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 reinstitution 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 totalled.  A veteran of the King division, he had never broken through.  Grit pays, perseverence 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 exaustion, 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 devestating 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.