He was the tennis hopeful: the McEnroe/Sampras wunderkind toiling in the background, feted one day to step up to championship success. He was the eccentric, talented kid, toiling the competitive circuit, looking to break into the big time. People took an interest, turning up to the Wimbledon small-courts to watch. They were dilettantes: hoping to be able to one day say “I saw him when he was unknown”, like music-nerds do by seeing obscure bands. Sometimes it would be there: a flash of brilliance and potential at an elite level. “He’ll make it” they’d say later, over cucumber Pimms. Most of the time, sadly, he was very average, even downright bad. “I don’t see what the fuss is about” they’d say then, raising their noses and sniffing, as they scoffed strawberries and ice-cream and sat on their flabby backsides.
Unfortunately, like so many tennis hopefuls, he was plagued my the same problems: inconsistency and mental oscillation. His performance was, literally, hit and miss. The mental oscillation which produced inspiration one day, then with the other hand took it away the next, with interest. The cold, flat mental profile necessary for elite performance was something he realised he would always struggle to attain. Periods of clean living and good training would mysteriously crash into squalid months of indolence, debauchery and sloth. Successes would send him up: failures would hurl him down. He had strange, quirky habits and addictions. He was often elated or morose.
Gradually he started to tire of the circuit and lose his love of the game.
What became of our once-rising star? Did he end up living a lie and hating it: coaching new junior hopefuls (with no hope) and hating it? Or did he leave the game completely?
Perhaps he went abroad, worked as a tennis coach in a Caribbean hotel, or even did something different. He was the fun guy by the bar in The Blue Lagoon but as the night wore on and too many frozen margaritas were consumed, the eyes would become bitter and entitled, the set of his face hardening. His jokes would become close to the bone and uncomfortable. First the women, then the men, would drift away. If tennis came on the TV he’d go sit by himself, nursing his drink, his piercing, Gamma eyes pouring hate at the TV as he jealously watched his former comrades, themselves once hopefuls, now in their competition glory. It wasn’t fair.
Or perhaps he ended up a slightly chubby guy in a nice suit, sitting on the jetty with a glass of whiskey and a cigar, smiling as he watched the sunset.
“Are you that guy?” you asked.
He looked confused for a second, then got it. “Oh!” he said, “you mean tennis, right?”.
“Gosh…” he laughed, “I remember those days. Seems crazy now! Living in that little van. Eating noodles. Scraping together the money for sneakers and strings”.
He had no bitterness, and even looked a little wistful. Chinking your glass against his he smiled and winked, “no time for that now!”.
After a respectful pause, you asked “What do you do?”.
“I run a carpet business” he replied.
You felt sick with embarassment and pity and weren’t quick enough to keep it from showing, but he caught the sadness in your eyes and slapped his thigh, laughing uproriously.
“I have fifteen stores and a hundred staff. I’m wildly successful. I LOVE my life”.
He struck a match and continued. “I live in a huge house by a huge lake, I have six children, an ex-wife and a girlfriend. Each morning I walk my bulldogs through the forest. Me and my buddies are learning to fly helicopters. Life’s good. I even love tennis again”.
“You know” he continues, “for years I couldn’t even look at a racket. Now… well I have my own court. I play the kids, and my buddies. It’s a great sport”.
Or perhaps he stayed in the camper van. I dunno.