Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chapter from my tennis book

I've mentioned I'm in the middle of a novel about an aging professional tennis player. I thought I'd post a chapter so you can see what I'm working on. This is chapter one, the start of my book.



The call rang clearly in my ears, crushing my dreams of winning the U.S. Open while dismantling the thin fragments of what remained of my pride. My opponent dropped to her knees across the net from me, arms raised in the air, the tears already coming from her tired, brown eyes. She’d beaten me. Again. In fact, she’d beaten me the last six times we’d met – on all different surfaces: grass, hard court, clay. It probably could have been water and she still would have beaten me. Okay, suck your pride up and walk to the net to shake her hand. Hurry up and get off your knees, Nina. I’m not going to stand here all day.

“Nice match,” I say as she finally makes it to the net, tennis racquet in hand.

“You, too,” she says with all sincerity, pumping my hand as if water were going to come out of it any minute. “It really has been an honor, Karen. I can’t believe this happened.”

I smirk and head for my chair after quickly shaking the umpire’s hand, to gather my bag and racquets and wait impatiently for the awards ceremony to begin. I can hear the crowd going wild, cheering as if Nina were their all-time favorite player, just as they did for me, six years ago when I won this title and the three other majors, becoming the third woman in history to win all four grand slams in one year. Just as they did for the four years after that when I took home the championship title at this tournament.

I suppose I should be happy to have even made it to the finals at my age. Not that I’m old, really. Twenty-six. Except that my opponent is 16. My glory days are over, so my agent keeps telling me. Now is my time to just play the tournaments, make it as far as I can, keep earning some decent money and in a couple of years, when I’ve fallen so far in the rankings that people can’t even remember me, I can retire from the world of tennis. The world my life has been made up of since I was old enough to pick up a racquet. The world of my dreams and my experiences. The world I can’t imagine not being a part of.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer said over the microphone interrupting my gloomy thoughts. The crowd started to quiet and Nina and I rose to our feet to head over to the makeshift podium that had been quickly constructed. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the brusque voice of former pro tennis player – turned sports commentator, Dan Sadler again spoke into the microphone. “What a tennis match!” The crowd went wild, again cheering what really had not been that extraordinary of a match, with screams of “We love you, Nina!” and “You’ll get her next time, Karen!” ringing through the air.

Nina and I reacted as we were supposed to, with acknowledgement to the crowd and a small wave to let them know we heard them and loved them back. Dan went through his speech, extolling our magnificent match and getting more applause from the crowd. Then came the part I hated, especially after losing a match.

“Karen, come on over here,” he said into the microphone while reaching out his thick forearm to rest on my shoulder.” I smiled and stepped closer to him. The crowd was quiet in anticipation of the what happened? questions we were about to hear. “Karen, you are undoubtedly one of the greatest tennis players of all time,” Dan began and the crowd erupted with cheers and approval. “We’ve watched you playing matches on the pro circuit since you were 16. What’s it like after all this time to watch an up – and – coming young player like Nina defeat you in this tournament which has been your most winning surface?”

“Well, Dan,” I began, feeling the heat rising on the back of my neck, “Nina played really tough tennis today. She is a great, young player with a great future ahead of her.” Oh, and it felt fantastic to be decimated by a girl 10 years younger than me in front of all these people. I hate these questions.

“You were up 5-2 in the second set and it looked like you might close the set out,” he continued. “You had a couple of double-faults and then it looked like your game sort of fell apart for a couple of points.” He thrust the microphone near my mouth like he had actually asked a question I was supposed to respond to.

“Yeah, I, well, I,” I stuttered. “It seems I lost my focus for a moment in the match. Nina was able to keep hers and so she closed out the match before I could regain my momentum.” Oh, hurry up, you moron. You’d think that you, of all people, would know what it’s like to answer these questions after the loss of a grand slam final!

“One last question, Karen…”

Make it painless, Dan.

“You came into this tournament playing the kind of tennis that we saw from you six years ago when you won this tournament for the first time. The kind of tennis that, frankly, we haven’t seen from you in almost a year.” My heart sank further into my chest. “You were the favorite going into the match. How do you feel now?” Well, I just love losing, Dan! Don’t you? You jerk! What kind of a question is this?

“Well, obviously I don’t like losing. I mean, who does?” I forced a smile. “I don’t dwell on the losses in my career. I try to dwell on the good points, the good matches and continue to improve from there. Tonight was Nina’s night. Nina’s match.” I paused long enough to look over at Nina and give her a sincere smile. “And congratulations to Nina on her first U.S. Open win.” I stepped back, obviously making everyone aware that I was through with the interview.

The crowd applauded, a little more zealously than they should have, probably feeling sorry for me after Dan’s insipid line of questioning. I stood there, half listening to Dan extolling Nina and asking her question after question about her incredible forehand and her deadly serve and half figuring out exactly how long this would continue so I could get back to my hotel room.

The next half hour drudged on with me only going through the motions, picking up my trophy and my $800,000 check for being the runner up and chatting briefly with Jimmy, my coach, who promised to call me tomorrow morning. After following security guards through the maze of the compound and finally making it to the car that would take me back to the hotel, I collapsed in the back seat and exhaled loudly.

“Rough night, Miss Keeler?” I looked up toward the driver of my car and gave a forced smile, one that I’d become so good at giving.

“Yeah,” I replied. “Glad it’s over, though.” I started rifling through my tennis bag for my ipod, hoping he’d get the hint that I was not interested in talking tonight. He didn’t say another word until we arrived at the hotel.

“Good night, Miss Keeler,” he said as I closed the door. I didn’t even try to respond. I managed to sneak into the hotel through the back entry the manager had allowed me access to and up to my room without anyone pestering me for an autograph. I collapsed on my back on the bed as soon as I had closed the door and had placed the Do Not Disturb sign on the outside handle. Every muscle in my body ached – sheer fatigue had replaced the adrenaline that had pushed me through the match less than an hour ago. As I was debating whether I should take a shower or eat first, the phone rang. I seriously thought about ignoring it but I knew who it was and he would just keep calling if I didn’t answer. I rolled over onto my stomach and reached for the phone.

“Hello,” I said wearily.

“It was your second serve, you know,” a voice almost sang through the phone. “We gotta work on that second serve, Ace and you’ll be back on top in no time.”

“Hi, Dad,” I said loving the sound of his voice even after a long day.

“Hi, sweetheart. Rough night?”

“Yeah, well, you know,” I started but couldn’t even think of any words worthy of completing the sentence.

“You coming home tomorrow?” he asked with hope in his voice.

“Yeah,” I said closing my eyes, enjoying the quietness of the room.

“All right,” he said. “You better go get in that shower and wash off today. Tomorrow you’ll get a whole new start.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

“I love you, Ace.”

“I know. I love you, too.”


“Night, Dad.”

I hung up the phone and smiled. Dad always knew how to make me feel better, even if it just meant calling to say he loved me. I decided on a bath instead and ordered room service so I wouldn’t have to leave the hotel room. As I sat alone on my bed later that night, watching Nina’s perky brown ponytail bob up and down as she destroyed me on replay after replay of the championship match, I suddenly felt old and tired.

When had I gone from being that perky little teenager able to crush any opponent on the other side of the net to a twenty-six year old has-been who hadn’t won a major in over a year and a half? The tears came before I knew they were even there; an emotion I had suppressed for years not wanting to show any cracks in my impenetrable exterior that was all confidence and assurance. I didn’t try to stop them; I just let them flow over me as I sat in my bath robe on the heavy peach hotel comforter.


  1. how do you not have twenty books out there already...you are such a good writer ;-)