9/25/10

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."