US Open National Playoffs:
Journalistic Embedmanship Gone Too Far?
By Steve Fogleman, TennisEastCoast.com
In an act of journalistic embedmanship, a word which I believe was invented by former President George W. Bush, I may have finally gone too far. As a tennis fan and blogger who came to the game later in life, I have enjoyed pro tennis from every angle except one. I have been on court, in the photographer’s boxes, in court side boxes, and in Upper Promenade (don’t go there, seriously). For all that, I have never stood on court and attempted to return a 100+ miles per hour serve from someone who really wanted to win in a real match that really counted.
So it was that I decided to enter the 2012 US Open National Playoffs, Mid-Atlantic Sectional Qualifying Edition. It’s that time of year again when any Johnny Sweatsock with a USTA membership card and $65-$108 in his pocket to plop down can sign up for a beatdown and a t-shirt that says, “I Tried, Damn It”. Or alternately, “What Pro Sports Tournament Have YOU Entered Lately?”. Or alternately, “Just Visiting”. Or alternately, “Suicide by Tennis Pro”.
I attended last year as a spectator and noticed that the median scoreline for the first round matches was 6-0, 6-0. How could I do worse than double bagel, right? Right? Wrong. Retiring due to injury could be worse. The most horrible fate would be withdrawing due to injury prior to the match because we tried to cram a lifetime of doubles strategy into a few days.
But hey, it’s not like I’m getting into a boxing ring with Mike Tyson, right? Right? Wrong. One of the 4 possible opponents I could face at the net was a USTA National Open Doubles Champion. In the Girls 14s. At 15, she’s nearly one-third my age. And she could destroy me.
I originally envisioned playing singles this year. When I mentioned my interest to Junior Tennis Champions Center CEO Ray Benton last winter, he jokingly compared me to Walter Mitty* and looked at me like I was a little misguided.
Then, a case of ‘plantar fasciitis’ kept me off the courts for most of the winter and spring. I figured I would just wait another year. Yet, when you’re 43, you don’t know what new physical ailment will find you in the next year.
My hitting partner and I decided to enter Mixed Doubles at the last minute, thinking it might be easier than singles. I think we may have made an unforced error in our thought process. Being at the net against beasts in doubles now seems a bit more dangerous than hiding behind a baseline in singles. And I’m finding that the theory that doubles is somehow easier because you ‘only’ have to cover half of the court is sheer nonsense. If there is any advantage at all to entering doubles over singles in a tournament of this caliber, it is this:
Plausible Deniability for losing teammates in being able to say that they were on fire, but their partner wasn’t pulling his weight. I am not ashamed to admit that we have encouraged each other to do just that in the event of an ugly loss.
Not only did we enter, we even got a first round bye. One of 10 doubles teams at the College Park event, we’ll get a chance to eyeball the competition when teams play their first round matches on Saturday afternoon. One winning duo will be all warmed up to take the court against us on Sunday in the Quarterfinals. I’m not sure if the bye is a blessing or a curse. Will we be advantaged or terrified by watching our competitors dispatch a team likely more skilled than ours? Only time will tell. The optimist in me says we’re only 7 upset wins away from a main draw berth at Flushing Meadows. The realist in me just wants to have fun.
Reporters have been dodging sniper fire and dirty looks from angry warriors in places like Vietnam, Afghanistan and Tahrir Square for years. Now, College Park is the battleground and I am your rather imperfect, badly-punned Dan Rather.
Friends are concerned that this is an act of suicide, or at least an attempt at sterilization. I can assure you that it is not a cry for help. The cry for help will not come until I awake the day after the match.
* For the kids out there who have never heard of James Thurber’s “Walter Mitty”, you will know him soon, as Ben Stiller is directing and starring in the remake later this year.