Little Local Larrikins – Part Two: The Long Awaited Conversation

The doubt. It metaphorically wiggles its way out from the dark shallow corner of my mind to the front like my dog does against our wooden floorboards when he has an itchy arse.

As I slowly awake to my bearings, the frayed nerves build into a swansong in the pit of my stomach like the escalating tone of music in a horror movie before the unrealistic paraphernalia jump onto the screen and makes you jump to the moon and back.

I loudly stumble my way out of bed, ambling along in an unbalanced and far from graceful stride towards my bedroom window. I approach and attempt to find the right string to pull that opens the curtains and decides my fate. The music is reaching its crescendo, as I finally focus my attention on the curtains opening rather than what may be behind the curtains. I tug, but it’s the wrong cord. Frustration now builds as I fumble around until I find the other chord. No theatrics are involved like I expected, as my annoyance towards the poorly designed cords results in me yanking at the cord. What happens next is both horrible and brilliant.

A bright light cascades from the ever retracting curtains onto my face, as my recently opened eyes are blinded by a stunning cobalt sky. I let loose a titanic grin with closed eyes, as all of the dancing spots that shade my darkened vision are worth it. I can finally play.

Two longs week out; one from the bye and the other from the torrential downpour last weekend has finally ended, and I can finally resume my tennis season. Eagerness wraps over me like a snug blanket in a winter blizzard, as I digest my breakfast faster than the speed of sound and get dressed quicker than the speed of light.

One minute problem though: my parents. They are nowhere near as keen as I am about waking up at 6:30am to drive to tennis, as they do a zombie like sleep walk into the car. None of that can wipe the smug grin off my face though, as I’m playing tennis no matter what.

We arrive at the courts. Today’s match is against St. John’s Catholic Tennis Club, and we turn up to their alternative home courts in Banyule. There are seven en-tout-cas courts and they look to be in worse condition than the ones at Grace Valley, which looked as uneven as the slope at Lord’s Cricket Ground.

The lines jut out from the blood orange colour of the courts like a mildly tall man in a group of midgets. I walk up the steps to the court and I see him. The human beard. The massive giant that I now know who goes to my school. Stephen. I would say the beard glistens, but it’s a jet black colour, so there is no glint to it.

The conversation I have been anticipating has arrived. I saw him the week after our first match of the season at school, walking around in his new, crisp year 12 bomber jacket. He was too far away for me to strike up a conversation, so I have been unsure ever since whether he knows I am an average sized year 9 student at the same school. It’s a dilemma, considering he is a giant.

Just before I break the ice and attempt start the awaited conversation, he chimes in first by remarking how he has seen me twice. Boom. The ice has just been smashed by a pick axe. The talk flows, as we joke and laugh onto the court, where we practice with Luke and Lewis. Hamish is rostered out today, so I am yet again playing up in the number two position.

We warm up and attempt to adjust to the terrible lines. One minute the ball hits it and it rockets up into the air, disappears into the tiny amount of clouds littering the sky, before dropping back down with no pace on it whatsoever. The next minute the ball decides it doesn’t want to bounce, as it hits the line and rolls like it is playing a serious game of lawn bowls. There is nothing any of us can do but laugh and empathise, as we all know what it feels like.

As we have three courts for the first hour and a half before a low section of young kids are scheduled to arrive and steals two of our courts, the team manager from the opposition comes up with a genius epiphany full of difficult maths and rocket science; we should start off with one doubles match and two singles sets, to get the ball rolling. Well done, sir, well done. Lewis and I are the blessed players who have the difficult proposition of starting off with our singles sets, as it is universally known in tennis circles that it is much easier to ease into the day’s play with the first doubles set.

As I win the toss and serve first, I have a new challenge. I can’t serve today. I serve three double faults in the first game, as I lose in a deuce game. More frustration washes over me, as three of my second serves with the brand new balls sail agonisingly past the service line by only a few centimetres. I get lucky too though, as my opponent double faults twice and allows me to break back.

Suddenly my serving is on, as I only double fault once for the rest of the set. I need my serving to be on too, as my opponent is a gun. He puts away forehands like it is a collection of snow globes. His backhand is mightily steady too, but I finally manage to get into a rhythm, with the scores on set 4-4.

I feel strong and ready to hold my serve then break, which I have done twice in the set so far. I serve four impeccable first serves in a row, which are all ripped back at me. He breaks me to love, as I am left standing there at the change of ends wondering how he returned like that. It confounds me to the end, where he rips two aces en-route to a 6-4 victory. I don’t feel annoyed though; I forced him to take it up a notch, and he deserved the win after the quality of his returning in my last service game.

All of the frustration is released though as Stephen and Luke win their doubles 6-0 and Lewis wins his singles 6-1. Luke goes on to lose his singles 6-1 as Stephen pulls through his singles match 6-3. Lewis and I play our doubles match throughout the duration of Stephen’s singles. After a few games I really believe that we can win the set, as my opponent isn’t anywhere near as skilful in doubles as he is in singles. Lewis and I pull through 6-3, as I enjoy more brilliant calls of, “Out!” and, “Mine!” with a fantastic Scottish accent on them. Luke and I then go on for our last doubles, with the overall score 4-2 in our favour, as we know that a win in this set will secure the rubber.

Luke’s opponent is brilliant, in the way that he serves as straight and consistent as a bullet and rips forehand winners out of his pocket like a teenager does with their smartphone. But just like my opponent, his effect is slightly nullified in doubles. He still plays a blinder though, with Luke and I pulling the score out to 4-1 our way, as my serving is surprisingly brilliant after my atrocious start.

Their number one then rips out a few aces and a few winners in two games to bring the score back to 4-3. Tension fills the court, as the balcony overlooking it starts to fill up with spectators from other matches being played simultaneously.

The rallies are unbelievable; the standard is higher than any match I’ve ever played before. We go up 5-4, and I am left to serve for the set and the match. I pull out an ace and nail two more first serves as we go up forty-thirty. On match point, Luke snatches at a volley, only to put it into the net.

Then follows the marathon. I make my arm go numb by serving first serve after first serve in what must surely be twenty deuces. After many match and break points have been saved, we finally pull through. We shake hands then bag the court as quickly as possible, as I want to get out of the oppressive heat.

Lewis and Stephen then win their doubles 6-2 to make it a resounding 6-2 victory, which will do wonders for our percentage. I promise Stephen that I will talk to him if I see him at school and vice-versa. I bid Luke and Lewis farewell until next week, where we will take on ECCA at home, and Stephen is rostered out.

I return home, smug and satisfied, as I prepare myself for a blistering day of Saturday afternoon cricket. The doubt has evaporated from my mind like any puddles have from this scorching sunshine.

Eltham 6-2 SJCTC
1 Luke/ 4 Stephen 6-0 SJCTC
2 Sean/ 3 Lewis 6-3 SJCTC
1 Luke 1-6 SJCTC
2 Sean 4-6 SJCTC
3 Lewis 6-1 SJCTC
4 Stephen 6-3 SJCTC
1 Luke/ 2 Sean 6-4 SJCTC
3 Lewis/ 4 Stephen 6-2 SJCTC

About John Harms

John Harms is a writer, broadcaster, publisher, historian, speaker and teacher. He loves stories.

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