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!!!