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.