellow Fuzzy Sphere
15.  Square And Fair
16.  The Modern Court

Part III:  Red Mud Gonzo

1-16:  Red Mud Gonzo

Part IV:  Drops

1.  Net Man
2.  Livin' On The Lines
3.  The Clay Court Wars
4.  Vantaggio
5.  Serena And Venus
6.  King Of The Court 3
7.  King James Again
8.  Relevant Tennis
9.  The Earl Of Nantucket
10.  For All The French
11.  Ain't No Charity In Tennis
12.  Huff Is Tough
13.  Gonzo Birmingham #1
14.  Gonzo Birmingham #2
15.  Gonzo Birmingham #3
16.  Gonzo Birmingham #4
17.  No Man
18.  The Barley Was Gnarly

Part I:  Isner Scoring Method

1.  Shambles Of My Game

The shambles of my game are smoldering in a pit of glowing coals and lava.  Steam lifts as the sweats of anger evaporate.  My earlier explosion caused the blaze--that and an unforgiving opponent.  My tennis education continues.

During the 11th game of the 15 game mahut, after being up 40-love in the previous service game and losing to make it 5-5, I'd decided to quit tennis.  My opponent went on to hold serve and win the 11th game, and then the abuse began.  A crash into the fence, a smash to the hardcourt, even a hard chunk across the net, konking the bench, and careening to my opponent's feet.  A classy moment.  A fit.  Like it was the racquet's fault, and further, the racquet must be punished.  In an abusive and cold manner.  Lunacy.  The eventual loss of 7-8 was tainted with shame.  Asked for forgiveness at the closing net shake.  For stealing my opponent's tennis joy.  And worse, attempting to steal his tennis glory.

Good mahut for me really, a better result than the previous week, where my pathetic mental game helped produce a 2-8 loss.  Summed up in this note describing the mahut...

     The humbling began early, my opponent taking advantage of my chronic mental weakness.  His wounded shoulder in my mind.  Sympathy is such a pathetic and useless emotion in sports.  It can motivate those receiving it unwantingly.  And so it did, 8-2.  Sure, serves came to me with no pop, but the spins were wild, my feet were bumbling, my strokes were incomplete, my tennis anger turned into despair, then defeat.  My opponent taught me a lesson today.  I will take note, I will learn from it.  Seeing him and his red brake covers, hearing the roar of his exhaust, squinting at the shine of his convertible camero, I could only marvel.  I could only wonder.  Has anyone actually seen this MRI indicating a torn rotator cuff?.  Doctor privilege, I guess, but think of it.  Brilliant.  Surely not, that would be too brilliant.  To fake an injury to ruin the mental game of your opponents.  I will learn from this, yes, I will learn from this mahut.  Mahut!

Physically, everything is good.  Joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and back.  The eyes are weakening and the glasses fog, but still strong on the court, the tennis elbow of two years ago defeated.  Plantar fascia troubles no longer.  The mental weakness, however, can lead to a motivational crisis.  And this is where I stood in the 12th and 13th games of my morning's crumbling mahut.  Quit tennis until the Thursday morning Houston mahut, traditionally played before attending the day session of the U.S. Clay Court Championships.  A three week layoff would do me well I thought, all the while aimlessly firing forehands and backhands out, in the net, to the fences.  At least I wasn't screaming profanities and abusing my racquet.....any longer.

Came back and won a couple, but only after ruining the tennis peace of the entire complex.  The Indians were polite, as always.  Maybe it was Green Day, the morning's musical selection.  Perhaps punk rock should be for other venues.  But the morning was jamming, til the emotions in my mind let me down.  The quitting idea has already been abandoned, it is rarely the best option.  Perhaps prayer, yes, prayer.  Prayer is always the answer.  God's Will.  Amen.  Mahut!

2.  Double Fault Worries

     Elevated almost.  Like a new man.  A new tennis man.  Old burdens gone.  The knowledge of futility is eliminated.  It is no longer true.  An ascension to a higher tennis plane.  Planned long ago, a better game developed.  Intentional and deliberate, recurring and recurring.  Overcoming breaks and strains.  Catching breaths and hydrating constantly.  The pace is important.  Anxious hurries and double fault worries are fatal.  Incredible the interior games within the match.  Nerves lit and sweat pouring into pools.  The heat and the winds drying it quickly.  Too much tennis charity from my opponent.  Too many mistakes.  Comebacks and advantages.  No cross court power today.  Unusual.  Standing back unleashes the pop.  The pronation gives the serve another look.  From the top of the swing, after the butt muscles have launched and as the shoulder turn has snapped back.  Chin up. Tournagrips are needed, in abundant supply.  Headbands and bandanas.  The net was giving.  Shots of destiny, games of inexplicable victory.  Ronnie Wood can sing.  Bound For Glory with Neil Young and Waylon and Willie.  Music is a fabulous addition to Isner Scoring Method culture.  A Kaizenian improvement made possible and practical by Bluetooth.  Evolution of the glowface era.  The future shines bright indeed.  The light!  The light!  It is truth.  The classic match victory over The Lion Duke Joe Vita, my first in 32 years of regular tennis, was a moment of exaltation.  The page can turn, although now, I want to be a Duke too.  KOtC8 is two months from now.  Preparations continue.  Mahut!

3.  Highlighter Orange
     Crashing to the court Keck must have been furious.  Coach Vita and I had insisted on the 6:45 daybreak start, before the sun evaporated the mist, before the courts were dry, when the surface was at it's most slick.  Our tune up Saturday round robin was planned days before.  15 game mahuts to make up 45 total, just 15 games shy of what will be played in the upcoming King Of The Court tournament.  The 7th KOtC.  The Lion Earl Joe Vita was there too, in highlighter orange Adidas apparel.  Lenny Kravitz was the tunes.  Memories of his afroed, coed band at the Bronco Bowl came back in nostalgic waves as we listened to his riffs.  Cab Driver, Rosemary, Let Love Rule.  The reminder is always needed.  Love is the only way.  Life, as in tennis, must be loved to to be played to its potenial. Lenny can jam.  His opening act that night did not belong there.  Sean Lennon has Yoko's voice.
     We were early in our mahut when Keck hit a backhand return.  While scurrying back to the middle of the court, I hit a balls deep inside out forehand back to his backhand.  I'm sure he regrets even going for it, but his instincts were too ingrained.  Down at the time to an inferior player, he attempted to misdirect his momentum and the slippery court did it's thing.  His feet slid out from under him, his whole body suspended in the air, and he came crashing to the surface, loud and quick.  Thankfully, to prevent gruesome facial injuries, he was of enough mind to react as his hands and arms quickly broke the fall.  Immediately he got up, dusted off, checked for any blood and began nursing the right wrist.  He had the look of someone who knew, someone that felt something different, perhaps even someone that heard the unnatural pop.  Everyone is their own best Doctor, especially with the internet.  The inside out forehand had landed perfectly in the corner, accelerated by topspin and biting down severely.  I was happy to get the point, and even now I remember the crispness of the contact, the decision to misdirect made early, allowing for a full setup and attention to technique.  It was a good strategy considering the conditions, just wish Keck would have given up on that one, let it ring the fence, let the point be won by another.  Give up a winner.  His hatred of losing, even a point, is well known.  Since the injury I'm certain he's wondered 'what if' we had a more reasonable 8 o'clock start.  The 'what ifs', tourtureing his mental well being.  Duke Keck will heal, slower now that he's older, but he will be ready for King Of The Court 7.
     We finished the mahuts we could with the remaining healthy players, concluding in a 2 round modified california doubles format.  Joe the Lion Earl won despite Coach Vita's attempted calculation confusion and scoring lapses.  We all had our Zverev moments, those moments when a big point is on your racquet for an easy volly putaway and it ends up hitting the middle of the net and dribbling to your feet.  We went for winners, we hit drop shots.  Slams, double faults, aces, unforced errors, nubs, effs, down the line screamers, ridiculous angles, and Zverevs.  Liked that highlighter orange look, like a construction zone, or a life jacket.  Just what my game needs.

4.  Tennis Is Peace

     After coming off a strong mahut against Keck, playing King James on the clay courts of Brookhaven on an early Friday morning was highly anticipated.  Not only was my tennis game under relative control, but it was my debut to the surface.  The surface of the French.  The surface of River Oaks in Houston.  I wanted to slide like Juan Monaco, dig like Novak, and click the mud off my shoes like Fed.  My invitation for an invitation to the only clay courts in Collin County was sent earlier in the week after Keck and Coach Vita were guests of the King.  Membership does have it's privileges and being a former member of the Royal Court, The Earl of KOtC5, emboldened me.  And envy overtook me.  King James accommodated graciously with an invitation.  The court was in perfect condition, with the rains of the past week captured in the mud.  A thin layer of dirt covered the base clay of the court.  Upon arrival, the King was combing the court with a contraption especially designed for the task.  Unlike the crew in Houston, we left the lines unswept.  Tight net, low 70s, little wind, water jug, large shade trees, new can, efficient warm up, the soft clay.  Brent has smooth shots, as we know, and is well practiced.  Got me running and my legs got heavy, got me thinking and I had mental breakdowns, hit my serves back for winners.  In the end, had a number higher than my most optimistic hope and a number better than the 3-17 beat down King James put on Keck two mornings prior.  21 games into our first Isner Match and I'm down 6-15.  All this recent tennis, from attending the U.S. Clay Court Championships in Houston to my continuing tennis schedule, naturally got me thinking of KOtC7 preparations. 


     King Foster, the unexpected King, should return.  His protégée, Prince, won the same amount of games in the afternoon King division of KOtC6.  They tied 5-5 in their mahut, eliminating the first tiebreaker.  Initially, King Foster insisted the throne be given to Prince, but that idea was abandoned when Keck, the Tournament Administrator, determined that total games from the morning mahuts was the 2nd tiebreaker.  Brilliant.  Consulting the morning brackets indicated King Foster with one more game than Prince.  Every game counting is at the core of the Isner Scoring Method.  My 1-9 result against Prince in the morning mattered.  A game is a game.  For literary effect I was secretly hoping for a King Prince in KOtC6, but it was not to be.  Hopefully, Prince will be back too, after a year of Collin College training.  He is a physically gifted and talented player.  From Klien, near Houston.  Ultimately, royalty, any worthy royalty anyway, hates to lose. That will determine the fate of all players.  Not in an unhealthy way, understand, just a simmering distaste.  This hate can lead to actions that decrease the odds of losing including:  practice, training, professional instruction, rest, creative expressions, and equipment adjustments.  Can be anything, but it is clearly self motivated.  This hate can also lead to actions that increase the odds of losing including: frustration, quitting, cussing, pouting, drinking, and equipment destruction.  Self control of mind, body, and tennis spirit.  Swing to swing, point to point, game to game, mahut to mahut.  We are gathered here today to think through this thing called life.  Electric word, life, means forever, and that's a mighty long time.  Prince Mardy Feldman, brother of King The Todd, should return if his schedule allows.  He fishes in far away oceans, he drives race cars, he has people.  Duke Keck, who also serves as Tournament Administrator, will return, of course.  His recent callout to Allen Civic Leader and Tennis Ambassador, Justin Quest, for an acceptable summer date will set in motion a series of actions, culminating in the tournament and crowning of royalty.  Earl Joe Vita served his time well.  Newspaper articles and ads, Golden Circle recognition for his professional efforts, trips to New York, multiple trips to Hawaii.  He also protected a 70 year old man from a dangerous raging drunk at Tupps Brewery.  His loud and repeated verbal assaults of "sit down and shut up!" was all he needed.  Royal as ever.  His desent to the Earl after serving as the Duke was, no doubt, humbling.  But the life of an a Earl is good.  The common royal.  Like the 10 of hearts in a Royal straight flush.  He' ll be back unless unavoidable conflicts arise. 


     The invitations will be sent in due time.  All the former Kings:  King Foster, King Stone, King The Todd, and King James.  In time for preparations, better come in shape.  Avoid the Jack Sock at any cost.  Hydrate and live simply.  Should have saw that coming.  Juan Monaco came to play in Houston.  Coach Vita noticed it after the Quarters.  Keck favored Monaco all along.  His Aggasian strategy of running the American Sock ragged in the finals paid off.  Perhaps it was only a coincidence that Brad Gilbert, former coach of Andre Aggasi, was seen with Juan Monaco during the tournament.  We can only speculate, as the busy Gilbert seemed everywhere--pictures with Bush41 in the club, at the USTA booth discussing windows of opportunity and the next great player, on TV.  Dig his hat.  He seems the modern day Bud Collins, another that has departed here.  Probably all on Merle's Silver Wings.  Merle, Bud Collins, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, and Bowie.  To glory, because they left their glories behind.  Ahh yes, the clay got me thinking.  Tennis is peace, even when doves cry.

5.  Rainout Beers

     like cats it came down.  the October rain was relentless and loud as we sat on the two rows patio in Allen, Texas.  no tennis this night, just some rainout beers with keck and billy vita.  just as well.  we were all in some state of chaos, confusion, or discernment.  keck and his recent brush with tennis humility.  max King had destroyed him.  6-1, 6-0 old style scoring method.  his credentials were discovered only later and included professional status and bent tree certifications.  keck was talking about this guy's game, just better and smarter.  and he was older.  max King was 55, keck estimated.  always pushing forward, always putting shots away at the net.  and spin, and drop shots, and extreme angles.  his was not a game we knew.  and we knew.  keck promised to start working on his net game and asked billy and I for our best pointers.  somehow, I had been blessed with quick feet and soft hands.  once I learned to take a final hop and set myself before my opponent hit an attempt at a passing shot, net play had come easy.  the punch, developed early, and constant forward play only enhanced my ability to win matches.  the kramarian approach, as I've only since discovered.  my advice to keck was just that.  mainly, encouragement was what he needed. being on the losing side of our last mahut, the spur mahut, must have been on his mind as well.  the rainout likely saved me from a wrath.  a keck tennis wrath.  I was happy we were drinking rainout beers instead.  the patio was nice and dry.  the air was cool, but muggy.  the beer menu included Tupps northbound 75, but they were out.  inquiring further, the nice young, smiling, waitress mentioned something about updating the beer menu on which Tupps would not be included.  offended slightly, I politely ordered a dos xx because it was Mexican night.  This was the wednesday before hurricane patricia had everyone worrying and praying for the mexicans and non-mexicans on the mexican west coast.  a dos xx seemed appropriate.  was more offended when she asked me if I knew of tupps, "a little brewery in mckinney."   keck loudly mentioned the sticker on his car.  I said something about swaying California brown and iron art.  where is the loyalty?  updating your beer menu?  from then on, I ordered what keck ordered.  it was all good.  and the waitress was forgiven, especially after she informed us she was not of drinking age, she had never been to Tupps.  she had never seen Chris day's iron.  she had never tasted the black.  delicious.
     Billy's net game advice was more in depth.  I learned a lot sitting at that table.  always go for the center of the net.  the odds are greater.  the angles much better.  and the deep approach of course.  middle, side, either way, just keep the approach deep. he explained in detail the lead up to the hop skip.  his instruction-filled mind and knowledge of the game was apparent.  he had spent time in a classroom, learning from the tennis masters of Philadelphia.  he had learned the game at another level.  he has wisdom to impart.  he watches the tennis channel all day long as he takes conference calls and strings racquets.  cutting edge in everything, especially new technologies.  he is our coach.  but, he had more important and relevant matters on his mind.  his mother-in -law, Bernadette, was in poor health, lung cancer, and her passing, and likely continuing, seemed near.  prayer for the Irish Bernadette, and her family, especially sweet Mary.  lord, be with her.  billy vaped and drank and detailed for keck a net game strategy.  this temporary diversion was healthy for him, knowing the stoicism to come.  obliged or compelled, all will know.
     my own tennis humility came just a week prior.  at the racquet of billy himself.  I had played well and it didn't matter.  billy broke through.  we had at least 40 deuces in our 20 game mahut.  it went on and on. in the end, billy won more important points and left me trounced, 7-13.  some proactive coaching advice from earlier in the day had me thinking about the psychology of it all.  it is a dangerous place to lurk, but it is required to keep up with the likes of billy vita or his brother Joe or keck or Frank Friday or any tennis royal from the past.  perhaps even one day, max King.  point to point, hour to hour, day to day, year to year.  time will stop if we let it.  it will go away, and shall.  his return of serve has made obvious improvement and his serve is a controlled weapon. his advice was appreciated as KOtC6 was only a month out.  playing as a royal will be new.  this could be it unless I can win again.  perhaps Duke is a possibility this time.  the field may have thinned out.  the likes of King stone, King the Todd, and King james are missing due to other conflicts, some USTA sectional type of sanctification.  and, in King James' case, a road trip to see the once-promising cowboys play the buccaneers in Tampa.  King the Todd sent his brother Marty in his stead, a friend to the Isner methodology and culture. Serving as teammate and coordinator and coach of the Blowfish, we teamed up earlier in the year, along with King the Todd and others, to claim the revered fries cup.  Prince fess is a definite threat to all and everything, he is a determined fighter and hater of evil.  an Earl to Duke ascention would be noteworthy, but it will take big game.  and billy vita wants the Duke.
     all who participated in kotc4 remember last November.  all were witness.  the sad sight of keck worrying about the rain and the dry 5 hour window that followed.  Huffman, driving in from grapevine hardly able to see, having faith in tennis.  Vito, Roy, Berco, Fosters, a Dane and Luu too.  many are chasing royalty, but only four will emerge, all led by the King Of The Court.  don't expect rainout beers, there is no cancellation plan.  the beers wait for after.  At Tupps, of course.  A little brewery in McKinney.  Mahut!!!

6.  The Tennis Underground

    in memory of a memorable tennis player, The Fries Cup.  evidently, this guy was quiet a fellow.  his unexpected passing from cancer in his late-ish forties was a cruel demonstration of satan's work.  many, if not everybody, at the event had been impacted personally by this killer.  the cancer fight continues.  and there is victory on both sides, this battleground of our lives.  the war was won long ago.  the destruction and decay we see daily is only the devil's sour grapes.  the builders keep building.  the encouragers keep encouraging.  the war is won.

     tennis folks were all around.  this academy in frisco.  passed right by as I arrived in the morning, it so perfectly compliments the neighborhood.  a tight fit, no chance for indoor courts now.  just play in the mist and train in the rain.  many prodigies.  drills and drills and drills.  didn't see a backboard, but surely there is one.  a small pool, a boutique, rooms of cardio, rooms of weights.  places for private talks, a large entertainment room, flat screens playing u.s. open reruns.  Serena smashing forehands, then later, Novak sliding on the hard court.  his ankles will hurt when he gets old.

     the arrival was a flurry, knowing no one and getting familiar with the place.  walked around like I belonged.  checked in at the registration table, staffed with smiling young ladies scribbling check marks on stapled pages and offering each player an appreciation gift.  Payment was made and change back was refused, give it to the pink fight.  color coordinated teams were all around, which allowed me the opportunity to seek out and introduce myself to the grey wearing Blowfish team.  each of them was nice and courteous.  I quickly checked in with Marty Feldman, older brother of King The Todd, and obvious instigator and insurer of this event.  he was everywhere, carrying bottles of water, behind the scenes, helpful.  The Todd is known by all, even though this is not his home club.  Said hey to Huffman, a King division player in KOtC.  Prince Fess was spotted playing for another team.  He was a title sponsor, complete with a sign on the showcase court.  He knew this Fries guy, as did a few others I spoke with.  an endearing and chatty player, 'not in a bad way, but a funny way, always making little comments.'  His death was a shock just the year before.  Quick and unforgiving.  Esophagus.  A huge poster was displayed with many pink tennis ball stickers full of written prayers and names of loved ones that have battled.  and all battled successfully.  For to battle is to win.  Everlasting life is as good as it seems.

     The format was 4.0 doubles for me.  Three 8 game prosets, no ad.  Each played with a different grey shirt partner.  First match, played with Blake, a member and a very solid player.  A huge backhand and solid serve.  Tall and smooth, and consistent.  Later, he lamented his 'bad knees' and I sensed that as a younger player he was an ace.  Easy going and friendly, we got along right away.  We won our first match 8-2.  Next, I was paired with David.  A player with no second serve, which I admired greatly.  first serves only.  blast after blast after blast.  he was very competitive and focused.  Although we both waited over two hours for our match, we defeated our opponents 8-5 in a highly contested match.  Finally, late in the afternoon, teamed up with Rich to defeat a father son duo in red 8-6.  The young one, 18 or so, seemed put out to be there.  He was easily frustrated, but evidence of a once emerging game was apparent.  his dad later confided, over beers, that his frustrations could have been due to the realization of lost dreams.  Rich was a solid player and fine fellow.  a bit older, sporting ray bans, and a money return of serve on the forehand side.  Going 3-0 in my matches left me feeling like I pulled my weight for the Blowfish team.  Finding out later that our team won the Fries Cup when all the #'s were counted made me even more satisfied.  winning is always better than losing.  points, games, prosets, mahuts, royal titles.  the Earl of Nantucket is on a roll.  it will end, as it does for everyone.  Nadal knows.  McEnroe too, although he is still destroying the likes of Courier, Chang, and James Blake in the master's league.  But, Roddick still has his number.  Along with Isner, he is our only post- Sampras American tennis hero.  the 2003 u.s. open was important to Americans for obvious reasons given the events in New York 2 years before.  Roddick showed up!

     throughout the day, on the court and on the large porch containing all the idle players, I was asked about where I played out of or which club I was from.  searched for appropriate answers all day.  joining a place never occurred to me.  I have opponents at the ready.  courts are plentiful and accommodating, day or night.  KOtC is established and played twice a year.  Keck and i have Wednesday on the schedule.  Bill Vita same thing with Saturday morning.  Periodic Joe Vita mahuts.  T-Roy.  Bobby.  I stammered and searched for responses.  "I don't really play out of anywhere" to "play around town here and there" to "with some dudes" to "eagles landing" to "public tennis" to " I used to belong to eldorado" to "I might join eldorado" to "the tennis underground", which I stuck with. 

    the idle time, inevitable when 150 players show up to fight the hated cancer, led to significant socializing and drinking time.  I met many fine people.  Bill, who stretched out a wobbly knee with huge leg kicks.  Gil, the old man of our father/son duo, who was in a similar business and knew the Forts of mckinney.  another dude, who told me the story of Doug Fries.  He had tears in his eyes.  Everyone was nice.  Even the SMU tennis team was nice, despite sitting at the same table looking like hired assassins early on.  they loosened up and were scattered throughout the draw, playing for different teams.  they put on a show.  one got hit right in the kisser.  yes, that kisser. poor dude laid on the court for a few minutes, withering in pain.  there was a large crowd gathered.  the oooohhs, the laughs, the awwwws.  he was a good sport and waved to the crowd as he limped to the changeover bench.  the mustangs have a chance to make some noise this year.  poise, empathy, and the look of winners.  other former college players were there.  they reminded everyone of our place.  there is another level and another and another after that.  for now, we play tennis.  Mahut!!

7. Thirsty For The Throne

     Considering the KOtC5 draw, I immediately plotted my path to royalty.  The Earl, the common royal, seemed my only potential place.  Only 2 years ago, during the first KOtC, I was firmly in the thick of things for the Prince title.  Then the famous Leo Escario, the marathon runner, proud son of The Philippines, and owner of a permanent smile, outlasted me for the first KOtC Prince title in what I thought was going to be my last mahut on earth.  It was hot.  Death was at my doorstep.  My family was watching and the air was dizzy.  Heat exhaustion, hell, heat stroke, seemed inevitable.  Really, it would’ve been a good way to go, but our good God kept me around.  That was my chance and Leo slammed the gate, pulled up the bridge from the mote, and lifted the Prince prize.  Since then, its’ been a series of defeats, disappointments, a Frank Friday destruction of the KOtC establishment, and a back spasm roddick in KOtC3.  Only an 8-2 mahut win over Keck in KOtC4 serves as a highlight.  King James has gone royal, King The Todd of course, Keck and Joe have tasted the Duke title.  With Huffman, a tireless tennis warrior, Prince Coronado, a trendy pick for King, and Dayton Hancock, an Eagle returning to his tennis nest after college tuning, my morning draw is loaded and clearly the Earl is my most likely path to royal.   

     The quality of the overall KOtC field has continued to improve tournament after tournament.  Even now, even with the absence of King The Todd and the internationally famous J.D. Miles, we begin with the finest KOtC field ever.  There is King James, the dignified 2-time King who is always thirsty for the throne.  The possible return of JET to the Mavericks has him especially motivated.  His acceptance of Dirk’s new role as 6th man ushers in a new hope.  Hope for things to come.  The hopeful King.  He’ll have to play well early and avoid his notorious loose starts to put himself in position for the afternoon.  His morning draw is loaded with dangerous players.  Joe Vita is no joke.  He is back from Hawaii.  He is tan and rested.  He is the face of KOtC and always a threat.  This Jonathan Wraith person is a huge South African.  Tall and lanky, uncoiled rockets for serves.  Like fellow South African Kevin Anderson almost, who just took Novak to the 5 set brink at Wimbledon.  Nice fellow, that Anderson.   Along with King The Todd, Keck and I hung out with him a bit in Houston at the U.S. Clay Court Championships, eventually won by American Jack Sock.  He’s almost too nice to break into the world top 5, or Top 10 even, but he is talented.  Talks with a lisp.  Wraith kinda looks like him.  Rounding out King James’ early draw is Berco Neiman, a first time unknown to Isner tennis culture.  A true X factor.  Despite these obstacles, King James is likely to advance to the King division in the afternoon.  He will have plenty of nutrients and water, his KOtC experience will give him the edge over the newcomers and he just has too much game for Joe. 

    Despite King James’ accomplishments and preparations, first timer Jeremy Stone comes into the tournament as the favorite.  His reputation precedes him.  Machine-like and smart, tireless and deadly, unforgiving and quick, experienced and indestructible.  He should cruise into the afternoon King division.  Word has it that Eli Yaremenko is highly competitive, but probably a better bet for Prince this time around, like Prince Coronado this past Fall.  Frank Friday could derail Stone if some physical altercation breaks out over disputed line calls.  This is unlikely.  Frank’s intimidation tactics are deliberate and he is in control at all times, but perhaps he can bait Stone and pull off a miracle.  We haven’t discussed a fighting policy, but we are big advocates for peace—just for the record.  Flash flooding, tropical storms, and hurricanes will not keep Frank away after over-reacting to weather conditions in KOtC4.  He heard the whispers regarding his roddick and carries a chip.  Too much Delkus, too much USTA.  He’s never attended a KOtC where he did not go royal, claiming Prince in KOtC2 and Earl in KOtC3.  I want no part of Frank Friday.  Current Earl Vito could make a run for Duke or meet me in the afternoon.  He will be tough, but perhaps 6 months of living royal has made him vulnerable.  Maybe there is an opportunity.  Maybe he has rested on his royal butt a little more than normal.  Vito has what I want.  This could get ugly.

     The most intrigue and mystery is reserved for the final morning group.  Nick Pena, another collegiate player and returning Eagle, on his most familiar courts.  If it’s the dude I remember, he was slightly better than Dayton.  But that was years ago.  I remember the Saturday morning doubles match, where Keck and I took them to the edge before eventually losing our mahut 4-6 to the Allen Eagles #1 doubles team.  Coach Quest had sent them down to play Keck and I after their normal workout.  If memory serves, which it doesn’t always these days, Keck had some late serving issues and performed weakly at the net.  It was all his fault.  I believe that’s how it went down.  He smashed an electrical box with his racquet and screamed the loudest F-bomb ever heard.  A few parents of young children came by and voiced their displeasure with his profanity, but he cussed them off the court too, fire in his German eyes.  Like Boris Becker or Stephie Graf or something.  I’ve been leery of him since, but still maintain good relations off the court.  He took it tough, but Dayton and Nick are now college players, almost validating our loss and making it seem more acceptable.  Joining Nick is Chris Fess, of which nothing is known, Duke Keck, and Bill Vita.  Keck’s story is well documented and his royal credentials established in KOtC4.  Billy Vita, bonafide and certified by the Philadelphia School of Italian Tennis Professionals, is the wildcard.  Just recently, he tied his brother, and lifelong superior player, Joe 10-10 in a 20 game mahut.  His game is on the rise, enhanced by Karate-like maneuvers, a new stringer,  and his tremendous knowledge of the game.  In all honesty, I hope he makes it into the Duke division.  If he claimed the Earl, my depression would be complete and prolonged.

     Survival is only temporary.  One day we will all succumb.  For now, we play tennis.  Mahut!!!    


8.  Red Clay And Jack Sock

   Riding home with King The Todd, hearing of his philosophies on tennis and his thoughts on peace, I felt like the 2 day trip to attend the men's u.s. clay court championships in Houston was about a bit more than just tennis.  Discussions with Keck and the King about zoning laws, European developments, Nugrape, class distinctions, dress codes, the tsunami, seating charts, USTA appreciation day, court conditions, 6 cylinders, the father of Texas, Arabian mansions, warm up routines, shades, house cab, ACC Women's soccer, westheimer street, cans of Mexican beer, bulldogs, wedding expenditures, burned outs, real eggs, weather forecasts, walk a bouts, clay court colors, player incomes,  courtesy cars, parking schemes, modern fabrics, apps, serve speeds, rare infections, Adidas, Santa Fe, riff raff, airport proximity, financial advisers,  Houston confusion, cantinas, garland, schlotzkys, motivations of religion, eternal life and ever expanding space.....

     The dark red clay courts at the River Oaks Country Club were in good condition when we arrived.  After initially finding ourselves at a poolside women's fashion show luncheon, we made our way over to the main court.  It was early, and play had not started.  The big draw board and a beer garden were under the huge live oaks outside the stadium.  The Club has hosted the event since 1991.  Past champions include American players Andre Agassi, Richey Reneberg, John Isner, and Andy Roddick.  Former President George H.W. Bush attends the event every year.  Right away it was evident the event was about much more than tennis for a large portion of the attendees.  The class separation was intentional.  I felt somehow elevated by the culture, like I belonged and was wanted.  Treated like a member, the run of the place.  Peaceful.  The players were just walking by.  Frenchman Jeremy Chardy was running laps prior to his epic 3 set match with South African Kevin Anderson and I was able to give applause and encouragement.  As King The Todd was napping in the grass under a shade tree, Teymuraz Gabashvili was stretching outside the players area after his greatest ever doubles win preparing for a singles match with the 6'9" Isner the same evening when Keck approached him.  "You go by the name Tsunami, right?", he asked as he congratulated him on the victory over the vaunted Bryan Brothers, six time winners of the event and bonafide legends.
     "Not anymore", he said in low European tones, "But I could use some tsunami against Isner tonight."  He would go on to win that match, wrapping up a lucrative day of professional tennis.  In money and points.  The defending champion Verdasco took him out in the singles Quarterfinals, but he would go on to win the doubles title with Ricardas Berankis.

     Perhaps the most noteworthy singles match we watched was our first, Jack Sock vs the #2 seed, Juan Bautista-Agut.  After warming up outside the stadium by tossing footballs around with his coach, Sock destroyed the vaunted clay court expert with massive serves and an incredible forehand.  Agut never had a chance.  Despite some sloppiness, it was clear Sock has the game for the top 10.  Hearing of the adversity he and his family had overcome the previous year cemented our admiration as we continually seek the next great American player.  Roddick was the last.  A favored American tennis son, especially after his 2003 u.s.. Open win exactly two years after 9/11.  Those bastards.  Since then, only a string of unfulfilled American potential as Federer, Nadal, Novak, and Murray took over.  Others, including Warwrinka, Berdych, Tsonga, and Ferrer were the persistent 2nd tier.  The 4th tier was where an American could be found.  James Blake, John Isner, Sam Querry, Steve Johnson, or Mardy Fish.  Gamers at points in the careers, but never a break through.  Only Isner's historic five set Wimbledon match against Mahut sticks out, and he lost in the next round.  Exhausted, but a legend. Now, the emerging wave includes Nikoshori, Dimitrov, Raonic, a couple of Australians, Anderson, and maybe, just maybe, American Jack Sock.  At last report he had reached the finals against Querry, which will be broadcast on the tennis channel this afternoon.  Tough time slot, up against the final round of the Masters.  It will be re run and I'll record it for sure.

     All this really inspires KOtC5 preparations.  Keck has already received inquiries, court logistics are coming together in partnership with Justin Quest, King The Todd's early summer schedule is known.  July 11 seems the likely tentative date.  My health is adequate.  Foot feels really fine since customized insoles were utilized.  Back cleared up too.  Only a recent elbow injury has me concerned, the victim of a huge Joe Vita forehand in a recent 9-11 mahut loss.  He hits a heavy shot.  Adoption of a two handed backhand and ice treatment should help.  It will not threaten my appearance in the tournament.  Tempted to compromise my goals and maneuver for the Earl crown, I continue to shoot for the Duke.  I see how Duke Keck is treated.  I saw how Duke Vita was beloved.  Leo, of course, held the Duke title at one point.  It is a realistic goal, especially since Keck is having his best tennis year ever and has his eyes on the Prince.  The Duke could be wide open this summer.  The field is shaping up.  Can former King James capture the crown and continue the pattern of trading the throne with King The Todd?  Will Frank Friday show up?  Billy Vita maybe?  The regulars will be there.  Sellers and his dog.  Keck has scouted the downtown Plano Austrian eatery, Jorgs, for post tournament festivities.  Rain is very unlikely.  J.d. Miles should return, but the USTA players can be unreliable.  They are buttered up with appreciation lunches and free bags.  As we walked quickly to King The Todd's car after the Friday  early session rainout, his lifetime USTA membership served him well.  The folded bag kept him dry, while keck and I just absorbed the drops.  As we wound our way through the mansions, the ones that kings, and queens, and presidents live in, we felt the connection.  We knew we were supposed to see what we saw.  We knew we were supposed to be disappointed with the uncontrollable rain out.  We knew our patience would be tested in the crazy Houston traffic.  It was good to leave, to return to the northern part of Texas.  We will avoid sugar and further the peace movement.  We will cheer for Jack Sock.  Come on man, America needs you.

9.  Five Hour Window

     The wreckage of KOtC4 is just being swept off the pavement.  Traffic was jammed for miles.  But no one gets through before the King.  Re-introducing--King The Todd.  In a test of resolve, faith, and understanding, King The Todd slid the best on the wet surface, King The Todd ignored the wind and hit the most perfect shots, King The Todd broke the will of even the finest competitors.  Cushman The Kid, wanted another shot at him from the morning session but had his own battle in the Duke division, where the tournament administrator, and co-founder of the Isner Scoring Method, became a royal.  That's right, Duke Keck.  The Prince was claimed by the mysterious Mir sub, Victor Coronado.  A seemingly proud man, he'll be an honorable Prince, but he clearly has his eye on the throne.  Prince Coronado will get his chance at King The Todd in the summer KOtC5.  Bulldog Bobby saw his game firsthand as he clawed his way into the Prince division.  His demo days are over.   Vito Nyguyn claimed the Earl from Leo Escario after an epic, and historic, 20 game winner take all mahut.  The Royal Escario no more, his familiar cackle and grit, his marathonian conditioning.  Nope, it's Vito The Earl.  This royal court, in perhaps the finest field ever assembled, on perhaps the severest court conditions possible, endured.  They showed.  King The Todd, Prince Victor Coronado, Duke Keck, and Vito The Earl.  They are royal.

     The early morning hour was dreary, Keck ignoring forecasters predicting 100% chance of rain and trusting Delkus, who foresaw a 5 hour window of dry conditions weirdly aligned directly with our tournament time frame.  All the players must have thought Keck mad when he sent out the prearranged, early morning green light.  A pouring rain was covering the whole metroplex at that point. Frank Friday roddicked, which seemed a reasonable thing to do, but surprising from him.  He was the only one.  Player by player they showed, leery to be sure, but inspired by the faith of the tournament administrator.  When King James instructed everyone to ditch the squeegees and get used to the footing,  KOtC4 was bonafide.  The overcast skies lit a bit, the wind picked up and partially dried the courts.  The rain had stopped.  There was trepidation, there was doubt, there was suggestions, there was anxiety.  Puddles were still all over, it was slick!  Reports of massive USTA event cancellations and alterations only added to the whispers and mumbling.  Keck understanding the significance of the moment, called the group together, explained the format for the benefit of new players, and officially started the morning session of KOtC4.  Rain came and went a few times, but progressively the weather improved.  The sun even peeked though briefly.  It was almost muggy as the players shed the pullovers and got down to business.

     Because my morning group had an unsubbed roddick, I had a chance to check out the early action.  Usually, idle time is very minimal during the event, but unavoidable in this scenario.  The players were clearly adjusting to the footing.  Deliberate ground strokes and patient footwork overcame the conditions and points were being wildly contested.  King James was playing Sellers, who had his menacing dog chained to the net post.  King James was dominating, but Sellers was scrappy and took a game as I watched.  He got to everything and kept the pressure on with slicing shots of varying distance.  His dog growled and whined.  King James seemed vulnerable, perhaps a foreshadowing of the events to follow in the afternoon King Division.  New player JD Miles took King James down 6-4 in the afternoon before calling it a day at 1-6 in his mahut with King The Todd.  He then sped off in his sports car, cursing at the King and promising revenge.  New player Huffman rounded out the King Division in the finest field ever assembled for the format.  Incredibly, he went off to play more tennis, indoors of course, after KOtC.  He expressed shock at the 5 hour window.  Later, at the post tournament drinking table, Sellers had incorporated Isner terminology with complete understanding, commoner James predicted we burned 5000 calories, and Duke Keck continued to preach and explain the benefits of the format.  Sellers even had suggestions for improvement.  Almost Prince Bobby moved slower after some idle time and my back and plantar fascia needed a hot tub.  King The Todd, on his own, implemented the even game changeover.  A kaizenian spirit.  He'll go to the Southern Hemisphere early next year and learn from Australians and New Zealanders.  He will leave them with well wishes and peace.  A King for the good times.

   Due to the Frank Friday roddick, my morning group only had 3 players.  The flexibility of the format automatically adjusts to this eventuality by not sending anyone to fight for the Earl in the afternoon.  I was grouped with two former college players, Kirsch and Huffman.  Both new to the format, I felt an obligation to explain some of the nuances and benefits.  They looked at me somewhat strangely, but I knew they would know later.  It must be experienced for true understanding.  I went 3-7 against both. The huge German Kirsch hitting backhands from extreme angles and the relentless Huffman hitting nonreturnable serves.  His game was too much for Kirsch too as he destroyed him 8-2.  As they were playing each other I asked the score.  "0-6," bellowed Kirsch as he pointed at Huffman.  They looked at me strangely again as I explained the moulette.  To remind:  moulette is the French word for skunk and is incorporated as ISM terminology in honor of the Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, one of the survivors of the incredible 2010 Wimbledon match that went on for days, when the American John Isner finally won the 5th set 70-68.  Overall, I was pleased with my play and understood my place in the tennis galaxy. The Duke was highly contested.  Up 4-1 on Joe Vita, he came back and been me 6-4 in our mahut.  I fell apart after he complimented my play.  Keck, noticeably motivated, took me down 7-3 and Cushman The Kid made me feel my age in front of his mom.  Keck's destruction of Joe and the Kid made it official--Keck was royal.  His early morning leadership and optimism only solidified his worthiness.  As he sat drinking Newcastles at the post tournament gathering he was beaming.  By that time the skies released the promised heavy rain.  It was like God had affirmed our influence on the tennis culture.  First time players were amazed.  And understood.  Mardy Feldman, who roddicked for unavoidable reasons, had clearly succumbed to the pressure of USTA sanctioned play. But 'cancelled play due to the treat of rain' was what he got.  His feeble last minute offer to step in for Frank Friday was too late.

10.  Heavy Air

   Being put in charge of trophies for King Of the Court 4 is a massive responsibility and a massive challenge.  Previously, the standard had been raised and the trophies I devised for KOtC1 seemed inadequate.  Keck told me his expectations were high and that I must deliver.  Like the future of the tournament, and possibly the sport of tennis, was at stake.  I felt the full weight of his trust and finally settled on my plan.  Possibly the most coveted, certainly the most valuable, and absolutely appropriate.  Their unveiling at the check in card table will inspire the field.  The best field to date.  16 players ready and committed.  2 Isner round robin sessions, 6 opponents each, 60 total games each.  For the tournament, 96 total mahuts, 960 total games, a King, a Prince, a Duke, and an Earl.  All in about 5 hours.  The trophies must be nice and significant, and will be.

     Do not envy Keck.  Yes, he is an incredible tennis artist.  Yes, he knows Billie Jean King.  Yes, he is a metal head.  Yes, he no longer has to be a cowboy fan.  But save your envy.  Keck is in charge of assessing weather conditions for KOtC4, and will ultimately decide to postpone or play through the elements.  It is 6:30 am now.  Surely he is up, walking the streets of his neighborhood, kicking the pavement with his backup pair of tennis shoes, listening for the right squeak.  It is a huge burden and the ramifications of his actions will reverberate and reverberate.  The second guessers.  The know it alls.  The Delkus wanna Bes.  He will make the right call, either way, after anguish and woe.  In this he must be trusted, not envied.

     Overcoming the usual dropouts, we will move forward.  An impressive self replacement culture has evolved.  The Todd's brother, Mardy, and Mir both getting subs when unavoidable events required them to roddick.  The kid from last year replaced by a new kid.  Organic ethics are developing.  Keck's communication processes, the familiar "Mahut!" as the server begins each mahut, the determination to continuously adjust the format.  This year we could try the even game changeover.  Or possibly the 5 game changeover.  Talk of a royal doubles finale mahut pitting the King and Earl vs. the Prince and Duke is likely too ambitious.  The crowds would love it, but the players might revolt.  Best to keep the focus on the tennis, not the crowds.

     The mist is covering everything.  It is strangely muggy.  Steady rains and lightening are a 100% certainty if weather professionals are believed.  Clouds and fog of pure vapor are all over as the sun is giving glow to the overcast sky.  Heavy air.  It will be a tough call for Keck, but I wanna slide like Novak, I wanna serve the spitball, I wanna fight like Isner, I wanna be the King!  In truth, I'd be thrilled to be the Duke and proud to be the Earl.  Just wanna be a royal.

11.  The Wilson Hope

    The winds blow wild in Wylie.  Always.  The 4 courts are set on a hill, enclosed by a single fence.  One side has no windscreens and the ones loosely attached along the remaining sides hiss and howl when it gets breezy.  Halfway between Rockwall and McKinney it's proximity was ideal for a Saturday morning Isner Roundrobin.  Joe was already there when Keck and I drove up around 7:45 am.  Bobby arrived a bit later and we got loose.  Because we knew 40 games awaited us, the warm up was brief and we spun racquets quickly.  2 up, 2 down and the pairings were clear.  Keck and I, Joe and Bobby.  The format calls for a 10 game mahut against each player, with #1 and #4 playing #2 and #3 in a 10 game doubles mahut to finish it off.  The first 30 games replicates a morning or afternoon KOtC session.

     Predictably, Keck took first.  Bobby and I battled for #2 and at deuce in the final game of our mahut, our 30th game of the morning,  it was still undecided.  Exhausted, I fought off the swirling winds, kept my toss low, and served it out.  Bulldog Bobby is always tough.  Our 5-5 finish left him #3 after Keck destroyed Joe 9-1.  Despite Joe's 6-4 win over Bobby and a never say die 4-6 loss to me, his final mahut destined him to #4. My Wilson Hope racquet was wobbling at the handle.  It's bent frame was noticeably warping the head.  Factory strings, strung at about 51 it seemed.  I had played great with this racquet and was reluctant to make a change.  Two of my racquets are getting fresh strings for KOtC, but for now, I was playing confident with the white and pink Hope.  They'll cure that cancer one day.  For now, keep on walking across the city.  Keep on being pink.  Joe was blasting forehands, mostly out, Keck was hanging in every point and keeping the pressure on.  His intolerance and disgust of mistakes is a powerful weapon.  Bobby has really gotten to another level.  His results are clear.  My serve was maddening all day but eventually put me at #2.  Double fault mumbling.  The unkind tape.  Bobby and I tied Joe and Keck 5-5 in doubles, with every point contested to the maximum.  Thought about the Lone Survivor movie, the true story of 4 Navy Seals in Afghanistan.  Marky Mark stars in it.  Incredible story of people who always see a way to win. Serving, but down 1-3, 15-40 to Bobby, I thought of them.  We changed over at 2-3.  Only one survived.  Remember them on Veterans Day.  11/11.  God's Will, amen. 

12.  Chicken Wire

     The courts were brand new.  Possibly, we were the first to ever play on them.  We were bringing high level tennis to Spur, Texas.  Now they had the facilities.  Chicken wire was needed between the bottom of the fence and the court to prevent balls from rolling under, windscreens are mandatory in the west texas wind, and locking the side gate serves no purpose.  Also, the lights seemed insufficient for reasonable night play and the absence of a backboard was noted.  Still, despite these needed adjustments, the two electric blue on forest green courts was the nicest, and newest, construction project in town.  Somehow it put Spur in another category.  Keck an I had played on the old courts the previous two years during the annual tx.ou weekend gathering at Rio Blanco canyon.  They were older than old, neglected and sad.  Not played on for a decade, not stepped on for years, we took to them for 10 game mahuts.  That first year, I took Keck down 6-4, mainly due to an unstoppable inside out serve on the backhand side.  The drooping 2 and a half foot net only assured my victory that day.  Chunks of court would fly, we slid like we were on clay, shattered glass was all over, cracks plagued the courts badly.   Keck mauled me 8-2 the following year.  Vindication is one if his defining traits.  We showed up on the new courts excited and prepared after seeing them the day before on the way to the canyon.

    The turnstile was cleaned up and replaced to its original spot, the nets were brand new, the lines were perfect, thick and white.  The ball left incredible marks, the west texas red dirt providing perfect frames.   Like having laser beam technology.  I was obsessed with it, and impressed with a few of the calls that were made and validated by the marks.  Calling lines is like seeing visions.  Integrity and honor are required.  Tennis is a civilized game, dependent on the competitiveness and effort of each player.  After winning a few early games, Keck took control and won 7-3.  His forehand winners were deep and dove sharply inside the baseline, his swift feet were active, he kept the pressure on.  He became quickly disgusted at any error, he cussed missed first serves.  It was good to play fairly well.  4-6 was realistic and I had held out hope for 5-5 til he fought me off from love-30 in the 8th game to prevent a break.  As in years before, a small crowd watched from the porches and car ports that surrounded the area.  We recognized some of them from the years before.  They seemed proud to see us back, to see what they had built.  We hustled for drop shots, we screamed out in frustration, we moved from side to side.  We owed them our best.

     Preparations continue for King Of The Court 4.  A lot has happened.  Keck has met personally with Billie Jean King.  He has told her of the King Of The Court Tournament.  She was very impressed and, predictably, inquired about the girls.  The Queen Of The Court has already been discussed.  The format is the same with a Queen winner, a Princess, A Baroness, and a Countess.  We just lack the woman players, for now.  He also briefly met Andy Roddick.  All this happened in Austin at a convention of some sort.  Of course, keck was there with his wife on an unrelated matter.  The names are bigger than ever--Jeremy Strong, JD Miles, King The Todd, King James.  Mir is back.  Joe Vita, Leo Escario, Mardy Feldman too!  Frank Friday returns.  He and Leo have never missed being in the Royal Court.  Frank, first as Prince, then capturing the Earl in the summer.  Leo, going Prince, Earl, Duke in KOtC 1, 2,3 respectively.  Bobby Peirson is in again and Nielson returns after missing KOtC 3.  Another kid is playing after the previous kid went off to Shriner College to play for their tennis team.  He a student of Justin Quest and Jeremy Strong and the number one player on the Allen high team.  He could win the whole thing!  There are others.  Keck seems to be angling for the Duke, but will likely get in the Prince afternoon round.  My hope is to appear, healthy and loose.  Rugged preparations have given way to swimming routines and light drills.  One 20 game Mahut a week is all.  My roddick in KOtC 3 was humbling.  Watching from the fence line is not for me.  A tennis revival is  taking place.  The tennis channel has arrived.  In Spur and everywhere.

13.  King The Todd

It was breezy with heavy air as the players began arriving for the 2nd King Of The Court (KOtC). Keck, the tournament administrator and co-founder of the Isner Scoring Method, supplied blue duct tape to secure the brackets to the cardboard registration table. Sixteen players would battle for the title of King of The Court and a few more would become members of the Royal Court. As the players gathered around the scoring table, I reflected on the group and was proud of their commitment and eager to see them in action. The first round draws, established by the competition committee, had been set for weeks. In the Wimbledon draw, there was King James, winner of the first KOtC tournament and favorite once again, Russell Fires, and huge man from the northern woods, Keck, tournament administrator and slayer of USTA 4.0 sandbaggers, and Sergio Oporto, former ranked Bolivian player. The US Open Draw contained Mike Zhuang, with mysterious spin shots, The Todd, who lost in the final to King James in the previous KOtC, Roy Albrecht, established USTA coach willing to try alternative formats, and Duke Chase Kahn, who looks similar to Novak Djokovic. In the French Open draw, Chris Nielsen, an unknown wildcard from the Courts of McKinney, Prince Leo Escario, the Filipino marathon runner, Rueben Decoud, with his incredible leather water bottle, and myself, looking to win the Prince title with a Kramarian game. Finally, the Australian Open draw contained Marty Feldman, known as brother of The Todd and former tennis pro, Frank Friday, an intense Tarrant county player, Earl Nick Keney, who supplied the trophies for the event, and Joe Vita, nursing a plantar fascia injury. Keck had secured the courts through his friend and buddy, Justin Quest, coach of the Allen High school team and recognizer of Isner tennis culture. Without his support and graciousness, the event would not be possible. Allen ISD should be proud of this man and his partnership into the broader tennis community should be applauded by all. His lighted, wind-screened courts are always open to the community, unlike his stingy counterparts in McKinney with their locks and hours of operation. Eagles Landing Tennis Courts, where Isner tennis culture thrives. Half the courts in the complex were undergoing resurfacing so Keck, the tournament administrator, made last minute arrangements to use two courts at the Freshman Center across the street. These courts were the very courts where Isner tennis culture was born, so we Roe-Sham-Boed for the opportunity for one of the draws to play on the hallowed courts. Once decided, the players dispersed and the 5 hour test of tennis gumption and guts began. Profuse sweating was not anticipated, but the unseasonably humid air was drawing fluids from everyone quickly. King James easily won the Wimbledon draw, The Todd took care of business as the US Open group returned from the Freshman courts, Chris Nielsen easily came out of the French Open draw with 2 moulettes, and The Todd's brother Marty Fledman dominated the Australian group with his complete game and despite a tight hamstring. Fighting for the Prince title in the second round was Keck, tournament administrator, Chase Kahn, looking to upgrade his royal status, myself, with a moulette of Prince Leo, and Frank Friday, who proved to have an intimidating game. The prospective Dukes were Sergio Oporto, Roy Albrecht, Rueben Decoud, and Joe Vita. Nick Keney was set to defend his Earl title along with Mr Fires, Mike Zhuang, and Leo Escario, who dedicated his efforts to the typhooned people of his homeland. After a quick rest, the second round began and the true rigor of Isner toughness and preparation was realized. Leo took the Earl title with a final tiebreaker against Nick Keney, who fought hard to keep his title. After the final point, Leo fell to his knees and looked up to heaven. He inspired all of us and prayers are lifted to the people of the islands. Your Earl won a battle as the future brings renewal and hope. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Joe Vita, your Duke. A Duke for the people and by the people. His game, altered to accommodate an injured plantar fascia, grounded in pace and enhanced by the latest tennis technology and fashions. He is regal, he is stoic, he is your Duke. The Prince is Frank Friday, who demoralized all of his opponents with intensity and desire. His memorable and loud celebrations after each victorious point are uncommon in the passive mainstream tennis culture. He truly represents the ideal Isner player. Never before had I head the loud "Out!, Yes!!!" as he called the lines. I was very impressed with his game. For the day he demolished me, Duke Vita, and Keck (the tournament administrator) 7-3 in each of our mahuts. The Tood and King James worked their way into the final to determine the throne. In a surreal development, Chris Nielsen and The Todd were opponents in the Minnesota junior tennis scene years prior. Only King Of The Court could bring these guys back together. The Todd had progressed a bit more since then and slipped by his old nemesis. He demoralized Marty, his older brother, and faced King James with a chance to take the title. King James breezed through all opponents with little effort and looked to be a lock to retain his throne. The Todd was, in fact, serving underhand due to a hockey injury and the odds seemed stacked against him. The final mahut was observed by an exhausted group of lesser players, including Prince Frank Friday and Duke Joe Vita. The stands were wild with 'We Will Rock You' foot stomps and claps. Marty, with his ailing hamstrings, heckled relentlessly. Keck, the tournament administrator, was beaming as it went to a tiebreaker, the success of the event evident to all. King James had mahut point and The Todd battled back. In the end, The Todd became King The Todd with a unflappable game and complete confidence. King James seemed to lose focus a time or two after losing mahut point and was classy in defeat. He handed over the royal bobblehead to King The Todd with a smile, although just below the surface a steaming regret was noticed by those who knew him well. The lost mahut point will haunt him, no doubt, but he will get another chance to sit upon the throne. King The Todd is a worthy king. As he strolled into the Londoner for post tournament beers and recollections, he looked like a King. At the outdoor table, he talked like a King. He told stories of points and strategy. He recalled moments of testing and games of will. The entire group was captivated by his every word. English ale flowed and flowed. I was honored to buy him his first beer, a New Castle. We sat there for hours. Marty, King The Todds big brother, kept ordering food and tentative plans were made to gather at Keck's for a card game. We wanted to hang around King The Todd all day and night. To understand his mind and game, his insistence that the underhanded serve was here to stay, his Kaizen thoughts on improvements to the format and next KOtC. The realities of the evening took over, however, and the needed players would not, could not, commit. King The Todd was up for it--only the commoners were spares.

14.  Dunlop And A Three

"Throw me high. Bend the back and turn the torso. Hit me at the top, just as I start coming down. Give me about a three foot clearance over the net on ground strokes, those net shots sting. To make me spin properly, you must flick the wrist and finish the swing. I will nail lines, slide low, kick up, and drop dead. All the manipulation you can execute. Newly opened and just burst from the controlled air. Swooooshhh, when the top was popped from the can, my sister and brother carrying the same label and number as me. Dunlop and a three. We were ready to provide for a spirited game of tennis. The opponents, Keck, who took us off the shelf and bought us and Gorman, who is known for frustrated whacks into the fence and irrational blasts into the nearby creek when really frustrated. Especially if you've become a just a little dead. I don't want to end up in some bird nest or sink to the bottom of some damn creek. He's not too bad, and seems to have mellowed with age. He does have Keck's backup racquet and got it restrung with modern German spin strings. It is fun to be hit by and gets me spinning easily. It could lead to a better mahut result for Gorman. If he can control his tennis anger and reduce his backswing. I'm getting soaked.........". The play continues in the cold, heavy air. The surface slippery with a puddle or two. After getting up 5-0, Keck was challenged a bit more. In the end, he won 11-9. A good pcr adjusted result for the loser. We pick it up with one of the Dunlop and a three brothers.".......what a mahut that was. They stuck with it and didn't blame us too much. Of course were gonna get a little heavy and wet. Lost a couple of cousins to a couple of tree blasts. It was their time. They were really dead. Maybe a dog will find them, a tough life, but active. If you can stand the slobber. I wouldn't' mind being on the end of a walker. Seen that in olds folks homes. Probably where I belong after this mahut. Those guys are serious. Every point. however, when they left, the just looked at us with disgust. They even cursed at us, calling us shit and saying we suck. I'm glad they left us. Hopefully, we'll get put into a big basket with a bunch of others. City living. Out of the trunks and garages. He just bought us today. I see my sister next to me at the net. Not sure about my brother, but last I saw he was sitting in a corner puddle. It should dry soon. Those guys were intense.

15.  ISM

     To create the needed long suffering, serve intense, mind-bending tennis experience, I along with Jason Keck of Allen, Tx. developed the Isner Scoring Method (ISM). The match goes to whoever gets to 70 games, utilizing traditional deuce/advantage scoring to determine the winner of each game. It is played on a traditional tennis court, respecting the size, length, spacing, and height of the lines. The match can be played over days, weeks, months, years, or perhaps, a lifetime. Doesn't matter. What matters is John Isner, Nicolas Mahut, and the epic Wimbledon first round match they finally completed in the summer of 2010. To honor the aforementioned, but ultimately defeated Frenchman from the Parisian suburb town of Boulogne-Billancourt, each 10 game section of the match is referred to as a mahut. Serve is determined by a spin of a volunteer's racquet before each mahut. The other player indicates up or down. The winner serves. The loser gets to pick the side. This happens before every mahut. A mahut ending at 10-0 is called a moullette, the French word for skunk, again honoring Mahut with the inclusion of a French word. A change in sides happens after every odd game throughout the entire match. Each player is awarded two waivers of play (called roddicks) per match. A waiver of play allows the player to cancel a pre-scheduled meeting or call play before a mahut is complete. Injuries, unplanned (or planned) events, and weather qualify for waivers of play. Maintaining a log book is strongly encouraged (noting the general weather conditions, the score of each mahut, the combined Isner match score, and the physical and psychological state of each player). Water should be abundant and proactively shared. Warm ups for each meeting are limited to: 15 and can be reduced to any amount of time upon mutual agreement and may be skipped altogether. Each player should arrive for each meeting with two unbroken (strings included) racquets. Condition of the tennis balls is not monitored and each player is counted upon to deliver trustworthy line calling. There is no appeal process for line calls or scoring errors. The server is responsible for keeping score of each game.  The first player to reach 70 (do not need to win by two) shall receive 2 bottles of cold English-made beer from the other player. 

16.  Kramerian Game

     Refinement of the Isner Scoring Method(ISM) is a continuous deliberation of incremental improvements over time.  Time, as we know it, has no end.  Therefore, this scoring method will be subjected to the American developed and Japanese implemented theory of Kaizen which is founded upon the principle of improvements implemented in a continuous cycle ad infinitum.  It is with this intent that two changes were made to the scoring method that significantly impacts isner tennis culture.

     First, the definition of a mahut has changed from 10 games to 15 games.  The benefits of this improvement are:  (1) increased physical exercise.  (2) quicker Isner matches.  (3) rewards stamina.  (4) elimination of mahut ties.  The change has also led to the increased importance of the pre-mahut racquet spin.  No longer is it an indifferent net gathering ceremony prior to play just to get started.  Going forward, its result will determine who serves 8 games and who serves 7.  This significant advantage, especially over time, can have an impact on PCR.  Keck has recently been seen practicing the toss and spin and volunteers at a higher rate since the inception of the 15 game mahut.  Perhaps this task should be rotated and standards set.  Another advantage of this change is the ability to break down each mahut in thirds to reflect, motivate, and strategize.  Going 4-1 in the final third of a mahut can make a 5-10 loser go home enthused and eager to play the next mahut.  The dejection of the opposite scenario is just as impactful.  Up 7-3, imagine the mindset of a player who goes on to lose every game of the final third of a mahut.  Not only loses the final 5 games, but loses the mahut itself 7-8.  The overall impact of the 15 game mahut format is profound.  The word corpse is now used to describe a mahut skunk, although the term moulette, formerly used to describe a 10 game mahut skunk, is still used within the context of the first 10 games (or two thirds) of a mahut.  To date, Keck has scored 3 moulettes, one against J. Vita and two against me, the most recent during a 15 game mahut that was close to the first ever corpse until I broke serve to make it 1-13.  Only two mahuts removed from my second ever mahut win against the man and I was fighting off a corpse.  Keck's recent dominate play has been greatly impacted by two things:  (1) drills and practice sessions with a certified coach, B. Vita. (2)  integration of wood racquets--vintage tennis.

     The next change in the scoring method involves the declaration that the first and seventh mahut of an isner match be played using a wooden racquet.  Modern grips are acceptable, but tension absorbers are not allowed.  The benefits of this improvement, known as vintage, are:  (1) the actual game of tennis is being played.  (2) promotes a focus on swing form and proper pace.  (3) reminds us all of a great American and 1947 Wimbledon singles champion, Jack Kramer.  As executive director and founder of ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals), the retired Kramer also led a principled and heroic boycott of Wimbledon in 1973 for the banning of Croatian player Nikola Pilic from the tournament.  Pilic had refused to play Davis Cup for his native land and was banned from international play.  The American Kramer could not support this draconian state-issued madate in the game of tennis.  That year Czech Jan Kordes defeated Russian Alex Metreveli for the tainted Wimbledon title.

     Jack Kramer and and his game were described in the free encyclopedia this way:

     Tall and slim, he was the first world-class player to play "the Big Game", a consistent serve-and-volley game, in which he came to the net behind all of his serves, including the second serve.  He was particularly known for his powerful serve and forehand, as well as his ability to play "percentage tennis", which he learned from Cliff Roche, a retired Railroad Engineer, at the Los Angeles Tennis Club.  This strategy maximized his efforts on certain points and in certain games during the course of a match to increase his chances of winning. The key was to hold serve at all costs.

     Who would want Jack Kramer serving on the other end of the court, tied 7-7 in the final game of a mahut?  Inspired by my unpaid for Jack Kramer wooden racquet, the same kind I had played with in my youth, I had put Keck in position he's never been in during the inception of isner scoring methodology. By losing the first mahut of our 7th isner match 7-8 (and the first ever vintage mahut), Keck had the opportunity to understand the mind of a player down in an isner match.  The week of restlessness, the constant air swings, the drawing board.  Keck's response to this challenge was quick and resounding.  A customary 10-5 mahut win the following week and the 14-1 near-corpsing partially described earlier.  Again, the extra focus and coaching was important, but the more deliberate swings required for the vintage racquets has sharpened Keck's forehand considerably and will eventually lead to the same improvement on the backhand.  After witnessing the 1-14 mahut, B. Vita offered me some advice, "You got to slow it down. Get a bigger loop going on your swing. You can beat him, Keck makes mistakes."  I wasn't so sure and I questioned the coach's intentions, knowing that we had just entered into our first isner match, one in which he had won the first mahut 9-6.  Vintage racquets, of course.  Keck was now the least of my insner problems.  My game was in shambles and I was behind in both my isner matches.  Vita tennis players were notorious mind gamers.  Joe with his memory, Bill with his reasons, Nick with his possum playing.  Heard this song, cowboy quarterback opinions, tennis apparel and equipment, east texas days, dollars and cents, prayers too, line calls, string tension, NASCAR, dirk, smoking habits, smartphone nuances, new york and philly stories, and just about anything to keep you off your game during a changeover.  Due to this, and knowing our inser match would continue to 70, I was initially leery of his advice.  Upon reflection, my pace of play has accelerated greatly and should be tempered.  The looping swings seem like spitting in the wind against Keck's current precision and an adoption of a more Kramerian game seems more worthy of execution.  Never had a coach and it's too late for one now.

     Taken as incremental changes, the evolution of the mahut and the integration of vintage, were easily accomplished.  Two rule changes that have led to the improvement of the tennis experience.  If we are to play this game, if we are to devote a portion of our finite time on earth to the art of playing the game of tennis, we must continue our pursuit of constant improvement and change.

17.  The Final Mahut

     When I walked on the tennis court for what turned out to be the last mahut of the first Isner Cup, I was weirdly optimistic about my chances to delay the inevitable end of the match. Keck had played brilliantly over the previous three months to find himself up 69-31 and after ten mahuts he was one game away from reaching the iconic 70, which would finally secure him the first match utilizing the Isner Scoring Method (ISM). After an extended warm-up, I spun the racquet to determine who would serve the first game. Keck, with a grin, confidently called up. When I looked at the butt of the racquet the Dunlop logo was clearly down and I felt like I had the early momentum. "Here comes the beast!" he said, "Your serve. Uh oh, could be your day." His condescending tone irritated me and I felt rage toward the man who, deep down, I knew would hold up the first Isner Cup later that evening.

     After a few practice serves and token stretching motions, I signaled the beginning of the eleventh mahut of the isner match by raising a tennis ball in the air with my pitch hand and making eye contact with my opponent. Keck was bouncing around with light feet and his racquet was spinning in his hands. He nodded, "Mahut!", he bellowed. He wore a sky blue bandana like a crown and he was perfectly outfitted for the occasion, always preferring the most modern athletic fabrics. With the toes of my left foot, I took my spot and with a single sweeping motion, lowered the ball, took my racquet behind my back, tossed a spinless ball high in the air, arched my back, bent my legs, and exploded into my first serve. I had decided to start with a flat fastball and possibly catch Keck off guard and bouncing, waiting for the more routine topspin first serve. I plastered one down the mid line and he lunged for it after hesitating the other way. His racquet nicked it, but the fence rang loudly behind him. I was running toward the net and abruptly stopped, turned around, and walked back to the baseline. "15-love", I shouted as I positioned myself for the next service point. After a couple of bounces of the ball, I hit another nice serve. This time high and arcing with a left kick due to the topspin and follow through. Keck adjusted and made good contact with the ball with an inside out cross court forehand. I lunged to my left as I rushed the net and as the ball hit my backhand volley I absorbed the pace and dropped a dead shot just over the net. Keck stood behind his baseline without taking a step forward, "The master of the net. Like McEnroe." he said. "This could be your night. Too bad I only need a game, “he continued. I glared at him. "30-love", I said slowly with extra articulation.

     As I was lining up to serve the next point something caught my eye. A pink ball was rolling across our court with a middle-teen age girl following behind. Not running, but walking fast. In obvious embarrassment and inadequacy. "I'm so sorry", she quietly muttered as she chased the ball. Hiding my irritation, I smiled pleasantly and assured her it was no problem. "Go ahead and get it", I said and she finally began running and picked the ball up. She went back to her court after another apology and I once again shouted out the score to Keck. I tossed the ball high and hit another solid shot that went in but nicked the net for a let, take two. My second first serve was swallowed by the net as I went for another flat heater. Keck hit my second serve at a severe cross court angle for a winner. "Why would someone play with pink balls?" I thought.

     Keck won the next three points with laser beams and footwork, moving me all over the court in desperate reaches and loss of breath. I admired his play, though he would never know of my admiration. He was certainly worthy of the first Isner Cup. Consistent, thoughtful, and executed play. Never used a roddick; showed up mahut after mahut. The toughest loss he took was a 5-5 mahut, the same mahut I had my finest moment. My family applauded me that night. I kept the odor filled shirt on until my bedtime shower. Yes, Keck was worthy of the Isner Cup, and gracious in victory. I believe he felt sorry for me, which enraged me further. I didn't understand that about Keck. Perhaps I never will. Look who has the title. A true champion. "Wanna play the full mahut?" he asked after we shook hands at the net and downed some water. "The final mahut ends with the first to hit seventy." I said with breath-less mumble, and added, "You see, a mahut cannot be strictly defined as a 10 games, due to the final mahut having the possibility of going less than 10 games. Let's play a regular match, two out of three sets and then go get some beers."

18.  Anatomy Of A Roddick

     As mentioned previously and explained sufficiently, a roddick is the term used in the Isner Scoring Method (ISM) for the need to postpone or cancel a prescheduled match. For any reason--injury, conflict, weather even. Last week's mahut ended 2-8 in Keck's favor to take it to 45-15 after six mahuts of the third match to be played by the ISM. J. Vita had recently lost his first Isner match, the second ever, to the same Mr. Keck by a score of 70-35, less worse than my previous defeat to Keck in the first ever Isner Match. During the 2-8 mahut, as I was rushing to the net after a first serve, I felt the plantar fascia pop a little. According to Wikipedia, The plantar fascia is a thick fibrous band of connective tissue originating on the bottom surface of the calcareous (heel bone) and extending along the sole of the foot towards the five toes. I surely felt it but at the time I was getting mouletted 0-7 by Keck and I was more concerned with avoiding the humiliation of that development. To refresh, a moulette is the french term for skunk. A mahut ending in 10-0 is a skunk and as a tribute to Nicolas Mahut, we use the french word. Vita had been mouletted in his Isner match and I shuttered at the thought. I never followed up with Joe immediately after his moulette, but I heard he was wrecked. He came back strong and actually took a few mahuts from Keck, but the start was so poor the inevitable loss to Keck happened a few mahuts later. He seemed changed when I talked to him recently and he's challenged Keck to a more traditional contest, but he will play ISM again one day, probably seeking revenge and, likely, successfully. I did win two of the last three to finish 8-2, even after I was suffering from plantar fasciitis.

     I limped through the night at home, even applying an ice pack at one point. When asked about how the match went by my youngest daughter, I lowly claimed, "Keck, 8-2. He's just tough girls. I think I even tweaked m'foot. I like playin' with guys better than me. Keck's like a machine. A tennis machine. What chagonna do?" All the girls gave me sympathetic nods and assured me that I was one of the best tennis players they'd ever seen. In person, anyway. The "one of" comment hurt, but I knew it was true. Now I was injured and beat. The pop seemed different. More sudden than a sore muscle. It tightened up my calf and howled in the morning. It was painful and it concerned me.

     After the internet helped me with my diagnosis and I began developing my rehabilitation plan, I was mainly trying to stay off the foot and creating reasons to sit. In a foolish act, two days after the injury I went to a Ray Wylie concert at the Granada in Dallas and stood by the stage the entire time. Never understood why the girl singers never came back out after the first two songs, but he only played Snake Farm once and his kid was playing a very blues/rock lead guitar. Lucas Hubbard, I think. His bass player was really good and Ray was excellent. The drummer made the show go very smoothly, lifting the audience when needed and shaking the noise when an important lyric came from the songwriter. Forget his name. Ray Wylie remembered, or made up, all the words and a full shiner bock was poured on me by a guy holding six in his hands. He apologized and offered me one of the remaining beers and we went back to watching the show. Hosted by Okra and attended by David Kent and John Kylie, the concert was worth the additional pain endured by my case of plantar fasciitis.

     Through the weekend I rested the injury, continuing a series of cold packs and keeping to a stretching regimen. Monday brought work shoes and further pain. Tuesday was worse (the morning!). Wednesday was scheduled for our seventh mahut of the Isner match. Keck, anxious to get closer to seventy, was surely anticipating a match. I had not let on that I was experiencing the level of discomfort that had me considering the use of a roddick. Early in the morning, I sent him the message. The foot ached after a brisk walk in to work, and I was confident with the decision. "roddick" I wrote on the title line, then explained my rationale for using one of the two roddicks allowed per match. The next day, after my continued rehabilitation efforts, my foot felt much better. It was a good use of a roddick. The plantar fascia is an important rubberband-like feature of your foot. Stretch your calves and make sure you got arch supports. Painful if inflamed.

19.  Fresh Oregano

     Much of what I was taught about competing in tennis was adopted from one family. The Vitas of McKinney, Texas were wild, rough, and full of go. Both of 'em. Joe cut a figure, VITA with blue lettering on the back of his gold helmet in the summer of 84 two-a-days. First time I ever saw the word Vita. Standing in line with the receivers, new in town and waiting to run my first 10 yard button hook. My hands were among the best to ever cradle a football, but my speed was never near enough. Had quick feet, just couldn't run fast. Soon they moved my 160 pound body to guard, hoping I'd follow my older brother's growth patterns and become something. Church on Sunday days. Billy, William Vita Jr., was younger, wilder, and more rebellious. Won some brother battles, I'm sure. Saw a couple. Seemed to always have a rip in some part of his shirt. From tugging, pulling, rustling, something. Italians, of course, but very distinctly Philly and very distinctly, for me at least, McKinney. Both played tennis tenaciously and followed exotic tennis players. Lendl, Wilander, and the argentine Guillermo Vilas. I was a disciple of McEnroe, Conners, and Borg. They had stacks of tennis magazines. Imagine, 14/15 year old boys staring at tennis magazines for hours. Thinking back, what were we doing? We thought we lived on a higher plane. Just as well, we did play a lot of tennis and won and lost many games, sets, and matches.

     Joe held an unbeatable aura that has held to this very day in the 41st year of my life. I've never beaten the man in singles. Taken some sets, won some pong, plenty of doubles victories, but never a singles match. He may not even be aware. We've played consistently, and competitively, through the years. Through various stages of shape and the normal maladies and struggles that hinder men living their lives. Joe is a man with a strong family, because he is a man from a strong family. Same with BV. The Vitas are people that live. Because they grew up with a cross above the doorways and on the shelves and on the necks of their father and mother. Bill Sr. and Mary Anne. Food in the fridge. Fresh food all the time. Always something on the stove. Huge pots cooking. Bill Sr. stirring and talking. Talking about the squid. "See boys, we cook it slow, simmering, all damn day. The octopus is a tough fish. The meat is tough unless you break it down. Add a little salt." He shook the salt vigorously over the just boiling soup. "Mary Anne!” he cried above all the noises, "We got the good oregano from the market, or do we got only the bottled kind?" Of course the fresh oregano was available and used once Mary Anne quietly and with a huge smile presented it to him :15 seconds later. "Can't hear ourselves think in here sometimes. These damn birds." She laughed and talked. She knew her boys and she knew her husband. A loud family, in love. Prayers ascend, now especially, for the loud, and in love, Vita family.

     Joe Vita seemed melancholy and preoccupied during the first doubles mahut ever played. Along with Keck, we had arrived, after scurrying around Allen for an available court, onto the middle court of the Allen Freshman Center expecting to drill and perhaps play some Australian or California version of regular scoring. The singles player gets the doubles lines; the doubles players only get the singles lines. It's a good method to create some match like conditions. In fact, ISM (Isner Scoring Method) could be leveraged through 2 on 1 matches, especially if there is reliability and commitment from the players. At this point, I don't think it's ever been tried.

     The court lights were decent. The early January night came quick. Cool and breezy, but no bite from real cold. We commented on long time lapses, business deals, family deals, traffic deals, insufficient court deals, music deals, and other deals. Joe, perfectly outfitted, and Keck, in a green Fila leisure style suit, started on one side and we began to warm up. With my planter fascia tendon well enough to be forgotten and my legs and shoulders fairly well stretched, we started blasting forehands and backhands. Joe had powerful swings that produced violent spins and made consistent solid contact. Keck was the machine, tuned by ISM scoring methodology and in the midst of a prison workout process. No weights or machines he previously informed me, just what you can do with your body. Maybe a crossbar. Mainly, it was back to the basics, in an extreme manner. The hope is to get an authentic ex convict to be on the DVD. Or he could just stream the video on the internet. Let customers burn their own DVD if they wanted. Really, this could be up and running quickly through a blog site. From there it's marketing. And sit-ups, pushups, pull ups (the crossbar), running, no sugars, lose the bread (and chips); take vitamins, every dang day. Keck could make it work. He flicked his forehands, he sawed his backhands, he returned everything. Joe, not as much, but I was having trouble handling the increased pace of his shots because I generally play with the slower paced Keck. Joe moved his feet very well, no dragging or giving up on wide shots. He knew those were the shots that won matches. Perhaps a desperate running forehand down the line to make it deuce and fend off game point in the 9th game in the 5th mahut of an Isner match. Perhaps you came back and won the game to make it 3/6, a chance at a 4/6 mahut, relieved that you avoided a 2/8 mahut, and highly motivated to avoid a 3/7 mahut. Perhaps 4/6 would bring the Isner tally to 17-33, above the important 0.5 (0.515) Isner player comparison ratio. Fall below the 0.5 mark and your partner should really find someone better to play, his 1.94 player comparison ratio with you is still in a productive range, worthy of his time, but unless you sustain your efforts the ratios can move quickly. Either way. Every point matters. Every game matters. Every mahut matters. Every Isner match matters. Joe could be the greatest of all Isner players, but he hadn't embraced ISM fully. Yet. To his credit, he had played the 2nd Isner match with Keck the previous summer/fall and his ratios were significantly better than mine and above the 0.5 mark. I had a 0.44 player comparison ratio with Keck, from a 31-70 finish in the 1st ever Isner, completed a month prior to the completion of the Keck/Vita match (70-35). My second Isner match with Keck was coming to a close and the ratios were very similar. Considering two consecutive 1/9 mahuts in mahut #1 and mahut #2, my improved ratios of late were encouraging and a 6/4 win in mahut #7 was my first ever mahut win. I currently stood at 1-17-1 in mahuts with Keck. Humbled, but aware of what it takes to improve, fight, and win. I should be grateful with a ratio in the forties, especially considering the planter fascia injury. As we continued to warm up, a man with 120 tennis balls all over the side court was hitting shot after shot furiously. He was drenched. Eventually, he approached us about playing doubles. We all seemed fine with it and, after introductions and handshakes we moved to his court (the better court due to being near a fence) and teams were formed. Keck and I were on the same side and standing next to each other so we nodded and teamed up. Joe and the Floridian Jim did the same. As we continued warming up and I began thinking about the note-worthiness of the moment. This was to be the first Isner doubles mahut.

     Keck and I performed as we expected, our play sharpened by the previous month's ISM matches and mahuts. The Floridian seemed a bit flustered at first, but settled in and tortured us late in the match with swirling, spinning serves. The kind of serves cooked up on the clay courts of Florida. No clay courts in Texas. Outdoors at least. The Texas sun, hotter and longer than the Florida sun, would burn them and the cracks would grow wide and deep. Only hard, concrete courts outside in Texas. Fast, but still not as fast as the Wimbledon grass Isner and Mahut occupied in the summer of 2010. Despite the Floridian’s service tricks, Keck and I were too much and too constant. The Isner match was played under the cover of a regular match (no time to explain ISM to the Floridian) and at 6-0, 2-2, I looked at Keck after he put away a forehand volley to win the game and said, "8-2 in the first ever doubles mahut." For a moment, he hesitated, then finally offered a knowing look and gave the accomplishment its propers. Keck and I would go on to win 6-4 in the final antique set to win the antique match, our focus and sharpness somehow diminished after the quiet mahut celebration. Joe found his tennis game during the match and nearly broke my wrist as I attempted to volley one of his screaming down the line attempts, but was handicapped by the Floridian. Despite his late serving success, the rest of the man's game was in shambles. The electric ball machine he was using before we arrived needed more court time. On reflection, maybe it needed more storage time. Only constant human play can sustain success. Like fresh oregano, authenticity cannot be replicated.

20.  Like McEnroe

     The racquet was a load. Like the hammer of Thor, it was too heavy for mortal man. The 7th mahut of this isner match, as with every isner match, was played vintage. My Jack Kramer was letting me down. Or I was letting it down. Keck, with his French made Sportif model, had won 7 straight games to make it 8-2, which made it 69-31 overall, which put him one game away from winning his 7th straight inser match. I stood on the baseline to begin the next game with, hopefully, a big first serve. I was weary. My legs had failed me this day. Coming directly from work to play our weekly mahut prevented me from stopping by the house to grab a handful of nutrition and, perhaps, an extended kiss from my lovely wife, glorious hugs from my wonderful girls, or a wag from brando, the family deck dog--best dog I ever had. No, I had rushed over from work, changed in the parking lot while wondering about Allen city laws against changing in parking lots, drank a few sips of water, token sips really, and went through a hasty warm-up. The wind was gusty and the courts were busy and noisy. One guy walked onto the adjacent court during our sixth game, threw his bag on the bench and engaged in a heated phone conversation with somebody named Misty. Seemed she had used the wrong credit card. He was really upset and said some awful things. After the horrid discussion he left the court. Apparently oblivious to shame. Keck had won that sixth game easily while I worried about Misty. Wondered if she was crying.

     Now was my chance to get to 32 games. My PCR with Keck had wavered between .45-.52 for the last several matches and adding another game meant the difference between a .44 and .46 PCR. My motivations were still high. The optimism carried into the beginning of the match was gone, to be sure. Keck had destroyed it with his spectacular play, flawless serving, and running flip shots. Laver never did it better. As it was said of Laver applied to Keck...

...he was "technically faultless, from his richly varied serve to his feather-light touch on drop volleys plus a backhand drive carrying destructive topspin when needed or controlling slice when the situation demanded it."

     My play at the net was inconsistent and wild and I had typical vintage serving challenges, but mainly it was Keck winning rather than me losing. I stepped to the line and began my service motion. Usually, after deep breaths and bouncing routines, I will toss the ball fairly high in the air. This to allow time for a full twist of the torso and sufficient bend of the knees before jumping with all my might off my tiptoes as I swing the racquet from behind my head with a chopping motion. Fully extended by the time of impact. At the top of the toss. Feet off the ground, all my power unleashed. I predict I've repeated this basic tennis action 500,000 times. This one was executed well and dropped quickly and left to Keck's forehand side. He swung it into the net, disappointed and aghast. In truth, he let up and fell victim to not bending his knees enough and getting down with the ball. He was thinking about English beer. Realizing this, he lined up up to take my next serve with determination and focus. He too was still motivated and wanted to break out of the PCR ranges we had established. He returned my next serve with a backhand flip that backed me up on the baseline. I managed to get a weak backhand slice over the net but he was coming in and easily put away a volley. 15 all. Wanted to show him some pace so I flattened out my grip and went for the middle ace. Just long as it rang the fence. The second serve got in and Keck lifted it back to my forehand side. Came up a bit and really stepped into it as I went cross court with a fully executed swing. Ball was a clear winner and sent Keck running over to the other court in desperate chase. "Goooorman.", he bellowed.

     The credit card worrier was back, hitting with two others. They had noticed the vintage racquets and were watching the match while warming up. "You guys really smack it with those racquets," he said to Keck. "It's called vintage tennis," Keck replied, "We're playing the 7th mahut of our isner match. 1st and 7th mahout of every inner match is vintage. Really makes you concentrate on the form of the swing and the technique required to serve consistently with a vintage racquet makes me a much better server when I play with my modern racquets." He returned the ball to me and I lined up for a chance to really take control of the game, serving at 30-15. My next serve dropped in as well as I gave a mindful effort to my serving form. Keck blasted it back and I returned the shot and this went on for several rounds. Finally, Keck was drawn to the net and I smashed a backhand winner down the left line as he stumbled in vain to make it 40-15. Always one to take a chance, especially if winning is at stake; I decided to go for the flat middle serve again. Wanted to ring the fence on an ace. This one went in and Keck hit a high lob back as he lunged. Got it fairly deep and I was backed to the baseline. I looped a forehand back and he responded with a huge forehand winner down the line on my backhand side. It was a great shot and I congratulated him on his return of serve. At 40-30, I knew going to deuce had to be avoided. Keck's mental dominance was evident. He had won games by extending them and eventually influencing mistakes and executing isner sharpened play. This had to be done now or never. My legs were tired, my shoulders were sore, but I had to bring a kramerian end to this game now. I decided to rush the net after my first serve. This was it. I was going to serve, volley, and go get a drink at 3-8. I decided. The serve was well struck and fell in as I moved quickly to the net. Keck, by now with nothing to lose, hit a cross court forehand top my backhand side. I stopped and lunged left, my racquet rattled the court. The strings caught the ball and the wood frame held. The ball floated over the net, powerless and victorious. Keck didn't even make a move for the ball. "Gorman at the net. Like McEnroe," he said with admiration and disgust.

     After an extended break, Keck went on to win the next game easily and claimed the mahut 9-3 and the isner match 70-32. My PCR was .46 and I held hope for resurgence during our eighth isner match over the summer. Usually, during the time when an isner match is concluded and one begins, we will look to play other formats using ISM (Isner Scoring Method). The Vita brothers have entered into an isner doubles match with Keck and I, and through the first mahut (played pre-vintage), we are leading 11-4. This match will be documented.

Part II:  The Junkyard Court

1.  Vantaggio Side

     The professionally done sign in the lobby of Ariel Dunes 2 indicated a daily round robin at the Destin Tennis Club.  Named a Best Of in 2015.  9-11 am, $20 bucks.  To play on the green Florida clay was well worth it.  Perhaps some local players, similar to my tennis pals on Texas.  They would surely welcome me into the group for the 4 mornings I would play.  Monday through Thursday.  Unexpected, but had my gear and my annual month long tennis hiatus was done.  Back to it on the clay, work out the physical, the mental, and the anger.  Peaceful is the only way to play, it is true.  After a very beachy, boozy Sunday, followed by an outstanding Pontchartrain dish at Acme Oyster Bar, somehow awoke 30 minutes prior to the Monday morning event.  Got ready quick, out the door, and at the pro shop at 10 til.  Ready for these Florida dudes.  Ready to demonstrate Isner trained superiority, lone star grit, and Vantaggioian attitude.  It was going to be a smashing.

     The small  pro shop was tidy.  It fronted the community pool, which was full of about 15 mature ladies doing water aerobics.  They were in a circle, all seemed to know the routine.  How nice, I thought.  Palm Trees, Crape Myrtles, and other greenery was everywhere.  Oh, to be a 'resident', an actual 'resident'.  They probably had names for people who weren't 'residents'.  Out Of Towner Downers or Beach Buttholes or Yank Danks.  Signs were everywhere.  'Residents' this, 'residents' that.  I felt irritated as I walked in the shop.  Ready to take it to 'em.  Hopefully, I would play a 'resident'.  The nice assistant pro, Holly, greeted me with a fine simile and active demeanor.  Paid up for the round robin and she introduced me to Guido, who was making out a check.  A nice fella in his 70s, he had a wide smile and a fabulous Italian accent.  Holly sent us to the back courts where everyone would collect and warm up.  Behind the pool, the back courts were merely 100 feet away.

     The complex has 8 very well maintained clay courts, ice water jugs, rakes, and shaded benches.  Guido got in his car and drove to the back courts.  We met at the spectator benches on the outside of the fenced in double court.  The clay was smooth, soft, and perfect.  Let the sliding begin!  Chatted with Guido for awhile.  Got a new knee a year and a half ago, now the other one hurts.  He only plays doubles.  Kept watching his watch, bringing up how Bob was supposed to come, and a few others.  Spoke of this guy who was 85.  Rides his bike to play sometimes.  Always moving, never stopping.  Guido himself talked fast, with huge laughs in between and suspect listening.  He was a Steelers fan.  He said he didn't remember the bullshit Benny Barnes interference call in Super Bowl XIII, but he was lying.  Told him we owed them one more, reminding him of the Emmitt Cowboys revenge.  He laughed, even doubled over, before looking at his watch again in worry.  It was 10 after now, no one was coming.  Had this ever happened, I inquired.  He laughed again, this time with a melancholy tone.  Sometimes they have 5 or 6 he said, usually Mondays were good.  He didn't know.  He had just talked to Bob a couple of days prior and he told him he would see him Monday.  That meant that he should be here.  But he wasn't.  I offered to hit around with him, but he was insistent that he could only play doubles.  He pointed to his very tan left knee.  The vertical scar was a foot long.  He had to go prepare to go to the beach.  "No tennis, beach day.", he said in his Italian sound, "Maybe I see you Wednesday, eh?".  Absolutely.  Hope so, Guido.

     What was left was drills and serves.  Alone, on these perfect courts.  Towels, water, 2 fresh cans, white bandana, and the classic Australian Blue Vantaggio grey T-shirt.  Addidas Bounce fit just right, ready for the dirt.  Babalot racquet. the kind Nadal plays with . After two laps, 10 pushups, and 20 squats, set up the Isner drill.  3 balls, spaced equally on both sides of singles lines, 6 total.  One on the baseline, one on the service line, one by the net.  Starting from the middle of the base line, each ball is retrieved and returned to the starting point.  One at a time, from the baseline to the net, left, then right.  It is exhausting, and a very good footwork drill.  I slid, I dug.  Then some serves, then a drill, then some serves, drill, pushups, squats, then some serves.  Sweat was pouring, water was guzzled, shade was sought.  This went on for 2 hours.  The clay marks told the story.  My serve on the Vantaggio Side, the advantage side, needed to be over to the right and deeper.  In general, work your opponent's backhand, especially with the serve.

     It was a good workout.  Shed my soaked shirt and headband and, like Nadal would, put on a dry shirt before leaving the court.  Checked in at the pro shop and Holly assured me to show up the next day and my fee would be covered.  No one was around, the pool was now empty.  It was only 11 o'clock.  It's a beach day for me too, Guido.  Far from the Grand Slams, the Tennis Channel, the endorsement contracts, and the incredible Williams sisters, tennis is dying.  No-showed in Florida.  And it is sad.

**word is Keck is meeting with Jimmy Connors to discuss an invitation to KOtC11.  Perhaps at TBar M in Dallas.  Negotiations are on-going...

2.  Strawberry Cream

At the 2018 Wimbledon Men's Quarters the bracket rings true.  All the hustle, all the troubles, all the smashes, all the clashes.  Left is Fed and Nadal, of course.  Easy like.  Fed will demolish the lanky South African Anderson on his way to the title.  Like mowing, his grass always smells cut.  Nadal gets washed out by Del Po, the red dirt still sweating out of his system.  Novak looks good, but stressed.  He plays Kei Nishikori, the Japanese serve return master coming back from injury.  Hungry, very hungry.   

The token American is Isner.  He should be celebrated wildly, his career is the lone notable male American tennis career of an entire generation.  Many records, that serve, Miami.  He's tall.  Maybe Querry, maybe his career is notable.  Stevie The Grit will always be beloved.  Sock stinks.  Lets move on.com, please.

(Sorry Wayne, referring only to singles.  Your boy's accomplishments are incredible, especially Bob, who teamed with an almost 50 year old Martina Navratilova and won the 2006 U.S. Open Mixed Doubles title.  So much hardware.)

First time Wimbledon Quarterfinalist Isner plays Canadien Milos Raonic.  Isner will be destroyed.  He is happy and satisfied with what he's done.  It is his nature.  After Miami, he flopped.  After 70-68, he flopped.  Raonic has too much game and John McEnroe still echos in his ear from his time as his coach.  Definately has more swagger than Big John, whose shoulders must be worn completely out.  His trademark between the legs bounce prior to his serve is classic.  And very cool.  Of course, Fed will strawberry cream either of these North Americans quick in the Semis.

With Fed in the final, and the eventual winner, the runner up will be the Argentine Del Po, who made it there by forehanding Kei off the court.  Kei, who steadily battled a crazed Novak to get to the Semis, could only look over to his coach, Michael Chang, and shrug.  That forehand of Del Po is an all timer.  Maybe the US Open for Novak, but whose gonna beat a rested Nadal in New York?

Then the alarm went off and I woke up on a Tuesday.  Maniacal Monday was over.  Sweet Jesus, Serena's gonna win another title!  That moon was just a sliver this morning.  Looked like a spaceship coming through the sky.  Wonder if Del Po won his suspended quarterfinal with Gilles Simon.  He was up 2 sets to 1.  Think it's about to come on.  Can't quite remember that dream, but it was weird.  All the Wild Boars get out of that cave?  Fed might win this.

**postscript.  it is now Wednesday.  the dream perfectly predicted the opposite of what actually occurred.  the dream was 0-4.  all the Wild Boars, and their coach, were rescued from that Thai cave.  Saman Gunan is a true hero.  God bless his soul.  And, DelPo did beat Simone.

3.  Grass Transition

Everyone knows who owns the clay.

Nadal even looks red.

His dark Spanish skin wrapping his used and busting muscles, which connect to his sturdy bones, all controlled by a white hot nuclear reactor flame of want to, need to, have to, and will.

His 11th Barcelona title, coming after his dominance in Monte Carlo, gives a good indication of who will win the French Open.

The ball whizzes off his strings, it loops high, and falls quick and sharp.

Nicking lines, biting down, going deep, severe angles.

Every point is fought for desperately, no mistake is tolerated without disgust.

The routines, the tics, the picking.

Scowling around, rarely smiling during play, saving the beaming flash of complete joy for hoisting big silver trophies.

Ten at Roland Garros, eleven is likely.

The grass transition is the question for Rafa, will he win again in his whites.

He plays like he thinks he is the best tennis player ever, and knows he is the best tennis player now.

He is ranked #1.

Perhaps he will play Federer after Paris.

Perhaps he will win.

4.  This Ain't No Exhibition

    The Northern Irish are scarred people evidently, pick a side or not.  It doesn't matter.  That was years ago.  It's proven all the Irish and British men can come together and defeat the rest of the European men in golf.  The since disbanded Seve Cup was played bi-annually from 2000-2013.  It featured the islanders against the rest of continental Europe.  Only eight events were held, the island boys went 6-2.  Seve Ballesteros knew the island fire, knew why punk rock was born there.  These people have lived on their heels for thousands of years.  Fending off Viking raids, many times unsuccessfully, old entitled Romans and their vast kingdom, Germany's blitzkrieg bombs, various religious claimers, and countless other recorded and unrecorded scenarios.  No wonder the initial American patriots, and others to other places, went floating for a calmer life, almost undercover as colonists.  Most stayed where they floated.  Not sure they all got what they wanted, but America is America.  Still searching west for calm, all the way to California.

    Rory McIlroy is now more Floridian than Irish, geographically anyway.  His golf record is titanium, already worthy of legendary status. Only 28, he's likely to add more valuable hardware.  Perhaps later today.  Already, money is no object.  At his age, the simple  power of compounding almost assures he will be a billionaire one day.  Maybe he already is.

     He seems tremendously honest, with his priorities, goals, conduct, and answers to questions.  Once asked about the Ryder Cup, he termed it an exhibition, which the golf bluebloods scoffed at.  How dare he call this exhibition an exhibition!  Samual Ryder, an English businessman and early golf nut that made a fortune selling seeds, would have likely not been offended by the term.  Also, Rory once had the nerve to say he preferred playing golf in 80 degree weather and little wind.  Hmmm, me too.  After chunking a club into the lake st the 2015 Cadillac event, his supposedly controversial comments were (brace yourself):  It felt good at the time but now I regret it.  Frustration got the better of me.  Again, the uptight scoffed.  At what?  Immediately, my mind  is reminded of the satisfaction felt at destroying a Babolat racquet just a couple months ago.  A put away volley clanked off the frame and into the net.  On break point! An hour later the action was regreted, frustration did get the best of me.  If I'm honest.  Secretly, I know I could do it again one day, and will want to, and will feel it logical and warranted.  I hope I don't, but if I'm honest.

     Yell in his backswing, McIlroy might just stare you down and tell you to frack off.  Probably have to be around him some to follow his accent, but he's relatable.  Even his well publicized engagement-abandonment to Danish tennis professional Caroline Wozniaki seemed like authentic cold feet.  After a short phone call, his final twitted sentiments wished Woz all the happiness she deserved.  Since then, Wozniaki won her first grand slam title, historically reclaimed the #1 ranking, and became engaged to David Lee, who played solidly for the last Dallas Mavericks team to really put up a legitimate fight.  Happy events, all.  This Rory is a prince, his wish for her came true.

     For what its worth, Rory's professional golf results have slipped since, his main achievements attained during the same time frame he was with Woz.  Something about the Danish.  From Gorm The Old to his son Bluetooth, and the rest.  They usually get what they want.  For better, or for worse.  Maybe she placed an old Viking curse on ole Rory, but probably not.  She doesn't seem that type, a friend of Serena, a gracious and graceful lady, a humble tennis princess.  But, even a humble tennis princess must be a killer competitor.  So Vantaggio.  Jason Keck, co-founder of Vantaggio Tennis Apparel Company, calls her Woz.  It is a term of endearment.  Her endorsement brand is strong, her capitalism value already proven, her magazine images legendary in their own right.

     In truth, Rory's had some injuries, something about an ankle or muscle pulls of various sorts.  Probably got brainwashed by weightlifters and started bulking up.  He doesn't seem to talk about it, which is respectable in its own way.  No excuses, no reasons, only results.  Rory too found love since.  This time the feet were fine, rings exchanged, and all endured a likely long, long Catholic wedding.  Reminds all of the famous old Irish folktune:  "Oh, the Os!  Oh the Micks!  Came to America to find our chicks!"   Mrs. McIlroy is a New Yorker.  And Rory is back in the final Sunday pairing of the Masters, golf's greatest prize and the final trophy he needs to earn golf's Career Grand Slam.  Sarazen, Hogan, Player, Nicklaus, and Woods are the 5 names on that short list.  Honestly, I hope he does win it later today, I'll miss it due to a Nantucket jam session, but it will play out and be reported out.  Men From Nantucket may even cover 'Oh, The Micks' in his honor.  If he wins.  We should know by 6CST.  He's chasing an American, Patrick Reed, and other Americans lurk, but I don't feel unpatriotic.  Any more than hoping Roger Federer smashes Jack Sock or pulling for Caroline Wozniacki to win the 2018 Australian Open.  This ain't no exhibition!  Honestly.

5.  Deuce Juice

Down down down.
Love 15.
Love 30.
Love 40.

Back against the fence.
Then a gift.
15 forty.

Free swinging winner.
Cross court.
30 forty.

Need a big first serve.
Got the ace.
40 forty.

That's some deuce juice.
Get it to even.
Deuce juice.
Keep on believing.

Now its all tied.
Looked em in the eye.
Bout to let it fly.
Bout to make em cry.

Then I dropped a drop.
Like I was taught.
Heavy and dead.
Ad in.

Time to pronate.
Deep knees.
High toss.
Inside out.
Line was caught.

Winner, winner.
Taco dinner.
Dripping deuce juice.
Dripping, dripping.

6.  A Recognizable And Distinct Gesture

     The bird gesture is so universal, one clear meaning worldwide.  Regardless of technique, the middle finger is known.  On the other had, the peace sign seems the same as the victory sign, or the literal #2, as if a point guard were calling out a play.  Close the peace sign fingers together, flip up the thumb and you naturally have the guns up sign.  Texas Tech, I think.  But, back to the bird for a moment, the hysteria it can cause, the rage from where it comes, the full double bird.  My father, a tough man, once endangered his family by trying to run a trucker off the road for flipping him the bird.  He wanted him to pull over and fight.  This went on for 20 miles, at 80 MPH, passenger window down, my father leaning over my mother and screaming at the alarmed trucker through her open window.  He was not pulling over for his beating from this crazed man.  My mother was surprisingly calm, my youngest older brother was ready for action, and I was observing the insanity, completely involved.  Eventually, things cooled, the trucker sped ahead, no doubt regretting shooting that particular bird, and we pulled over for gas and snacks.  "The bird must be the worst thing in the world," I thought.

    I've never given my father the bird, but it has become my favorite gesture to use for net tape points won while playing certain tennis opponents.  The 'excuse me' wave gesture always seemed insincere.  In fact, most can't even look their opponent in the eyes when performing this sham gesture.  There is no truth in it.  Also, why not the gestures when the tape shots don't dribble over?  When they are rejected back at the player who hit the shot, disappointment and woe is real and tragic.  Perhaps there is a statistic regarding % of tape shots won.  It is a skill at which certain players are likely superior due to topspin spin rates or net clearance ratios or contact point.  Or all three.  Nevertheless, it is odd.  If we really all wanna be apologizers on the court, go all in.  Double down.  Apologize for winning the racquet toss.  "Sorry, guess I'll serve."  Apologize for an ace.  "Gosh, I really smashed that, fully extended, optimum torque angle, boom.  Sorry, bet that surprised you.  Big point too.  Aww man.  Bummer."

     If tennis is a game of matches, determined by sets, determined by games, determined by points, then all points are appropriate for celebration.  This is nothing more than math, keep the hurt feelings on the other side of the fence.  Perhaps the bird, or double bird, is too provoking for effective use on the tennis court, but the birds have their place somewhere.  As with most things, selective and modest use is best.

     For Vantaggio, the peace sign seems a natural fit.  No other Tennis Apparel Company has an official gesture.  To make it a recognizable and distinct gesture needed for the differentiation, the functionality, and the persistence worthy of the Vantaggio brand, perhaps the Double V should be considered.  Double down.  The familiar peace-like gesture with the two fingers, palm facing out with the second V formed overhead by the forearm, elbow, and flexed bicep.  Think of it.  The Double V.  Marketing gold.  T-shirts, logos.  Deodorant companies everywhere would line up.  Magazine covers everywhere of winners sporting the brand through this Vantaggio gesture.  Endured.  Overcame.

     Finally, be careful to whom you shoot the bird.  Its passive acceptance should never be assumed.  And further, if you're going there, amplify it with its twin, the double bird.  Look them in the eye while gesturing.  Double down.  That's Vantaggio!

*Vantaggio Tennis Apparel Company has expressed 'concern and alarm' regarding use of any bird gesture on the tennis court.

7.  The Complete Obsession With Opponent Destruction

     The old shall rise again.  For those who think 36 is old.  Consider Roger Federer, the oldest man, at 36, to earn the #1 tennis singles ranking.  The next oldest was Andre Agassi at 33.  No fluking that, no fleeting summoning of old glory, no joke.  He has come back to dominate his sport for an extended time, winning 3 of the last 5 grand slam titles, demonstrating his excellence, sportsmanship, emotional steadiness, and fluid grit.  His reaction time advantage still intact, it has always been the foundation of his game, allowing for the trademark extension of his form.  The fully mastered backhand, the active feet, the timeless serve.  Once, long ago it seems, Fed was put out to pasture by some.  Even then he was widely acknowledged as the best ever.  But pastures aren't for Roger Federer, he will gallop away one day, no fences, no gates.  The best ever, for sure.

     Surely, Serena Williams is his tennis icon soulmate.  The sport is fortunate, these icons are worthy of admiration on many levels, especially the complete obsession with opponent destruction.  Physically, mentally, strategically, absolutely.  In all ways they are destroyed.  On all surfaces the icons have prevailed.  Hemispheres, continents, indoors, or out.  They have been grand, slamming the doors, overcoming, enduring.  And, they are both so fly, so Vantaggio.  Mommy Serena will be #1 again, and daddy Fed could hold on to the top spot til he's 40.  Or beyond.

     Less about them, more about the opponent.  Maximizing their own games, sure, but also minimizing the games of their opponents.  Serena's glare, Roger's tactics, Serena's hammer, Roger's one-hander, Serena's class, Roger's class.  High class tennis killers.  Even in defeat, the class shines.  And even defeat is not wasted by either.  It is captured and used to fuel the complete obsession with opponent destruction.  Yes, Roger and Serena, the King and the Queen of all the courts.

8.  Between Hippie And Preppie

     Somewhere between hippie and preppie.  No pastels, of course.  Ever.  Pastels have no pop.  They have no place in tennis.  Prints should be banned.  No prints.  Multiple logo placements, multiple logo sizes, multiple logo colors.  Androgynous bias, with functionality and styles.  Reasonable fits, slenders have no room.  Only tights should be tight.  Inhibiting the extention needed to play true tennis is a tennis apparel crime.  Minimize the cotton.  It is a fundamental fabric, but only appropriate as part of a blend.  100% cotton or the ridiculous combed cotton are also not appropriate.

     Inevitably, shoes will be developed.  Make them durable.  That's it, durable.  The rubber and the upper.  Leather has been rendered obsolete.  It is a nice development for the cows.  They would much rather their skins become couches or automobile bucket seats or motorcycle club jackets.  Either way, like racquet grips, leather is no longer needed for tennis shoes.  Shoe color is a matter of personal preference, which can and should, be varied.  Dark or light.  Bright or dull.  Narrow or wide.  No pastels.

      Thermal wear should be very smooth looking, appropriate for any occasion, versatile and effective in a number of conditions.  Chills, winds, mists, and rains.  High quality zippers and tie strings that never recoil.  Collars are cool and an opportunity for innovation and distinction.  Again, any design interfering with the technical or athletic requirements of the player is fatally flawed.  Functionality at the bottom of any pant is important, and go deep on the pockets.  Yes, the pockets must be deep.  Deep enough to hold many balls. On both sides.  Drills, efficiency, etc.

     Marketing should be constant and focused, all channels coordinated, interconnected and similar, persuing multiple creative avenues of apparel opportunities.  Rowing teams, table tennis, sponsorships, customized event attire.  Deliberate and recurring re-evaluation/adjustment  process must be scheduled early on.  Incremental changes over time.  Nothing, nothing is sacred.  Disciplined and illuminated communications.  Candid.  An offensive strategy to maximize and diversify tennis league enjoyment should be deployed quickly.  Utilizing all methods of cultural influence to inspire the ovarall mission of the brand.  Music, literature, art, dance, and glowface.  Clean, easy, obsessed.

     Roger Federer, the best.  A true slammer.  20 slams so far.  Impossible backhand, easy easy easy.  The king of the down under.  Internal disgust of mistakes, they are never accepted, only endured.  So Vantaggio.

9.  This Potential Madness

     Clearly, the chronic perceived potential of American male tennis professionals will be smashed by the reality of their awful and pitiful collective outcomes in 2018.  Sure, millions of dollars will be won by them, and a few will earn their way into the top 50.  A few.  But no one will be a major, or even minor, threat for a grand slam title.  Not since Andy Roddick's 2003's U.S. Open glory has an American male won a grand slam singles title.  15 years, a wasted generation, a failure of the USTA micro-culture, a shame.  Watching the 2017 Laver Cup illuminated some of the problems.  Strikingly different from the American female players, the men are uninspired and, frankly, a bit goofy.  But, why?

     Certainly Isner epitomizes the era, no evolution, so golly gee, so beatable.  And, seemingly, fine with it.  It is true that the meek shall inherit the earth, but they will have no grand slam titles.  These days, when an American male makes it deep into a grand slam bracket, it is always a surprise.  The names are familiar, and somewhat accomplished.  Stevie Johnson, perhaps the grittiest American male player, is easily the most decorated college player ever.  Sam Querry, the first American male to play in a grand slam semifinal in over a decade in last year's Wimbledon tournament, holds the all-time record for consecutive aces with 10.  Of course, Isner's 2010 Wimbledon first round match with Nicolas Mahut is legendary.  A match that took 3 days, over 11 hours of court time, and featured 223 total aces.  Isner won 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68.  He lost in the 2nd round to Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker 0-6, 3-6, 2-6 in 74 minutes.  Quietly, Isner was forced to withdraw from the doubles bracket that year due to a blister on his toe.  Surely, his partner Querry was supportive and felt bad for "Big John".  Jack Sock, the current top ranked American at #9 in the world, is the current yankee king, but he's never made a grand slam Quarterfinal and his elbow likely wont have a long career considering his extreme whiplash forehand motion.  Ryan Harrison's 93-129 decade career match record indicates no real potential.  Donald Young peaked in 2012 with a world ranking of 38 before going on a 17 match losing streak that he's never completely recovered from.  In his 14 year career, he has never won a ATP singles title of any kind.

     The perpetual next generation, who knows?  Jared Donaldson, who I personally watched get destroyed by Argentine Maximo Gonzalez just last year in Houston, once beat Belgian David Goffin in 2016.  Frances Tiafoe, the third highest ranked teenager in the top 100, has lost 29 of his first 38 professional matches.  Taylor Fritz, already married with a family at 20, could develop quickly.  He's got good bloodlines, his mother Kathy May was a world top 10 player in the late 70s.  Perhaps some of her American female mojo will help destroy whatever virus has infected the men and Taylor will break through.  However, speculation just feeds into the chronic perceived potential narrative of American professional men's singles.  Do something!  As the U.S. tennis public, we should be able to reflect back with pride, remember the highlights, revel in the victories.  But there are none.  And it will be no different in 2018.  Thankfully, the always sobering Australian Open ends this 'potential' madness every year.  They are what they are.  And I don't know why.

**If either would agree to do it, Serena or Venus Williams should be the next Davis Cup Coach.  Something must change.

10.  Athletic Apparel Hypnosis Syndrome

Attire arrivals were grand and green and very Vantaggio.  Keck's green socks with rolled up pants.  Joe's Vantaggio logo jacket, perfect for the cool weather.  Like brothers with their white bandanas.  Their hair spiking up, like tennis crowns almost.  Visions of Pat Cash and Jim Courier in a late 80s battle, although the latter was mostly known as a pioneer of the tennis cap.  The bandana brothers of Vantaggio.  Matt The Bassist was there, a true Irishman with leprechaun characteristics.  He has seen Galeway Bay with his own eyes, he has smelled the beers and bars of Ireland, he has walked the Irish dirt.  He wore solid shoes.  JD, a youth soccer and basketball coach, was geared up like a typical suburban walking generic commercial.  The jacket, 3 stripes.  The pants, 3 stripes.  The shoes, 3 stripes.  Whatever, 3 stripes.  A victim of athletic apparel hypnosis syndrome.  It is tough to overcome, JD is known to own multiple Vantaggio shirts and he mindlessly wore what he wore.  Mark Ball, bicycle creator and maintainer, showed up right on time.  A disciple of the checkered brand, his punk preppy look is completely unique.  More action, less talk.  My green suede kicks, classic Vantaggio grand slam rainbow shirt, and white Black Clover hat seemed a reasonable collection.  Along with pragmatic selections like tapered tan chinos to prevent bike chain interference and a snap button jean shirt as a versatile garment, I dressed intentionally.  We were all ready for the Vantaggio NanTuppket Green Ride of 2019.  We were benefiting needy people.  We were headed 3.2 miles across town to Tupps Brewery.  My back tire was full of air after JD lent me his typical suburban brand portable air pump.  Some sort of slow leak, probably left over from the rugged west Texas trails ridden weeks before.  We took off from Bonnie Wenk Park in McKinney, Texas.  We all wore shades.

In McKinney, bike trails are everywhere.  The greatest creek of all creeks, Wilson Creek, snakes through the city.  It was named for Pleasant Wilson, friend and hunting companion of former Texas Governor, James P. Throckmorton.  It rises near Celina, Texas and runs southwest to the East Fork of the Trinity River.  We passed the cricket fields, busy all day long, everyone in white.  We crossed under the highway, where the floods drain out.  We rode Towne Lake, we passed the ancient cemetery.  Bones of old locals, souls gone long ago.  Then finally up the ridge to the Cotton Mill.  A cotton belt gold mine in the 1880s, a mattress factory in the 1980s, and now Tupps Brewery.  A sign of the times.

The drinkers were there standing in lines for liquid, fermented grains.  The light and golden, the bitter and full, the dark and delicious.  The green.  A festival was underway, we had no idea, guess the word got out.  Our rides have been going on for awhile, benefiting needy people.  It was cool that Tupps really stepped up to make our ride stand out.  They had staffed up, organized the vendors, and done some fantastic marketing.  What partners!  It has become one of the featured events in this part of Texas.  Like the King Of The Court Tournament Series, it has impacted broader culture positively.  Like seeds that eventually grow into flowers, like ideas that take tangible form, like a call from the wilderness.  Heard, but unattributed.  Understood, but mysterious.  Felt, but numb.  It was great to get such a welcome when we arrived.

Mark was immediately out.  Too many prospective crooks.  His bike was too valuable, he carried no lock.  He rode away without saying goodbye.  Joe and Keck scattered, mingling, making contacts.  They are still unaware of Vantaggio's true potential, of their own true potential.  They are both limitless.  "Second year of a five year plan, remember, second year of a five year plan."  I am trying to help them.  Mattie, JD, and me got 2 beers each after standing in line, first to get a wristband, then to get a beer.  Our little ole ride, proposed and executed, years ago.  This was our 10th official ride.  Wristbands.  Thanks for your partnership, Tupps.  Glad we could help grow the business, so cool that the Vantaggio NanTuppket Rides are catching on.  Look what's it's become.  Wristbands.  We drank and drank, we met friends, we took pictures, we looked around.  We dug the art, we dug the music, we dug and dug.  Eventually, we dug enough and all took off, Irish music faded in the background.

11.  Instantaneous Automatic Maneuver

Rotations and directions, everywhere they pointed.  Side to side, front to back, four tries.  Make them count, follow through, move forward.  

A turn should happen first, the first move.  Then a step up.  Like an instantaneous automatic maneuver.  

The odd crowd, internalists mostly.  Keeping it in, needing an outlet.  They are smashing.  

Care is expensive, the research is stalled.  Get to the point.  The genes done it, family history don't lie.  

Molecules and atoms can be made right.  Keep it going, the rallies are fine.  Let's work up some sweat, get the legs moving, quick feet, on your toes.  

Pick up 5, make a big circle.  Jump in whenever.  The tennis underground is represented, make time for the burn out drill.  

Shower up, the cold will do its magic.  Fresh and clean.  Red Stripe hit the spot.  Brand awareness, for the love of the game.

12.  Best And Worst Tennis Kits Of 2019

The undertaking of describing the best and worst tennis kits of 2019 in 500 words was entered into knowingly, willingly, and enthusiastically.  An assignment!  Vantaggio's progress in year 2 of the 5-year plan is inspiring.  To be in the middle of the tennis tug of culture war is not a random development.  It is an intentional assault on anything static and lame in the game.  And there is plenty of issues, methods, attitudes, fashion mediocrity, and lameness to confront.  We are merely at the middle of the beginning.  The 15-year plan must be established and committed to soon.  Running simultaneously with the 5-year plan, the longer plan is more visionary, and more ambitious.  The establishment competition is entrenched, not progressing, not retreating.  Arrogant apathy.  The worst kind of apathy.  Offensive and smug.  It will backfire on them.  Which seems a fine segway to the The Junkyard Court's Best And Worst Tennis Kits of 2019.  We'll begin with the worst.

Worst Tennis Kit of 2019:  Street Tennis To- Go Kit

A real loser and major embarrassment.  The poorly written advertisement indicated this pile of trash could be played at the beach, camping, or "even on the grass in your own backyard."  Like tennis is Jarts or some other frolicking recreational activity.  Hard to believe Street Tennis Inc. would put these features in writing:

The Street Tennis To Go Kit comes complete with:
  • 1 Portable Street Tennis net system, with high quality 12′ nylon net and a lightweight metal frame, designed for easy assembly
  • 3 Street Tennis balls, 2 Match Balls for regular play and 1 Rally Ball for faster play
  • 2 One piece, 100% Aluminum, lightweight, Street Tennis rackets
  • 1 Durable nylon Street Tennis carry bag, for easy transport
  • 1 Box of white chalk, to mark your court area

Where to start?  Perhaps the 12 foot long portable net.  No mention of the height.  Literally, basic dimensions.  Also, would rather have 3 match balls over 2 match balls and a rally ball.  The aluminum tennis racquets looked like trash found in the garbage at the city dump.  All this worthless piece of tennis dung for $99.99.  Chalk this kit up as an F-minus.  Of course, they are "recognized" by the USTA and the International Tennis Federation.  Wonder what they charge for "endorsed" or "certified"?  Probably some under the table action, but maybe not.  Leery of the Quality Guarantee referred to numerous times.  This kit also won the Most Embarrassing Kit and Most Worthless Kit for 2019.

Worst Tennis Kit of 2019

Best Tennis Kit of 2019: Court Crate Box

Available as one time box or monthly subscription, this is a kit worth your attention and money.  For only $78 a 3-month subscription can be purchased.  The website was informative, enticing, and clean.  The contents are dynamic and are chosen based on recipients profile.  True AI, algorithms, intent.  Also, appreciate the fact that 10% of your payment goes to support Emily's Place, which helps domestic violence survivors permanently escape abuse. Don't just take it from The Junkyard Court, take it from real subscribers.  The Crate Court Box is a winner:

The box, roughly the size of a large shoebox, is filled with 6-8 items and shipped free of charge.  Anything from super absorbent grips, shirts, tennis balls, hydration tools, sun screens, concentrated electrolytes, socks, strings, and wristbands.  It could be almost anything, all meant to potentially improve tennis performance and style.  Currently, the Court Crate Box features the Vantaggio Rainbow Wristbands.  The colors of tennis look dashing, they are a standout item for Court Crate Inc.  Our Texan tennis alliance is formidable.  Vantaggio Bandanas could add even more edge to the box in 2020.

Only because they asked, I've informed by daughters that the 3-month subscription would be choice for Father's Day.  Only because they asked.  Fingers crossed.  Shipping is free and it's sent next day.  Could arrive in time for a morning match the Saturday prior.  No biggie, I am lucky to be a father.  Don't really need anything, but would be cool.  They asked.

Best Tennis Kit Of 2019

The Junkyard Court thanks Vantaggio Inc. for their vision, their mission, and our continuing affiliation.

13.  They Dream In Green

Heavy effort, smashing and agile.
Working the court, squinting into the sun.
All warmed up.

A star spangled multi-national anthem.
From continents afar.
One, two, three, four.

Media and the 11 second update.
Road trip destination, clear and cool.
Logo box in the back.

Old back roads still move.
Sweet Norah singing about Lone Stars.
Doubling up first, mix it good.

Too much pace, too much finish.
Then the singles.
2nd got excellent depth, a set up artist.

Commentators, writers, racquet experts.
Fashionable opinions.
Singers, rappers, shouters.

Coaches, seemingly everywhere.
Glares and dirty looks, 3rd having fun.
Wrist tendons, shoulder aches, backs.

Hard courts are hard.
Soft clay of Europe, calling them back.
Like playing on clouds.

No use for Cali, got to get the heck back.
Trust the young eyes.
Mean what they see, believe what they say.

They dream in green.
About angles and form and mental calm.
And swinging under the windmills.

14.  The Fuzzy Yellow Sphere

It was near freezing.  We were geared up and anxious to move around, Bluetooth musical arrangements were made.  The tennis court was popping, Bob Schneider was singing about the stars over your house.  I was stretching.  Keck and Joe were listening intently to an old bar fight story from Coach Bill.  He really was one of the best back in his fighting 20s, an underdog with hidden fury, willing to be provoked.  A finisher.  This story featured a demonstrative re-creation of his final battle cry before his fists ended another brawl.  "You got blood in my brother's shirt!"  Fashion and blood, the Vita bond.  But it was too cold for stories and we quickly got started on the first round robin of the new year.  

Fresh resolution possibilities of tennis basics consumed my thoughts.  'Watch the tennis ball all the way to the strings in 2019' emerged as the one.  The pros always do, but the rest of us tend to get wild eyed.  And it was working during the quick warm up.  Nice and easy, keeping the eyes locked on the fuzzy yellow sphere, beginning with the shoulder turn, deliberate with the footwork, spaghetti loose with the forearm muscles, breathing out on impact, finishing with a high follow through, and immediately getting on the toes to anticipate the next shot.  Bending knees, leaning in.  All the while, the mind is thinking of the big picture, the strategy, the pattern, the opponent.  There is a lot going on in tennis.  All at once.  How to slow it down, how to make it easy, how to make it flow.  Keep the eyes on the tennis ball all the way to the strings was my mantra, the rest would have to be automatic.

We played the matches tight, all of us struggling with our same tennis vices, our known bad habits, but all of us having some level of success.  We finished with a rigorous drilling session, honing our forms, maintaining long rallies, grooving.  Music filled the cold morning air, we gathered up our gear and headed out to our holiday plans.  Talk turned to year two of the Vantaggio Tennis Apparel Company.  Coach Bill had already left, but Keck realized the importance of the discussion, the opportunity to finalize company goals for the near year.  He called the moment, "Let's get this down now, we have to simplify, streamline "  I suggested bandanas with the iconic Vantaggio logo, a cheap and effective way to elevate the brand.  Joe agreed.  Fewer T-shirt styles seemed important to Keck, the simplification strategy seemed to prevail.  Creating a podcast was an intriguing discussion and could be used to develop the the Vantaggio brand through the digital soundwaves.  Tasteful, respectful, legitimate tennis talk.  In addition, all agreed a King Of The Court in November to close year 2 could be a tremendous celebration.  Eventually, the cold wind prevailed and we all took off.  I agreed to develop a follow up memorandum capturing the strategic priorities for year 2 of the Vantaggio Tennis Apparel Company.  Begin with the end in mind.  Hopefully, this will suffice:

Dated:  Jan. 3, 2019

To:  The worldwide tennis culture.

From:  Vantaggio Tennis Apparel Company Steering Committee

Re:  2019 Strategic Initiatives of the Vantaggio Tennis Apparel Company.

1.  Brand.  

Load up on bandanas with the iconic logo.  Cheaper to sell/give away, functional.  Focus on website content, continue to develop key relationships, transition to general active wear, change the name of the company to simply Vantaggio.  Streamline.

2.  Expand Reach.

Introduce a podcast, one that aligns with the values of Vantaggio.  Develop strategic relationships with collegiate teams.  Deliberate social media presence, active and encouraging international players specifically.  U.S. Clay Court in Houston.

3.  King Of The Court 11 Tournament.

Add additional sponsors.  Attract a star-studded field for KOtC11, our return after a year hiatus.  Vantaggio giveaways, raffles, an after party with live music and plenty of spirit.  The crowning of royalty.  3rd party media coverage.  Mahut!

**I am merely an unpaid interested observer and scribe, unaffiliated with any financial interests of the company.  To my knowledge Joe and Keck maintain a 50/50 ownership agreement.

15.  Square And Fair

     Her look is utterly unique.  She could care less and she's about to kick your inferior tennis efforts off the court.  And then she speaks.  The sweetest, most gracious, articulation set to a perfectly pitched A minor.  Naomi Osaka, Japan's native gal, America's Open Champion.  Relentless and motivated purely.  Fearless and situationally elevated.  Tireless and constantly offensive.  Excellent first serve.  Her victory over Serena in the finals was established within the lines of Arthur Ashe court.  Clearly, the cause was Osaka's beat down, the effect was the aftermath.  An aftermath that included her apologizing to the crowd for defeating the greatest athlete to walk the earth.  Square and fair.  Twice as many aces.  1 double fault to 6 for Serena, and so very Vantaggio with 4 break points won, how Champions slam the door.  Serena won 1.

     Of course, Osaka's emotional control was superior.  Until the podium, when she couldn't contain it any longer.  When the tennis playing was over.  When Serena's maternal instincts took over from the microphone and proper order returned to the ceremony.  Earlier, during the match, Serena needed an emotional rescue.  A knight in shining armor.  Ironically, the first slip started with her coach, paid to help her.  As he coached from the stands, which is not allowed and was witnessed by the umpire.  Video don't lie, Venus saw it too.  Serena defended herself, claiming the coaching the umpire saw was not received by her.  She didn't see it.  Does coaching need to be received to be called coaching?  A question for the next USTA board meeting. Maybe squeeze in a discussion between fee hikes and the subjective ratings calibration workshop.  Either way, the coach caused the first infraction, which didn't cost Serena a point, but left her emotionally vulnerable.

     Feeling disrespected is always challenging to overcome, but to a losing champion who detests losing, it becomes magnified.  Demanded apologies seem pointless and irrational, anyway.  Then the destroyed racquet soon after.  From experience, it is a rush of pure anger, uncontrollable and instinctive.  It is always self disgust.  It is completely irrational.  And it is against the rules.  And 2 infractions costs a point.  Then, still feeling like an apology from the umpire was needed, Serena spent an entire changeover arguing.  Eventually, another infraction for verbal abuse resulted in the loss of a game.  Osaka could've cared less.  She was cruising to victory regardless, despite, and for sure.  Serena got beat, got offended, got angry, and got the runner up trophy.  In that order.  She temporarily lost her cool.  But only temporarily.

**these are the observations of a male.

16.  The Modern Court

Only delusional dreamers would try that.  Who, in their right minds, would attempt it?  Take on the established, normalized cultures of our lives.  To resist expectations and surprise.  Outlandish.  Usually, wrapped in prestige, tradition, and respectability.  Just enough righteousness to keep it sustained, just enough for a slow, but steady, growth.  Keep it together for a hundred years and no one on earth will know an alternative.  Nationalism, religion, economics, political philosophies, relationships of all types.  And, yes, scoring methods.

The morning of King Of The Court 10, a rejection of the numbing scoring systems of the past, a repudiation of idleness, a slap at subjective ratings and carpetbagging strategies.  A flip to the USTA for propping up this nonsense through fees and grants.  An app could replace the whole operation.  Along with the Isner Scoring Method, a tennis revolution could emerge in America.

If tennis is to thrive and realize its potential as the greatest sport in the world, it must bloom.  To gather for a common reason, to exhaust the body, to test the mind.  No sitting around, no excuses, no whining.  Only grunts and screams and slams and drops and slices and down the lines.  Some loves and deuces and moulettes.  Overheads and bailouts.  Wides, longs, and just missed.  Double faults.

Watch the ball to the strings, take the short angles, limit the backswing, and finish the motion.  The morning is here, the future is unknown for now.  Royalty will be decided by early afternoon, they will be celebrated and toasted by dusk.  The modern tennis court.  The Royal Court of KOtC10.


Part III:  Red Mud Gonzo

Red Mud Gonzo 1

"Tilted and Torn" by jpg

...this tennis giant, fresh from the mosh pit...an entire generation apart, a two decade head start...but the decline has begun for the elders, life's undeniable truth...the brain's the equalizer, but only for a time...the clay seems darker on the screen, burnt orange...memories of a pearl white pool table with similar colored felt...tilted and torn...genuine draft neon sign, miller's desperate brew...two of three favors the old, three of five favors the young...

"Gritless" by jpg

...the old sturdy german proved too cool, the lanky american dragging his feet and giving up on shots by the end, content with a split set loss...haas, a former u.s. clay court champion, has seen his kind come and go...bend your knees man!  that's what its gonna take...tommy haas will never be too old to beat reilly olpelka...like many other promising yanks of late...gritless...

"Elbow Fatalities" by jpg

...working on improving my game...moving, mental torture avoidance, the elbow realities of an aging player--elbow fatalities rather...yes, only spectating, for now...delusional, perhaps....will be checking in brothers and sisters, from the edge of the gulf of mexico, reporting from the red mud of houston...

Red Mud Gonzo 2

"My Go-Along Instinct" by jpg

...consultations with former local houston insider...scribbled choice spots for Wed night reflections...market square...hearsay, a dinner place...okra, with some unique community partnership...bad news bar, sounds like bad news...warrens, the nightcap spot...confession: never understood what nightcap meant...last beer?  Final pour of wine?  Last shot of Jack?  Regardless, good to have some insight from a bonafide Houstonian...he seems a fine fellow, former bartender, current trading specialist...however, my go-along instinct is strong...with planning talent like TTop, the general insistence of CB, and the creativity of the ghost prince, my mind is doorless...

"Fog" by CB

Mile Marker 210 hitchhiker wearing a hospital gown. Don't pick him up.
Fog in Angus, TX.

"Drop" by TTop

Always drop a drop.

"Emotional Variance" by jpg

...the tragedy of jared donaldson, so sure of his potential, unbelieving of mistakes, too much emotional variance...the loud encouragement seems out of place...looking to the stands, the coaching know it alls.  The Argentine max gonzalez never looked to the stands...only swatted his shoes free of mud, kept his cool.  A drop killer...

Red Mud Gonzo 3

"Coach Glances" by jpg

By the semis, the practice boy grab asses are gone, the showouts and gritless.  The ones that respectfully hate their opponents are left.  As a player, while playing especially, it is a trap to root for others.  Bellucci acknowledged no one as he arrived to practice for his quarterfinal match. Donaldson was hopping on his feet and staying positive after his tough 3 set loss to qualifier Maximo Gonzalez a day ealier.  He should learn from Thomaz Bellucci on how to act.  He don't care about up and comers and he dont care about old and tough.  Bellucci won his quaterfinal match, taking out Querrey.  Also, coach glances and reactions of any kind should be selected carefully.

"Avoid" by jpg

Brookstreet bbq.  D minus.  Cold pork.  Horrible sides.  Avoid...

"TV Jones classic" by OneFineGringo

I would like to welcome the newest who-ah to my who-ah house.
My friend Spencer made it. He's good at stuff. Ive been hassling him to sell it to me and he finally needed the money bad enough. I pick it up next Friday.

Details if interested:
*Neck- maple with rosewood slab fret board made by Warmoth.
*Body- ash thinline from allparts.  Roth metal flake in clear nitro.
*Fender bridge with Glendale cold rolled steel saddles.
*Glendale grip-o-matic knobs
*cts pots CRL 3 way and switchcraft jack.

He wound the pickups. He made the bridge from scratch. It's a hot tele bridge and neck is a TV Jones classic that he also re-wound to work better in a tele neck position.

"So Smoky" by Matt

This is the best homemade ramen I've ever had! So smoky

"All maybe, maybe" by jpg

Don't touch the breakables!  Finish your swing.  Half step forward, momentum is a mother.  Spotts Park revelations and curves.  Internal simmering and demeanor control.  Losing ain't fun, but you're still playing tennis.  All in.  Rain or not.  All out, the only rational way...All maybe, maybe.  No snorting!  Damn important.  Growl.

Red Mud Gonzo 4

"The McKenzie Method" by jpg

...remembering the red mud days, alternately thinking of relevant details and noticing an incident in my lower spine.  Nothing the McKenzie Method can't cure.  The curve must be regained, the bubble needs to be deflated, been tricked into a golf game, gotta swing loose and true...what does 'fore' even mean?

"Stevie The Grit" by jpg

...grits are delicious, with butter and pepper.  All Americans will rediscover.  Stevie The Grit, fighting off threats in each round, minding his game, bringing his heat, keeping his cool.  Overcoming tricked up shots, an uptight brat, and a true Brazilian mudder.  The emerging cramps of the final couple of games furiously rubbed out on a changeover by an Asian wizard.  Perhaps the most incredible massage ever caught on television.  This allowed Stevie The Grit a chance to win the title.  And he did.  His serve, groovy forehand, and improved mindset the reasons.  Thomaz Bellucci's inexplicable weak backhand into the net while The Grit was unable to even take a step, allowing the 3rd set tiebreaker, also contributed to the outcome.  The Brazilian's surprising Romoesqe moment...

"The River Oaks Area Aside" by jpg

...the grip of Houston's perpetual traffic extends north almost to the eloquent and impressive Sam Houston statue in Huntsville.  Surely he would be in distress over the condition of the city that bears his name, especially if he inspected it from a convertible.  The River Oaks area aside, the city planner types should call a meeting.  They should all fire each other for crimes against logic, vision, and project management...

"Ample Samples" by jpg

...Fairfield, Texas.  The Cooper conglomerate of food excellence should be supported coming and going.  Ample samples, friendly folks, clean.  Good...

Red Mud Gonzo 5

"Tournament Media Director" by jpg

...this Pete Holtermann guy must be busy.  Three unreturned emails providing the requested followup info, describing the freelance project I'm delivering for the Vantaggio Magazine, and expressing my intention to be mannerly and respectful.  Weeks ago I followed the application procedure for press credentials as requested.  They acknowledged, then a probing followup from Pete.  I answered, waited a day, provided additional context, waited a day, and finally sent another reminder.  Nothing.  A bit disappointing, especially considering Pete has the title of Tournament Media Director.  Surely he has some sort of staff seeking, and needing, empowerment.  Must be an oversight, clearly he doesn't have time to respond.  We'll seek him out upon arrival, needs to be prompt, hoping to get access to the noontime annual fashion show at River Oaks.  Always mindful of fashion when freelancing as #TheJunkyardCourt and was hoping to gain access, especially since I'll have a Vantaggio Senior Exec with me--TTop.  Its not only the story, it's the capitalism too.  Contacts are gold...

"Grit, Ernie" by TTop

Brown clay, Grit, Ernie, chance for greatness...someone has to win.

"Father John" by peoplesDuke

I'm really getting into Father John Misty!  Dude is a freaking genius. Do you dig it?

"In Sync" by CB

Your biorhythms are in sync.  Ride the wave.

"New Firestones, Moonroof" by jpg

...this Fritz is frazzled, frizzled, and free-wheeling.  Sloppy and wild, but beat Smyczek anyway.  Barely, very barely.  Must sleep.  4am wake.  6am, south to Houston.  Driving, coin flip loser.  New firestones, moonroof, player profile reviews.  Observe, observe, observe...  Note, note, note.  Mentally, literally, obsessively...  Weirdly...

"The Place To Be" by TTop

The second doubles match on court 3 is the place to be...Kudla is so Vantaggio...

Red Mud Gonzo 6

"Houston Calling" by CB

Houston Calling…Houston calling.  The week came, the opportunity lost.  The beauty of the red clay.  The opulence of River Oaks CC . The fashion show with Fernando.  The level of play of the game we love.  The intrigue of the event and it’s surroundings slips hour by hour until next year. I worked, but Houston Calls.... Next year.

"Wayne's World" by jpg

...alot has happened. And it ain't even 2.  Wayne Bryan is an authentic person.  As nice and cool as he seems.  He thanked me for writing my articles.  His boys are headed to Monte Carlo soon...part of the tennis pro deal, he said.  Such a pro.  Prepared, calm.  Magnetism.  He is a father figure to more than he knows.  It is truly Wayne's World in Houston... We are friends.

"Night Owl" by peoplesDuke

What is his writing style? When does he do it? Is he a night owl, quietly pecking away after midnight or does he arise at dawn with the cock and gently open the laptop with coffee on the table and softly type HST Gonzo prose that resonates with those who have ears that hear?

"The Button" by peoplesDuke

It's all Vantaggio all the time once the Summer line drops. Either you're with us or against us!  The time for choosing is now.

"Kung Fu" by jpg

Don't you know I know Kung Fu?  Space black pupils are looking through old, old oak trees.  From above.  The top of Montrose.  Tennis courts across the street.  15 gamer at 8am.  Backhand has been resurrected by Coach Billy.  CB.  Breaker one nine, this is a radio check, come on.

Red Mud Gonzo 7

"Curving And Green" by jpg

...electric avenue was literally below us.  Another day was being charged up.  The wires were connected right across the massive river oak.  Its limbs sprawl out vinelike, moving and curving and green.  Airports are everywhere, this place smells of monetary transactions, this place looks orderly, this place sounds like pavement and rubber.  Catching up with the media team.  Impressive operation, open and welcoming.  Quiet at first, til the talking started.  Questions are easy to ask...  Sprawl.

"Moe Action" by OneFineGringo

If I were a pope, Indian chief, wrestler, or lawyer, I would go by: Moe Action.

"The Press Don't Got It Easy" by jpg

...Eddy Grant will forever remind me of Houston.....think some players may come in.  While I'm waiting.  The press don't got it easy...girl with the red bag is so glowface...Tenny moves in nicely.  Forward.  Forward.  Distracted, however...  And that is an ender for a top 10er.  Normally..
Kudla quick, smooth.  Karlovic has the best serve in the history of the game and is a net artist.  Stoic.  Taller than Isner. 
Keck 6-1.  Up 6-0 after 6, I took the last fucking game.  Took it.  Vantaggiolike...

"El Rey" by CB

Just twisting that knife.  I love El Rey.

Red Mud Gonzo 8

"Bluebonnet Seeds" by TTop

Something has my stomach all messed up...Woodys!  I still would like to get some bluebonnet seeds if possible.

"Corporate Maxed" by Matt

I've listened to Corporate Maxed like 5 times today.

"Tracy Lettuce Down" by jpg

...Bluebonnet seeds, yes.  Ennis is the recognized Bluebonnet capital of the world.  It's true.  Must have been the 'already chopped up " brisket.  Should always have them chop up brisket from the slice.  To be seen, and admired.  Ribs were chewy.  Tracy lettuce  down. Avoid Woody's.  Pete Holtermann, and his Holtermedia operation is top notch...so happy I won the 7th game...  Tired, uninspired, but tennis satisfied.

"Hmmmm, Zeballos" by TTop

I forced Jack to focus mentally on his next opponent...Hmmmm, Zeballos...this is coaching.  Fritz dominated.  He is too powerful for Sock.  The scream.

"A Slammer" by jpg

...a turning point.  'Slam the door, Taylor!!'  Vantaggio fans will not be muted.  Listen.  ...3 three setters.  To get to the Semis.  His confidence seems to be on the rise.  He wants to play.  This is all predictable, his influences are positive, his potential is potential no longer.  He slammed the door on Sock.  A slammer is what Fritz is, a slammer...

Red Mud Gonzo 9

"Cool Cats" by jpg

Russell Seymour and Dick Landenberger are Hall Of Famers, inducted, immortalized, permanently.  They know the game, and they marvel at its evolution.  The equipment, the giants, the scene.  Much has changed.  However, the traits of the greats are the same.  Tenacity, endurance, merciless, controlled simmer, deuce juicers, door closers, heart breakers, hate to losers.  These Texas Tennis HOFers, Russell inducted in 99, Dick in 01, earned eternal admiration and honor.  They still play.  Evidently, the over 80 division is active.  This is our future if we are fortunate and take Russell's advice to "Keep playing!"  Their jackets were sweet.  They were rightly elevated and strutted around the River Oaks grounds without even trying to strut.  It's just the way the naturally walked.  Still strutting.  Cool cats.  Dick mentioned playing the red clay of a River Oaks years back.  We were in the stands watching Tiafoe and The Grit.  A gathering of these TTHOFers was taking place all around us.  It was incredible, the vibe became too much, just too much.  Wayne called out their attendance from the PA.  Surely there was a luncheon, perhaps some wine, for the men and women of the Texas Tennis Hall Of Fame.  And their guests.  Jazz trio tapping, bopping, and popping in the corner.  Imagine the stories, a few are likely still rivals.  Grudges, perhaps, but much more forgiveness.  Some gone, memories still electric and known.  Fit, personable, smooth, and engaging.  Still climbing stairs, still coming into the net, still going for lines, still overcoming, still enduring, still hitting VVinners.  Double V.  So Vantaggio..  We are now friends...

"Art Hookup" by griff

I wanna cruzr' bike like that. So Walmart rig strip it down then what?  I don't have the art hookup like you do.  What if I bring my survivor '77 BMX original CYC stormer!

"99 Bucks" by jpg

...99 bucks.  Stripped it down, took off reflectors and fenders and chain guard, of course.  Added the foam.  Cali-style. Upgraded pedals and grips.  Dice air covers.  All In, another 70 bucks...  West Texas broke Blues.  Almost.  Good for suburban riding...  HellYell is for the dirt!  ...prolly cost about what a bag of top level golf clubs cost...

"Time To Eat" by jpg

...The Grit is The Grit.  He finds ways to win in Houston.  For his past 8 matches here.  Or 9.  A brawler, a sprawler, and an occasional mauler.  In his 12th set of the tournament, Fritz finally went down.  His future is very bright, especially when his net game improves.  .......A proven red mud champion, Stevie The Grit will need every edge he can find to defend his title against Sandgren in the final.  Tennys is hungry, his mother knows.  Time to eat...

Red Mud Gonzo 10

"Grand Slam Noise" by jpg

...time to eat.  Tennys is hungry.  Even as a kid his moms said.  Hungry.  Nervous, always moving, just ticking all the time...  But, The Grit is The Grit.  A declaration before the match is due.  More research, 4 hours left.  The tournament magazine has a spread on the Finals Sunday Brunch at the club.  Everybody wearing what they're supposed to wear, not the same, not conformed, just above.  Yes, above.  I am intoxicated, to attend this brunch one day is a goal.  Begin with the end in mind.  Elevate, above the rest.  Tennys is hungry, yes, his mom likely snuck him a plate from the brunch.  He most certainly did not attend himself.  Obsessive pre-match routines, rituals, and yoga poses.  Then he eats.  Already making grand slam noise, which was a surprise.  Whose Sandgren?.  Now we know.  But, The Grit is The Grit...

"Sweet Slice BH" by TTop

Should be a great match...the Grit has that sweet slice BH.

"Joey" by peoplesDuke

Her name is Joey? I never knew this. That's awesome!!

"Joey Dean" by jpg

...Joey Dean.  She was a blaster on the court.  Leauges, etc.  Flat serve.  Whammer forehand.  Most likely, I play tennis because of her.  Great net player.

"On To Monte Carlo"  by jpg

...the end was euforically sad in a way.  The Grit defends.  Knelt before the match in obvious prayer.  When it was over, the eyes cried.  His father had passed suddenly, soon after Stevie won the USClay Court title last year.  Tennys was there to console.  No quick shake, but an embrace, a head pat from the defeated, along with just the right words.  A 3 setter that could have gone either way.  The Grit took that Red Mud Cannonball run.  Hung in the air, suspended in slow motion, then crashed through the surface of the River Oaks pool.  It is tradition...  On to Monte Carlo, it's just part of the tennis pro deal as Wayne says...  

The whole media operation, led by Pete Holtermann, are the electric glowers, the up-to-daters, the latest breakers, the on-the-record quoters, and the smooth floaters...his team seemed capable, controlled, and empowered...  Also, before the Red Mud Gonzo line closes, a thought and a prayer for Barbara Bush, in the final stages of an incredible life...  A great gal.

Red Mud Gonzo 11

"Houston By Mid-Morning" by jpg

Let gravity do its work.  We will slam south at ridiculous speeds.  Early on that second Wednesday in April.  Early early, before the produce trucks hit the roads.  Before any of the sun's light is near.  In the dark.  Houston by mid-morning.  Visioning myself in the back of a luxury automobile, one of those Audi's perhaps, high fidelity, digital, robotic gadgets.  Ignoring traffic, the dumb city designers of Houston's past, and the whole Garland-like metropolis.  Tranced by red mud thoughts and ideas, only gaining attention when the River Oaks estates play on our transparent instincts of envy.  Hope it don't rain.

"There Is A Plan" by peoplesDuke

Where did you buy the passes? I couldn't find on official site.  Stub hub?  Can we get press credentials?  We need to have a meeting.  Keck and I are retrenching.  There is a plan.  It will work.

"Alright Jacksonians!" by jpg

2 rooms left at Montrose Place.  $135 each.  I'll book the double bed room, someone else book the other.  Hotels.com.

Alright Jacksonians!  Got my two US Clay Court Day Session passes for Wed. and Thurs.  Also, booked the 2 double bed room at Montrose.  Sweet suite is left for same price.  Suite has rollout bed and king.  There is a process for press credentials.  I'm on it!

"My Serbian Brother" by TTop

My Serbian Brother through to the next round.

"The Female Onion" by peoplesDuke

Yeah, yeah. I heard the same shit about Nadia Petrova 10 years ago and Carolina Sprem, and then it was Yanina Wickmayer, and last but not least Sabine Lisicki after watching her destroy Dominika Cibulkova "The female onion" at the Irving tournament.

"The Vans Pattern" by jpg

Regarding patterns, the Nike seasonal offering this year seems a total give up and lacks imagination.  No colors that pop, bland.  80s retro doesn't work.  The Vans pattern belongs primarily on Vans, chess, checkers, and overpriced bakery floors.

Red Mud Gonzo 12

"Regular Time" by peoplesDuke

Shoot. Alarm was set for regular time. Be there in 30 mins. Sorry.  Gonna be hot, hot in Houston. Just bringing shorts & tennis shirts. 86, 87 degrees each day.

"Dawn Neon" by jpg

Nick Bollitieri is almost 88 and still has 20/20 vision.  No contacts, no glasses, no surgery.  Incredible.  This Dallas HOV life is a rush.  Flying south through the great Central Expressway.  Allen, Plano, into Dallas proper.  The dawn neon of downtown.  Cranes!  Just flying through.  Red mud sun about to rise.

"Opposite Commute" by AJ

Just drove, opposite commute, similar views. Beautiful morning.

"Astonished" by jpg

...just heard the Vantaggio five year plan.  Astonished.  It will be made so...

"Vantaggio Road Trip"  by TTop

Mr Red Mud Rising....Mr RedMud Rising.  Sun to the left, Ennis to the right...here we come, right down to Houston again. Vantaggio Road Trip!  Red Mud Gonzo!

"Fluid Operator"  by jpg

...cargo shorts get a bad rap.  TTop was there first.  They gathered around him.  The gals.  They felt comfortable around him.  Safe.  Like he was their guardian angel, watching over them, eyes covered by shades, a few swallows of beer to go...  So Vantaggio, man.  So Vantaggio......that Marty Fish is everywhere!  Last I saw he was coaching Isner after Isner dumped his coach.  Unofficially and passively.  Now, he's snapping photos with Bobby P's tennis wife in the Hill Country.  Surely Mardy is getting paid for this, this drilling workshop.  He is a mystery, he is a shadow, he swims around like a shark.  He'll be walking around River Oaks, approachable, moving, unaffiliated, a fluid operator...

Red Mud Gonzo 13

"Wasteoid" by jpg

Harrison has no lateral movement anymore.  Tough to watch the diminishing.  We are all familiar.  Tomic should consider getting really drunk.  He's a wasteoid.  White pants are everywhere!  The garden has been expanded and elevated.  Brownwyn is a tremendous leader.  Incremental improvement over time.  Kaizen is still relevant.   Wednesday is for the gals at River Oaks.

"Alfa Romeo" by AJ

I want to be a part of this Vantaggio five year plan!  I wish I had my old Alfa Romeo for Vantaggio business.  Had this 1987 Alfa through my twenties in the 1990s!

"He van de Velde" by jpg

Chardy had 5 match points.  The 4th longest match in tournament history.  The Chilean took it in the 3rd. Tiebreak. Garin is green, but he's coming on.  Best victory of his young career.  The Frenchman choked.  He vandeVelde.  We dropped to the bottom seats.  They wern't being used.  We were out of the sun, it was late afternoon.  The sounds of sliding.  And a red dirt wind.

"Runway Girl" by jpg, TTop, peoplesDuke


The Queen got up this morning.
Luxury was all around.
Champagne smells from the night before.
No telling what went down.
Mid-morning there's some yoga.
Makes everything alright.
Then the doll gets all dolled up.
Her brow game is so tight.


Oh, she's a honey lady.
Oh, she's got tons of curls.
Oh, she's so beautiful.
She's my lovely runway girl.
She's my lovely runway girl.

Then a beauty nap in the afternoon.
Models need their sleep.
Makes their skin almost see through.
In between the sheets.
Awakes with her runway attitude.
Already walking the walk.
Slides across the bedroom.
Just like she was taught.


Paris, Milan, and New York City.
She's runwayed them all.
Wearing threads of fashion designers.
In her heels, walking tall.
That's when the fun really begins.
After all the runningways been done.
Time to relax and chill for awhile.
No need to put nothing on.

Red Mud Gonzo 14

"The Bandana Brothers" by jpg

Known tennis street gang, the Bandana Brothers, marked their Houston territory.  Garin is a badass.  We should invite him into our network.  We like his ethic.  His care.  His big point potential.  And, he needs a bandana.  He now goes no headwear.  His head is open for the Vantaggio rainbow bandana...seriously.   On to El Rey.

"Badassery" by AJ

A lot of Badassery comin through that sweet Houston neighborhood.

"Big Sam" by jpg

Drop shot day, this clay surface is slow..  The rain muddied the day, but not before El Rey.  Where the tacos automatically come double tort.  Culture merchandisers, they know what's up.  Some feist is what is needed.  And all the tricks of self defense.  Mechanisms of protection, they will keep everything alright.  Yes, move them side to side, but forward and back too.  The third dimension is lobs and loops and kicks, take the game vertical.  Big Sam has a gun.  Serves make that echo pop.  True, quick, reliable, and eventually deadly on the backhand.  He has the whole game.  Best player we saw play on the Royal Oaks Stadium Court.  The first set against Spainard Garcia-Lopez was won on a 30/40 break point as the back and forth set was at 4-5.  It was an incredible point.  Best of the match.  After a 20 shot rally, Querrey shot a killer quick backhand up the line for a clean winner.  This happened right in front of the Vantaggio box.  No messing around, Big Sam knows what to do with big points.  Perhaps he has a Grand Slam run left in him.  He has the game.  Wish I could convince him of his potential, he probably needs another coach.  Begin with the end in mind.  Enhance strengths, never take them for granted.  Calm, confidence, composure.  McEnroe was, and is, great, but he left Grand Slams on the table.  Could have won more.  Likely, he would agree.  There are only 4 per year to go around.  Besides Querrey, the Americans have taken a smashing in Houston this year.  He is the lone American left in the Lone Star state's premier tennis event.  Of the 32 players to begin the 2019 tournament, 11 were Americans.  One, Big Sam, made the Quarters.  Players from South America, Europe, and Australia will join him.  The USTA is a failed organization, it has not supported a tennis culture that will dig in and fight, that will refuse losing, that will burn slow.  No brats, no whiners, no quit.  We need tennis punks, with sneers and glares, with snarls and steam, with games that simmer.  Big Sam, you are good enough.  Win this damn thing!

"Pizza Motus"  by peoplesDuke

Red Mud Gonzo 15

"More About Confidence" by CB

Tradeshows - SAP, IBM, ORACLE.  It's just a conference and more about confidence than competence.  Just another trade show.  Not everyone goes.  Don't matter if its San Antonio or Orlando, it's just another trade show.

"Un Bandana Frère" by AJ

Un Bandana Frère extraodinaire. Allez Jo!

"Cedric Pioline" by TTop

Just found out that was Cedric Pioline on court with Chardy practising...with that big dude bombing backhand return of serve winners off that beautiful Chardy serve

"Hooks, Musically And Lyrically" by jpg

Put the chords on runway girl.  Hooks, musically and lyrically.  Will record soon.  Surprised my game was so strong during the Houston electric power hour.  Damn, I really smashed Joe!  2-0.  However, it was made clear it did not count towards our Insner Match tally before we started the 2 out of 3.  Think I'm up on that ....a few games.  Joe?   First to 70.  Y'all know.  I will mental barf.  Probably, but maybe not.  Contact point is the revelation.  King James opened my mind to simplicity.  And footwork is the key to contact point.  And agility is the key to footwork.  And agility drills are the keys to agility.  And overcoming laziness is the key to doing agility drills.  And intention is the key to overcoming laziness.  And decisions are the key to intention.  And awareness is the key to decisions.  And the 6 senses are the key to awareness.  The sixth being balance.

"Onward" by peoplesDuke

You were freaking right about returning on. Friday! However; if I had my druthers, we would be leaving River Oaks CC right now. Go Sam!  Galan v. Thompson. Who's last into the semis?  What a great tournament!  Vantaggio can own the challengers and 250 events.  Onward.

"Weekend Morning Rain"  by TTop

The King, El Rey!  I haven't seen Galan, but I'm going with him!  Man I wish we were there right now! ...lovin this early weekend morning rain.

Red Mud Gonzo 16

"Emerging Like The Dawn" by jpg

One 20, one 22.  Both emerging like the dawn, both assaulting the rankings, both willing to sacrifice.  There are no millions for them.  Just yet.  Like Vantaggio, not looking to fit in, but to transcend.  The future will be better than the past, as always.  Retro is nostalgia at its finest, but it's still just nostalgia.  Christian Ruud, a known bandana brother from the past, now watches his son, Casper, get deuce juiced at 2-3 in first set.  Garin is nails.  The hat effed him up in the 2nd set.  He needs a bandana and wristbands, seriously.  Ruud seems to have a bit more game, but we've seen Ga--Reeen dig.

"3 Sets" by peoplesDuke

We going 3 sets!!!

"Strong Mover" by AJ

Second set looked like a Ruud awakening.  Congrats to Christian Garín for strong minded third set.  Strong mover.  Glad you guys went.  Wish I could have made it.  Next year!

"Champagne Smells" by jpg

And all of Chile is celebrating.  Their son, a muddy tennis champion, washed the red dirt off in the River Oaks pool.  He took out Ruud in the third set, his offensive game was too much for the Norwegian.  In Houston, Garin was king.  Finished that Runway Girl tune.  Turned out nice.  We got "champagne smells from the night before, no telling what went down."  So gonzo.

"He Dug It The Most" by TTop

Next year for sure!!  It was our presence that propelled him to victory over Chardy...and look at him now, so Vantaggio!  We gotta have a bigger presence next year...AJ, Bill, you guys gotta make It..Joe is newly committed, he dug it the most...we have the process perfected.

Part IV:  Drops

1.  Net Man

to move, to create new moments
to go, to plow different fields

cry with the net man...
fly with the net man...

to stop, an action as well
to linger, a bit too long

try with the net man...
die with the net man...

to ask, to respect your response
to glow, like the moonbeam faces

2.  Livin' On The Lines

livin' on the lines
in the middle of a third set grind
time after time after time after time
g c
you come through
you take the shot yes you make the shot
c g
oh yes. oh yes you do

3.  Clay Court Wars

.buttons and wires going everywhere. .machines made of machines. .compact in its outer shell. .made of poly thermal plastic. .over in the Siberian tundra lands. .rusted factories and people with huge teeth. .silicon micro chips and dips. .party is on in the lobby. .glowing girls smelling of lotion. .oily massage and light jazz. .silent horns and clean lead. .epic Italian screenplay. .mobsters and south philly promises. .letters to the famous and noteworthy. .signed with ferrari pens. .sealed with clay court wars. .the trees are naked and lit. .north end clearing and ridge road. .prune out the dead limbs. .make it work for blooms. .jalapeño peppers on the side please. .clean up the sides with a lime.

4.  Vantaggio

Vantaggio, Vantaggio.
It's your advantage, time to slam the door.
Vantaggio, Vantaggio.
It's your victory, overcame, endured.

Many, many tennis apparel companies will promise many, many things.  Modern fabrics, more modern than the previous modern fabrics.  Lighter apparel, so the weight of your sweat is spilled on the court, not retained and carried during play.  Fashionable and tasteful styles, with sensible tailoring, double stitched and reinforced.  Ample colors that pop, in a certain kind of way, cool and worldly.  Yes, many, many tennis apparel companies will promise these things.  Many.  Only one delivers---Vantaggio.  Its your advantage...

Vantaggio, Vantaggio.
It's your advantage, time to slam the door.
Vantaggio, Vantaggio.
It's your victory, overcame, endured.


*Commissioned by Vantaggio Tennis Apparel Company.  This is a JingleHut creation.

5.  Serena And Venus

.the primal instincts.undeniable and alive.to feed.to love.to protect.to provide.to guide.to hear.to speak.to sing honey.this transfer of life.this passing down.or up rather.either way, it is a heavy weight.a constant pulse.we could live together for a long time in partnership.in common pursuits.each knowing other worlds exist.better worlds, worse worlds.the interesting is all around.being observed and relentless.human nature rules this world.resisting creates pain.endure the season.cross courts, back courts, down the lines, and come from behinds.those Europeans have taken over tennis.except for Serena and Venus.

6.  King Of The Court 3

     To think King of the Court is only a week away.  Took some time between salt baths and various massage therapies to consider the initial draw this morning.  Right off I noticed the competition committee created a Royal Group, consisting of the Royal Court of KOtC2.  King The Todd has been spotted recently in Hawaii, The Four Seasons Resort in Irving, and the Mellow Mushroom in Downtown McKinney.  If his recent shoulder surgery, or life in general, was bothering him, he sure didn’t show it.  He looks confident.  At all times, regardless of task or perceptions of others.  He lives a different life, above all.  It is an honor to hang with him when given the chance.  He had people following him, but they all kept their distance.  I figured they worked for him.  They bring him beers and complement his attire.  He acknowledges, then waives them away.  He does this all without seeming rude.  It is amazing.  Anyway, he will be tested very early with Prince Frank Friday.  King The Todd better eat a breakfast bar.  Frank Friday was the single most destructive player in the field last year.  If given a chance at the King draw last time, he might have won it.  His consistent and intense game will test King The Todd and his vocal joy and frustration could give him a mental edge.  Odds are against it, but maybe.  Duke Joe Vita, who is sponsoring the trophy’s this time around, has been seen in newly purchased attire, made from modern fabrics that make you cold when it’s hot and make you hot when it’s cold.  His plantar fascia injury is still bothering him a bit, but his rocket forehands will test any opponent.  To round out the morning Royal Group, Earl Leo Escario, the only 2 time member of the Royal Court, will bring his inspired game and American flag bandana.  During our mahut last summer, in 105 heat, I believed I was going to die.  I didn’t, but Leo, a marathon runner, took me down 8-2 to win the Prince title.  He always brings game.
     Brent James, former King James, headlines my morning group.  Hell, I think he’s 40 now.  Maybe he starts giving up some points or double faulting.  Any decline in his game would be welcome.  Last summer he mouletted me 10-0 in KOtC1.  Haven’t been kicked like that since Mesquite high school freshman Hernando Ledezma gave me a reality check regarding my college tennis prospects back in 1987.  1-6, 0-6.  I went on to quit tennis for 10 years, emerging to find complicated and nauseating USTA leagues with old guys in short shorts telling you are a 4.5 and can’t play in the 4.0 group even though you figure you’re about as good or bad as everyone else.  The USTA, where tanking, sandbagging, cheating, and elitism thrive.  And you have to pay a fee.  To have this organization leading the tennis effort and infecting the tennis culture in the U.S. has produced predictable results.  No mind weak American player could hang with anyone in the Top 10 right now.  Only Isner has made us proud in the past 10 years.  Of course the Williams sisters are holding up their end, but we have their daddy to thank for that.  The Bolivian player, Sergio Oporto is back, although it’s doubtful he followed through on his promise to purchase a ball machine and really hit the court after the November KOtC.  We’ll see.  The Young Chuck Cernosek is also in my group and out to avenge his loss to Jared Keck, the 5thgrader that took him down last summer.  As a 4th grader.  Chuck was disappointed when I told him Jared was not playing, but he looked strong when we practiced the other day.  His was getting all his dinks in with his Prince Magnesium racquet. 
     Perhaps the most anticipated participant in KOtC3 is the headliner of the 3rd morning group, Kamran Mir.  Reports of exotic training techniques and mental preparation are very intriguing.  He is either Afghan or Peruvian, maybe both.  He will not go quietly and is a trendy pick to surprise King The Todd in the afternoon.  He’ll have to take down Bobby Pierson first.  Using strictly demo racquets, Bobby has refined his game through the rigors of the Isner Scoring Method.  He is a bulldog on the court and will not be intimidated by Mir.  Rueben Decoud is a very steady player with fierce eyes.  He will know what to expect in KOtC3 after his experience last November and his game is well suited to the format.  The huge man with the huge serve from the north woods of Michigan is back as well.  Russ Fires tells me he’s ready every time I’ve asked.  He looks serious.  Although he’s struggled with tennis elbow, dropping out of KOtC was never considered. 
     Just found out from Keck, the tournament administrator, that Mike Mabe from the Rangers, pulled a Roddick.  No shame, and I’m sure there is a legitimate explanation, but disappointing as well.  Anyone know a 1st seed type player (a true 5.0)?   He was coming for King The Todd and Brent James specifically and was heard to call them both ‘spares’ and ‘punks’.  Shocking.  Well he did give us ample notice and it is appreciated.  Al Oliver, Charlie Hough, Julio Franco, or Buddy Bell never Roddicked ( http://isnerscoringmethod.blogspot.com/2012/09/anatomy-of-roddick.html ).  Maybe Billy Vita.  Now, mainly a coach, but a potential sub if he’s not on the road in Chicago or Billings or somewhere.   Even if we get BV, this still leaves Jason Keck, tournament administrator, a clear path to the King afternoon draw.  Keck’s perfect forehand and newly enhanced two handed backhand give him an edge as long as he can hold up in the heat.  Last summer in KOtC1 he had to pull out in the afternoon due to cramps.  He followed that up in KOtC2 with the before mentioned destruction at the hands of Frank Friday and dropped a mahut to me, 2-8.  He sees the opportunity for redemption.  He’s been listening to a lot of early Metallica lately.  Mike Zhaung is back and understands the opportunity and format.  Vito Nquyen is a relative unknown and could be out of his element.  His background is shrouded in mystery and word is he learned the game from a secretive society in either Malaysia or Galveston .  I don’t know about all that, but we will all be ready.  Bring water, bring nutrition, bring a can of balls, bring cigarettes if you want.  KOtC3, June 14, 8am, Eagles Landing.  Mahuut!!!!!

*please consider leaving your pre-tournament thoughts in the Player Testimonial section of the KOtC website ... http://kingofcourt.blogspot.com

Group 1
Brent James
Paul Gorman
Sergio Oporto         
Chuck Cernosek

King The Todd
Prince Frank Friday
Duke Joe Vita
Earl Leo Escario

Group 3
Kamran Mir
Bobby Pierson
Rueben Decoud
Russ Fires

Group 4
Mike Mabe
Jason Keck
Mike Zhuang
Vito Nguyen

7.  King James Again

     After being forced out of KOtC3 due to a back injury suffered in a 30 game prep mahut, it was tough to attend the event.  Play had already started in the morning rounds when I literally crawled out of my car.  I scooted carefully over the where Keck and the young college player, Dayton, were in the middle of a close mahut that would eventually end 6-4 Keck, propelling him to the afternoon king division and sure destruction.  Originally, he was looking forward to getting in the duke division.  The life of a duke is good.  Days and days of leisure and sport, without all the responsibilities of the king or even the prince.  The duke's life.  No such reality for Keck this tournament.  When Mabe roddicked it was evident.  Beating a college player and representing in the king division are both tremendous achievements.  All the while administering the entire event.  Talking with Dayton later, he was impressed with the format, but was still devastated that he was in the prince division.  Good competitive instincts.  That kerrville college is getting a winner.  Dayton's dominated the prince division and vowed to return next time for the king's crown.  Coach Quest was proud of his protege.

     Got a chance to talk to keck on a changeover and he recapped the sign ins and checkins, and preparations.  He had secured Nick Keany as an alternate to take my place.  Everyone showed, play was going on everywhere.  My back was feeling loose, it was good to get around.  All of my internet research reinforced not to baby the back too much, especially at day 2 of the injury.  This was the first chance for mobility after 2 days of ice, heat, rubs, tubs, muscle relaxers, and pain decreasers.  The day before riding in the car from the docs, every turn was agonizing.  My wife has been a calming influence and has encouraged me to reduce the vulgar language.  Pain can bring out the worst in people.   It doesn't have to, but it does.  Only a few can remain stoic in the midst of severe pain.  Walked over and checked in with Bobby through the fence.  He was playing Russ Fires and eventually battled his way to the prince division.  Russ' elbow was holding up fine, but he mentioned his knee going bad.  Acts 4:22, we all need some healing.  The lower back spasms will pull the spine to the side and the upper back muscles will attempt to compensate, causing further woe.  These spasms move around, like joint mice.

     Joe was in the middle of a heated match with Frank Friday and was hitting a few winners.  His best shots were the ones at frank's feet.  He took control by coming in and putting the pressure on.  After the morning rounds, Frank confirmed his dead legs and, after dropping his Mahut to Leo 4-6, was visibly shaken to find himself in the earl division.  He would go on to win the earl division winning 28 of a possible 30 games.  He is a royal again.  Leo would go on to win the Duke title and becomes the only 3 time royal, holding the prince title in KOtC1, winning, the earl title in KOtC2, and now this.

Between rounds most of the players were exhausted.  Not all.  King James ate chopped up fruit with his hands.  Seeing my misery, he gave me one of his Gatorades.  He would go on to win the king division and regain his crown, but it was most impressed with his benevolence.  A king for the common man.  The content man.  The absorber of life, the finder of something else.  His tennis skill and execution destroyed keck, defeated kamran Mir, and humiliated even King the Todd, who is king no more.  Hail king James.  He has regained the throne.  The Todd was respectful at the pub and carried himself with class, but he was searching for answers.  Maybe he still had questions.  About the integrity of his rebuilt shoulder, about the lost court time over the previous 6 months, about his place in the tennis culture.  He remains universally respected and known.  That will never change.  He cannot count on winning his throne back, King James is tough, the field will draw more big name players going forward.  He sat on his throne with dignity.  He was a great ambassador for tennis, and still is.  I could never imagine him a prince, he may never be a royal again.  He will likely walk across the country for some good cause.  He will hitchhike and roam, spreading the truth about tennis in our country.
     The medications don't really help.  The back will heal when it heals.  Mostly, selfish disappointment remain.  The roddick, the betrayal of my body, the wasted prep.  It was not meant to be for me.  I had to live through others.  The 3 games big cat cernosek won for the day, Leo's incredible run, Keck's win over a college player, billy vita stopping in between games of pool, joes co worker dropping by, the mute World Cup, and now we rest.

8.  Relevant Tennis

Positives are hard to find with a tie.  A 10-10 Saturday morning mahut result against Joe Vita was no different.  Up 8-5 after 13 games, he roared back to take 5 of the final 7 games, including the final two, and we walked off 10-10.  Tied 29-29 going in, we finish the day 39-39, on our way to 70.  The Isner Scoring Method produces long term competetive tennis conditions.  There are numerous battles in the eventually war.  The next 3 or 4 mahuts with The Lion Duke will be interesting.  Our previous, and first, Isner match went to Joe, 59-70, and, of course, I've never beaten him in a match using vintage scoring either. The stakes are high.  This is relevant tennis.  Some positive developments, beyond the tied score, included the introduction of an elbow wrap.  Damn tennis elbow had afflicted me for the first time and the wrap helped tremendously.  Minimal progress on the development of a two handed backhand, but it still has never been used in official play.  Turning over the one hander is tough, I'm just slicing them back.  Still, I had Joe down.  My forehands were smooth and crisp, my serve kept him off balance.  Until game 19, when I faulted 4 straight times to begin the game finding myself at love-30.  I battled back a bit, but blew up a backhand and fell victim to a huge winner from Joe to lose that game.  From there, he served it out to earn the tie.  Damn!  Even as I write, a day later, it infuriates.  Had some really nice volleys and my back and feet seem like they are 10 years younger.  KOtC5 is only two months away and after seeing the tentative field, clearly my realistic focus has to be on the Earl.  The line up is strong.

There are current and former Kings, King The Todd and former King James, the only winners of the event, each winning the crown twice.  Other royals look to be returning as well--Frank Friday, The Lion Duke Joe Vita, current Prince Victor Coronado, and current Earl Vito Nguyen.  Current Duke and Tournament Administrator Keck, is playing despit mending torn ligaments in his left middle finger.  After some internet diagnosis and research, he purchased a splint and is taking a few weeks away from the game.  He will be ready.  Also, returning from a full year of college tennis, former Prince Dayton Hancock is back with his own royal succession plan.  Other former players include Justin Huffman, myself, and the rejuvenated Billy Vita.  Rejuvenated but still prone to suspect preparation.  He cancelled on Joe and I, which allowed our mahut, to drink with his Irish brother in laws.  Reports of an altercation at an Oklahoma border casino are still being investigated, but he should be available for KOtC.  His Kung Fu work has him looking good, but he shouldn't neglect the court time, Irish brother in laws or not.  The likely entries of newcomers Jeremy Stone, Erick Delafuente, Eli Yaremenko, the 6'8" a South African Jonathan Wraith, Nick Pena, and Chris Fess make this the finest collection of  players ever for King Of the Court.  The work of the Tournament Administrator and the support of Allen civic leader Justin Quest continues to enhance the event and propel tennis culture forward.  July 11 could be hot.  The soles of our shoes could be melting.  Jugs of water will be arranged.  New royals, or perhaps old.  After tournament activities set to go at Jorgs Cafe Vienna in downtown Plano.  Vito has what I want.  To be the common royal.  The Earl.  It can be won, but will be battled for.  There are no ties in KOtC.

After our tied mahut, when we were at our cars and about to continue our busy days, Joe presented me with a bottle of red wine.  A Texas red wine called Paul O.  2011 limited edition, only 2688 bottles produced.  A real cork and good year.  Joe, a trained and experienced wine expert who detest most texas wines, was very enthusiastic about this one.  Suggested getting a good pizza or some rich fish dish to go with it.  The thoughtfulness of a Duke.  In return, I sent Joe a tune from Men From Nantucket, my current musical collaboration, called Bull.  A modern GenX anthem.  Because tennis ain't no bullshit.  KOtC ain't no bullshit.  Isner Scoring Method ain't no bullshit.  Torn ligaments ain't no bullshit,  This Paul O wine ain't no bullshit.  The Earl ain't no bullshit.  And tennis elbow ain't no bullshit either.

9.  The Earl Of Nantucket

those days are remembered well.
praying the rain would stop.
school was out of the question.

paper plate super server award.
brown collegiate brick walls.
then the magic rug was pulled out.

inside the loop with wild characters.
dust storm finals and windburned lips.
continued throughout time in the west.

the good life of club sandwiches and lights.
backboard on the back court, no one around.
any degree was fine, with the pool cool down.

the days of lions and letters.
temper tantrums and destroyed equipment.
triumphant and humbled every week.

the latest and the greatest things of now.
whatever it took to play to midnight.
junebugs and mosquitoes continue the fight.

the ladies arrived with eyes and legs.
respectable newspaper clippings and notes.
glory limited by limitations and priorities.

decorated to a reasonable degree.
understood a future on the links.
intermittent matches with aging bores.

the babies and the jobs and the dead flowers.
no time for rallies and volleys.
the classics, Hemingway and Kerouac.

the evening nights by the Goodyear.
fence clanks and commitments.
terminology and pong.

literary documentation and kaizen.
superior methods of thought and execution.
macho burger, the prison workout, and lights out.

the epic war lasted for days.
at 70 it finally ended, both wrecked.
inspiration of the ages.

baseline dirt and cleanly mowed grass.
dignitaries all around and fidgeting.
the traditional white of the men and women.

this place is full of green grace.
jackets and hats of the highest quality.
the Earl of Nantucket is arriving.

10.  For All The French

...when we yell MAHUT! to begin King of the Court 6 later this morning, we will yell it for all the French.  We will scream it with rage and fury, demanding peace.  This seemingly eternal conflict does have an end.  Peace does await.  The longest tennis match in history, between Nicolas Mahut of France and the American John Isner at Wimbledon in the summer of 2010, ended with each emerging legends.  To battle is to move.  To resist is to attack.  Peace comes only when the match is over.  Keep your feet moving forward, go for the low part of the net, let your opponent lose...prayers for Parisians today...Mahut!!!

11.  Ain't No Charity In Tennis

...i see what i see, and immediately the information is sent, by brain transmitters, to the part of the mind that makes decisions.  This happens in an instant, especially if there is no doubt what is seen.  From there, a signal is sent to the vocal controllers and a call is made.  Quickness indicates the recognition process is working smoothly.  Upon further reflection, the serve was not only wide, it was long as well.  Ain't no charity in tennis.  Mahut!

12.  Huff Is Tough

     Arriving at the courts, moonroof open, my radio was jacked up high.  Blaring Frank Zappa, loud cosmic riffs, singing about how his guitar is going to kill somebody.  He truly was a legitimate guitar god, one of the first who has held that lofty reference.  Drove slow past the check in table so I could stare down some opponents.  Spotted Keck, the tournament administrator, who had roddicked two days before.  'Injuries happen' was his attitude.  He communicated the roddick to the group and got a replacement player. This is proper Isner Scoring Method ethic.  To be clear, it is not dishonorable to roddick, not usually, but there is no honor in bailing unannounced, leaving the group in a bind.  Keck would never do that.  His wrist was not healed, further damage was being avoided.  His body would heal itself, eventually.  Then, as we all know, it's something else.  A knee, a plantar fascia tendon, a back.  The tennis life is a tough life, almost never do you feel perfect.
     After parking and gathering needed items, bags, and water, walked up on Vito, unloading an Escalade of his tennis equipment.  A guitar god in his own right, I immediately told him of my plans.   He had destroyed me at the previous tournament with a sweet backhand, quick feet, and warrior grit.  Perhaps we could meet in the Duke division, an opportunity for revenge.  I told him this, and he knew I was coming for him.  He smiled, like he does.  But I would have to overcome Frank Friday who was in my morning group first.  Keck had called it the 'Group of Death' in communications leading up to the event.  With me, Frank, Prince Fess, and two time King James, I was somehow supposed to feel honored. 10 game mahuts against each of them to start the day.  The most games won of the 30 goes to the afternoon King group, 2nd most Prince, 3rd Duke, last Earl. The format is repeated in the afternoon to determine The Royal Court.  In all, 60 total games against 6 different players in about 6 hours.  In addition, because we are playing a defined number of games, the dreaded downtime is avoided.  I had been the Earl.  The Earl of Nantucket.  KOtC5.  It was royal and sweet, but it had been done.  I was hungry for the Duke.  I was going to have to dig to get another shot at Vito and the Duke title.  The air was heating up rapidly when Keck announced play to start.  He also encouraged the group to maintain hydration and explained why 'Mahut!' is shouted by the server to begin each mahut.
     Imagine my panic when, in my first mahut of the day, Frank Friday had me down 4-1, serving, up 40-30.  To lose the point would mean disaster.  This was the game after Frank had won several amazing points, punctuated by several authentic celebrations.  Frank is one of the greatest of all KOtC players.  A former Prince and a former Earl, his intensity is well known by many.  Frank Friday double faulted.  I went on to win that game and the next four to win the mahut 6-4.  One of his authentic celebrations, the one at the net with a clenched fist thrust towards my face and a long, spit producing roar, helped turn my game around.  He played King James tough, but fell.  Prince Fess then mouletted Frank, further helping me get into the Duke division for the afternoon.  Later, King James confided that one of these authentic celebrations from Frank had motivated him as well.  Frank Friday celebrates winning.  It is a very admirable trait, but can sabotage his efforts by inspiring his opponent.  He was not celebrating being in the Earl Division.  Coach Bill Vita went on to win the Earl title that afternoon, taking it from his older brother, the KOtC6 Earl.  William The Earl.  A true inspiration, a re-institution of a tennis institution.  Trained at the Julian Kinsky School Of Tennis Instruction near Philadelphia, he had fell away from the game for a time.  His royal success was well earned.
     King James made it to the King division again.  He tied both King Foster and Justin Huffman and was on his way to finishing off Hunter Foster, college player and son of King Foster, when the rains came.  The dark clouds had been near.  The heat that day was heavy and fierce.  Suffocating.  In some ways the torential rain was welcome, but it required rulings from Keck, the tournament administrator, because continued play was impossible.  Huffman had a one game edge over King James when all was totaled.  A veteran of the King division, he had never broken through.  Grit pays, perseverance is rewarded, all hail King Huff!  Every game matters in the KOtC format.  Those lost games could have mattered, but they never existed.  Water is water.  The Fosters were gracious and friendly in defeat, but the elder seethed visibly as the rain drenched everything.  Keck awarded the trophy and bobblehead under an umbrella to the new, beaming King.
     The Prince division disintegrated due to cramping, heat exhaustion, and other injuries.  Once Prince Fess took out Marty Feldman, it was done.  It went quick.  The two time Prince then sped off to play more tennis, with a royal glow.  I had been up on him 3-1 in the morning round before he changed tactics and beat me 6-4.  He was a very good player and his backhand flip, down the line, was a devastating shot.  Determined and relentless, he is a fitting Prince.  He'll be at the Fries Cup later in the summer, his company a title sponsor in the war on cancer.  Hopefully, I'll get another invite from Marty.  It was an honor to play for the winning Blowfish team.  Perhaps my 3-0 record, good behavior, and responsible social drinking will be remembered.  Marty is a busy man, I hope he doesn't forget.  His brother, King The Todd, 2-time winner of this event, must have had a hockey game or something.  His absence for the last two tournaments, KOtC's 6 and 7, is inexplicable.  Has he forgot us?  Has he abandoned the game?  Is his desire for royalty gone?  Surely, he could still compete for the King' s crown.  Inexplicable.  Keck has no answers and doesn't seem to be in contact.  His brother doesn't even know.  Maybe we'll be teammates at the Fries Cup.  King The Todd is missed.  His public will welcome him back.  They will cheer him.  He could become the first 3 time King in November, a distinction that eluded King James in KOtC7.
     When I walked onto the court in the afternoon for the Duke fight, the 3 other players were warming up.  Berco Neiman, the Peuvian ace who once beat Keck and had a very steady game.  Austen Holmes, a first time KOtC player with a true Kramarian game.  The old 'big' game.  Came to the net after every serve, evidently since he was 15 years old he told me during the 30 minute break that separates the morning and afternoon rounds.  From Lubbock originally, he understood air weight and winds.  In his 30s now, that's alot of rushing the net.  I was very, very impressed with his style of play.  It is rarely seen anymore.  Every serve, come in at all costs.  Also there, warming up, was Vito.  He had beaten Coach Vita, now William The Earl, in the morning.  I could not have asked for more.  I played Berco first and it was a back and forth match, his steady game and my unsteady game finishing 5-5.  He was extremely complimentary and respectful, engaging in interesting conversation on changeovers.  When I go to Peru one day I will remember his advice.  Aquas Calientes, I think.  Near the ancient Inca lands.  Austen Holmes, the Kramarian, was true to his word.  He was good at it, swooshing in to put away any weak return.  Stuck them right in the corners.  Of course, to play that kind of game takes resilience.  A Kramarian player can expect to get passed by, lobbed over, and fired at.  Persistence to the strategy requires a numb memory.  I had my share of success, especially with my serve, but he was too much and took me down 6-4.  By then we were all 50 games in, we were dragging and the dark clouds were bearing down.  While grabbing more water for my final mahut againt Vito, I still held out hope for the Duke title.  He and Berco were going long, giving me the advantage in rest and hydration.  Then, walking from the courts, Vito announced he had to go.  Unavoidable conflict with something or the other.  I was gracious, even somewhat relieved.  My body and mind were fried.  I could have played, would have fought hard, may have even beat Vito, but the Duke would elude me either way.  Keck decided, based on games won, Berco and Austen would play for the Duke.  One game in, the skies poured water.  Austen, up two games, was announced the Duke.  I really admired his game.  Duke Holmes, rushing the net since 15.
     Everyone left quickly when it rained. William the Earl received his trophy from a barefoot and soaked Keck.   We met at Dodies Cajun Place after.  Bobby was there too.  Surviving a heart attack, marrying off his daughter, and playing mixed doubles had him busy the previous 6 months.  He is like a tennis brother.  And a writer brother.  A mad combination.  A fighter for royalty himself, just not this time around.  King Huff was there.  He celebrated with many large beers. William the Earl got tater tots with his burger, his brother Joe wore an electric blue shirt.  He looked like he could play more.  Keck, of course, beaming because of the smoothness of the event.  Frank Friday was there too. He was disappointed, no doubt, bit jovial.  King James was there, cussing the rain.  His bid for a third crown fell just short.  He was laid back as usual, despite the disappointment.  We re-lived the points and games and mahuts.  We compared scores, we made involuntary noises of pain, we ordered multiple 'another rounds'.  Yes, Huff was tough.  Like all Kings.  Tougher than everybody this day.

13.  Gonzo Birmingham #1

"Disgusted & Embarrassed"
by peoplesDuke

ATM incident in E. TX., 2 wheels off the ground in Louisiana, listening to ABBA whilst weaving through the endless caravan of 18 wheelers. Nightfall has come and the quiet whir of the road resonates up through the "may-pop" tires. 63k miles on the Elantra and no recollection by the JBK that the tires have been replaced.

Will we get there...
Transaction not authorized. $200 requested, $0 dispensed. Alabama Shirley guaranteed late arrival. Mary, Jenny, Steffi, et. al have settled in for the night. T-Top, peoplesDuke, and "CB" ChillyBilly have taken flight. Evenly spaced red lights mesmerize, hypnotize, and guide by soft light. Johnny & June sing along the way "I'm going to Jackson"  blares.

"Ghosts of Vicksburg"
by CB

Mighty Miss the powerful river in our rear view. The ghosts of Vicksburg haunt us.  The stars, the sky, the north, and the south mix in the air we breathe as motorhead drowns the calling from the souls reaching out from nearby rolling hills.

"Chunky Mississippi"
by CB

Time has slowed... Dixies midnight runners can't run fast enough.  Alabama Shirley is expecting us. Red skys at night like a soft glow of 1000 dying suns.

14.  Gonzo Birmingham #2

"Delaney on the Mind"
by T-Top

Tracking through the deep south with the hint of andouille sausage, pimento cheese, and local honey seeping from our pores, we are 10 miles outside of Birmingham, AL. headed to the civil rights museum for some historical perspective ...antebellum homes, stars, bars, and pick up trucks ...the Alabama hot biscuit still on our minds.

by CB

Birmingham, the nucleus for race relations on Redneck Island Season 3. Scattered, capped, gravy on the side.  Tennis and more tennis with Delaney itching my mind and other parts.  Black market karaoke with no one to sing.  Executive orders by accused undercover racist.  Our time has come and gone, the dream of unification stays real but seems distant.

"Revolution & Reconciliation"
by peoplesDuke

Just under the surface of 21st century life, the City of Birmingham's past is viewed with an intense, unforgiving microscope.  The prayer marchers gathered near a firehouse downtown.  Four motorcycle cops waiting with flashing lights, silent, helmets with tinted visors and bodies covered uniformly, no skin showing, gloves over hands.  What to eat?  T-Top never tried moo-shoo pork and Yen's is across the street. Tennis at 2. Delaware plates at the Vulcan monument.  The Roman god of fire with an iron hammer in hand watching, protecting the "magic city".

15.  Gonzo Birmingham #3

"That Dog Bites"
by peoplesDuke

T-Top almost whipped a street guitarist's ass for calling him an ass-hole.  For taking a pic of his Husky who was licking his hand.  The dude says "watch out, that dog bites!"  T-Top spoke to the chic on the ground next to the Siberian Husky, the petting approved and implied consent.  The Husky had beautiful blue eyes, the girl had a brown hue all round her.  The clothes, the hair/eyes, the imagined smell.  The entitled 6th St.-type millennial never took his finger off the pick.  He sat on top of a trash bin kept plucking the E string nervously.  T-Top moved aggressively with a clenched fist.  It went from 0 to 60 fast.  Immediately we realized it was not worth it.  We headed down the hill to our hotel.  He called us "Yuppies" when we were 20 ft. away.  We laughed.

"Blue Monkey at 9"
by CB

After the commanding Singles performance of Sock and Isner, confidence levels were high across the board at Legacy arena.  Day 2 doubles, flag ceremonies, team introductions and respect to ball boys ans girls, and of course, the officiating crew.  T-Top shouts at perfect 15 feet away volume "we love you Marijana".  The beautiful Serbian tennis chair umpire, Marijana Veljovic, turns slowly to look at the Texas trio.  Her confidence level kicked up a notch, similar to Sock's second serve.  The Americans showed their colors and finished strong in the 3rd set.  Tennis was done for the Texas trio, and when the stunning Serb walked by a clear message was sent.  "We still love you Marijana, Blue Monkey at 9".

"Hopp Suisse, Seeing Red and I Need More Cowbell"
by peoplesDuke

Now at 13th & Cobb, the cobblestone street lit with 100 year old gas lanterns.  J. Clyde and the famous sauerkraut balls.  "Best I've ever had," T-Top plainly stated.  Over to the Blue Monkey.  The lounge dimly lit.  British Frankie pouring cocktails and Jess interacting with the regulars. Intimate.

16.  Gonzo Birmingham #4

"Our Gals Are The Best Gals"
by jpg

The reports from Birmingham kept arriving.  Glowing and descriptive, the styles distinctive, the words sparse, as requested.  Only the words that mattered:  Blue Monkey at Nine, Bucket, Veljovic, J Clyde, The Magic City, A 1000 dying suns, Delaney on the mind.  Incidents and no accidents, glaring and demanding victory.  Americans, the Swiss killers.  Alabama Shirly was right.  Everything was fine.  Documented and recorded, accessible digitally forever.  Memories are obsolete.   Making experiences is the modern day making memories.  Do it.  Go.  This is our time.  Houston loomed, a Super time for GaGa to fly, followed by red, white, and blue drones.  A pledge to the flag and a dive.  Piano song showed them all.  Women do rule.  Red clay ahead, River Oaks and the fashion shows.  Feliciano Lopez groupies and discussions with Brad Gilbert.  He was right about Fed.  We were wrong about Sock.  Only CB can save his career, but he would never sign the contract.  If Sock only knew.  He is trapped by the suits.  The guitar players must go to the north where Hobos are needed.  To play the festivals and protests of the city.  The power of the woman is the truest truth of this world.  Like Serena and Venus, the sisterhood is unbreakable.  Collect at the North End of Erwin Park.  Our gals are the best gals.  CB, T-Top, peoplesDuke.  The women of our lives.  We have come to understand, our natures know, and our natures provide.  The Pats, for sure.  For obvious reasons, over time, whatever it takes.

17.  No Man

     The reign of Queen Rachel has begun.  This killer of Kings, this punker of Princes, this demoralizer of Dukes, this executioner of Earls.  No man!  No man could beat her this day.

     In the Valparaiso Sports Hall of Fame the name Rachel Janssen is enshrined, her accomplishments documented, revered, known far and wide.  A literal Crusader.  The put-away artist.  The set-up specialist.  Think of nothing, she said.  Perhaps watch the strings hit the shot.  Pray.  Simple basics was the only solicited advice she offered.  She wanted every point, she loved to play, she was sleek and swift.  Precise and merciless.  To win a single game against her in the morning round was the highlight of my peasant effort.  King Of the Court 10 ended in historical fashion.  A woman wears the crown.  Queen Rachel.  Immediately, the ramifications were clear.  Marty The Missing no showed for beers, King James' bid for the elusive 3rd title ended in disgrace, and JD Miles is singing the Bag Of Ice On My Big Toe Blues.  The Queen only shrugged, accepting the accolades and responsibility in easy stride.  Like her game- graceful, classic, constant.  In truth, the tennis kingdom was ready, another breakthrough, long overdue.  Billie Jean King, tennis culture is freed!  This, however, was not about show business.  Commerce was not sought, statements were not made.  Only points and games to be won, and they all mattered.  All of them.  They mattered most, evidently, to Queen Rachel.  God, be with her.

     Prince Fess serves the tennis kingdom in his princely way for an unprecedented third time, his gentlemanly exterior hiding a vicious tennis nature.  Keck played him tough, but he was too formidable.  Sellars, jacked up on testosterone, succumbed to the experienced Fess, and Frankenh felt the blade end of his royal knife as he played in KOtC for the very first time.  The most lethal and loyal of all the royals, Prince Fess don't mess around.

     The Kid is the Duke.  The Eagles finally fly high again.  With the notable exception of 2- time Prince Dayton Hancock, their royal record has been inconsistent.  After disposing of Bobby Pierson's mixed doubles game, Duke Tyler tied Frank Friday 5-5 in their afternoon Mahut after falling behind 3-5.  It proved to be the difference, despite Frank's triumphantly celebrated moulette of Vito.  The kid showed grit.  And grits are good.

     The bottom courts, the ones with trash on them, the ones with deep cracks, the ones where vulgarities are allowed, was where Earl Joseph Vita did his dirty work.  Sometimes, royalty is taken at the expense of blood.  Royal history is full of the decapitated heads of family members.  Bill Vita's noggin was cut clean off by his brother.  2-8.  Brutal.  The royally, and perpetually, tough Bob Rodgers ruined my chances for Earl with a lethal mid court game.  Even a headless Bill tied me in our Mahut.  To be clear, I did not lose to Earl Joseph.  He clinched mathematically with a 3-4 loss to me.  Congratulations man, hope it helps your brand.  Vantaggio!  Advantage Joe, for now.

Allow a moment for nostalgia as we've redefined scoring methodologies and cultural taboos of tennis, reclaiming its glorious future.  Always know, the past should only be remembered, not protected.  Always forward.  KOtC 10 merely represents a royal foundation.  Collectively, 160 tennis warriors showed up on those ten mornings, 960 mahuts were played in heat and wind and chill, 9600 games were decided in all.  Ten Royal Courts of all shapes, nationalities, personalities, skill, and genders were made immortal, remembered forever.  May all the royals be blessed, may their subjects be grateful, and for Christ's sake----May God Save The Queen!

18.  The Barley Was Gnarly

Flat and sad, the back tire of my bike as I walked it along Wilson Creek coming from a brewery ride.  The gang had already scattered.  Too many people, afternoon plans, work, almost too drunk to ride.  The reasons were varied and legitimate.  And it was all fine.  The hops hopped, the barley was gnarly.  Green was everywhere, like the color had been claimed, lifted up, and worshiped.  Green upon green upon green as the song goes.  And the mind does wander, swimming in brew, clouded by clouds, blasted by music.

The origins of cricket.
Content monetizing.
Retrenching and re-imagining.
BMX culture.
Bonsai plants sold on street corners.
Past floods.
Intentional dressing.
Cost of tree maintenance.
Fast fenders.
Crowd control.
Wrecks and unfortunate malfunctions.
The sunlight seekers.
Iron artists and welders.
Apricots and peaches.
Links with links surrounded by links.
Boogie on reggae woman with dead flowers.
Marketing should be raw, underthought.
Even the bean counters agree.
Matt and Adam, or Adam and Matt.
The alcohol % is posted for review.
Jumping curbs.
Baker burger and chili fries.
Nothing But Theives and the whiskey crutch.
Know something.
The future is closer than ever.
And it won't last too long.

Then, as I was walking along obliviously, a car pulled up driven by a small, leprechaun looking man by the name of O'Reilly.  He rolled down his window and asked in the strangest voice, "Got a flat, do ya?"  And the way he said "ya", like when a doctor tells you to open up and say 'ahhh', was outstanding.  He was the real deal.  Greenish skin, pointy big ears, smelling of Irish Spring.  Like the soap.  "Yep, damn tire", I answered, " Nothing to do but walk it home."  He insisted on giving me a ride and I was in no position to decline his offer.  I awkwardly stuffed my bike in his trunk and we drove off.  

All I know is I woke up and I was floating on a magic carpet.  In the sky.  Elvis and Chuck Berry were there and about to box.  I was sitting ringside.  To my left was Helen Keller, which I thought was odd.  Next to her was Teddy Roosevelt, screaming at Elvis, calling him a rat and a thug.  Chuck was strutting around the ring singing Respect, the Aretha Franklin tune.  Skinny looking in his big boxing shorts, his legs were like sticks.  I figured Elvis would smash him, especially since he knew Kung Fu.  But Chuck seemed confident, and Elvis was complaining of a stomach ache.  I was beginning to get excited.  No sign of the leprechaun, and I was relieved.  He was a bit weird and probably on drugs.  To my right was Sitting Bull, sitting silently.  He had stories he would never tell.  His eyes were see through.  He didn't need to speak, I knew what he thought.  I saw what he thought.  Behind us was a sea of people, all races, genders, conditions, all kinds of thinkers.  The opinionated and up tight . The apathetic and laid back.  The obsessed.  They were all half humming, half singing This Land Is Your Land.  From California to the New York Islands, something about a redwood forest and Gulf waters.  Then the referee for the boxing match, dressed in black and white stripes, took the microphone.  He told everyone to "shut the fuck up".  It was then I realized it was Redd Foxx.  Once the entire magic carpet was quiet, he lifted the mic and proclaimed loudly and definitively, "Golf is not a sport!"  I agreed.  Then everything turned into a steam room and I fell asleep.  Crazy.

The End