A year ago, when the Dunnies had edged out the Mongrel Kangaroos, the Musclemen, and the Wankers for the Fantasy Week team championship, Aussie great Fred Stolle had been the victorious captain, with Dick “Stax” Stockton as his chief assistant. This year, Stolle was missing, and Stockton has been elevated to the top job, with doubles great Mark Woodforde as his number two. At the opening dinner last night, the absent Stolle was nevertheless heard from, in a message read by John Newcombe. “You can all go f— yourselves,” it began, and continued in that vein for several paragraphs.
Buttocks With a Black Tail
And so the trashtalking got underway in earnest. By night’s end, one camper was wearing a plastic buttocks with the black tail—the infamous Horse’s Ass—that the Legends bestow on a different attendee each evening, to be worn (proudly, in fact) all the following day. No more than 30 minutes into the team practice this morning, our current captain took aim at me. “I call him Numbnuts,” Stax told my mates (after, I think, I’d tried an ill-advised drop-shot). “He’s earned it, over and over again.” It made me think there may be a plastic buttocks in my future as well.
The good news has been the temperature. It never hit 90 today, and with a cooling breeze felt almost pleasant. Things—if the forecasters are right—will even improve in the coming days, as a passing cold front brings the temps down to the high 70s (and perhaps as low as the 40s in the evening). It may be windy tomorrow, but, who knows, that could help my drop shot.
Volleys Over Volleys
The day began with a mini-clinic by Stax and Owen Davidson, focused on the volley. It was very interesting, even more so when—at an afternoon drilling clinic led by ex-US Davis Cupper Rick Leach, another doubles specialist—we were told to use our feet in a fundamentally different way from Davo’s and Stax’s directives. “Yeah, well,” said Leach, when the contradiction was pointed out, “I think I know what I’m doing.” And, of course, consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
During the morning practices, the teams led by Emerson, Newk, and Davidson seemed to go through highly structured drills, while we Dunnies basically just hit with each other—at least the eight guys I was with. (Half the team went over to other courts, with Woodforde, and when I checked on them, they seemed to be drilling. I liked the laissez-faire approach, and the fact I could pace myself. After lunch, we took some team pictures, and played practice games and super-tiebreakers. Woodforde had emphasized the importance of the 10-point tiebreaker, which is played in lieu of a third set.
By day’s end, Stax and I had won a Fantasy set against Marty Riessen and Barry, a junkballer from Philadelphia who had managed to ace me three times with flat serves that came out nowhere. Or a Philly neighborhood I’d never visited. Stockton seemed anxious; he even forgot to call me Numbnuts. But we prevailed in a tiebreaker, possibly on my drop shot.
In the evening, Newk, Emmo and Rick Leach took the podium after dinner. Two days earlier, one of my teammates-to-be—a New Jersey lawyer named Lee Goldberg—had told me at the airport baggage claim that “the layers of the onion peel off” over the course of the week. Now here was Leach, describing the New Zealand earthquake that had devastated Christchurch, where he had arrived for an international team tournament for over-40s, letting us see through his eyes “a truck being knocked over, bouncing back up, knocked over, again and again,” managing to escape the ruin of his hotel, walking to the catastrophically damaged tennis center, and discovering that New Zealanders seemed as—or more—concerned about him than themselves.
War of Attrition
Here, too, was Emmo, saying he didn’t understand why Novak Djokovic comported himself the way he did, leaping into stands after matches, while Federer had earned his respect by never trying to upstage a vanquished opponent. And here was Newk, telling the story of his reclamation—as Aussie Davis Cup captain—of an emotionally damaged Patrick Rafter, on the verge of losing to France’s Cedric Pioline. Newk, as he told it, got into Rafter’s face, screaming that his player had to find the “fire” in his core, that Pioline was an effing effer, and that the match, Rafter’s career, in fact all of life, “is a damn war of attrition that you must win!” Rafter, Newk said, went on to win, to become number one in the world, and to take his place among the Aussie pantheon. But, in the locker room after the match, Rafter had turned to reporters and commented, “Could you believe how Newk lost it out there?”
Then Rafter paused, and asked, “Anybody know what a war of attrition means?”
Our war of attrition starts Tuesday.