At 8 in the morning, under clear and cool skies with only the lightest of breezes—in other words, a perfect tennis day—the courts are, for the first time, empty. Perhaps a quarter of the campers, maybe more, flew out of either San Antonio or Austin last night or as the sun rose today, heading east, west, and various points in between. Newk’s best friend Angus Deane, who lives on a 120,000-acre sheep ranch in Queensland and had further to fly than anyone, was grinning from ear to ear at breakfast. Not only had he managed to discard the plastic buttocks he’d worn for the previous day—defiantly across his groin like some Outback version of a Scottish sporran—he’d been named Most Valuable Player the night before, hitting the winning forehand in the final match for the Kangaroos. A regular since the Fantasy Week’s birth, Angus now rarely if ever played tennis outside of Texas. This year, he hadn’t played at all for the previous 12 months. Or so he claimed.
With the competition over, this morning’s tennis was—in some ways—the most enjoyable of the week. No one was forcing anything; nothing was on the line; Davo or Newk or Emmo weren’t strategizing against me (or silently glaring, as my coach Dick Stockton was prone to); it was relaxed, great fun, and a chance to be on the court with every Legend for a series of eight different drills and mini-clinics.
I was told that while the Friday clinic wasn’t new, the clinics late in the day on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were a recently introduced innovation decided on by Newk and Steve Contardi after some campers had asked for a better balance between competition and game improvement sessions. New or old, it was a brilliant way to close out the week. With the numbers down, we rotated from court to court in groups of four or five. Emmo ran a serving clinic. Marty Riessen and Mark Woodforde worked on our volleys. Rick Leach focused on volleys, too, but in the context of playing out points. Both Stockton and Ross Case had us refining our forehands and backhands, and Davo took on positioning on the court. Newk, the last court I moved to, had us both serving and returning serve.
Frankly, I was still on a high from winning both of yesterday’s matches. At the bar the night before, Case—who was Davo’s assistant coach—told me he’d been surprised by my game, and my opponent Pete had bought me a drink. Today, when I walked over to Davo’s court, he’d turned to me said, “You played well. Very well. Very well.” Two “very wells” from Davo is beyond fantasy, approaching surreal. Newk was also still on a high, laughing about Angus’ MVP, and the emotional remarks each had made about the other’s friendship and love, in front of all of us. Then he grabbed me by the shoulders, saying “Let’s get a picture of this.”
And now it was time to leave. The six of us in the van reflected on the week, on next year’s 25th anniversary, on the near perfection of everything. Even the herd of deer that would appear on the grounds after dark. “When I first came here,” laughed Woodforde, “I didn’t see them. I jumped a foot the night when they leaped up and ran as I walked back to the room.”
“Yeah, well you know what they say about the deer,” cautioned Dave Kartzinel, himself heading to Las Vegas. “Where there are deer, the mountain lions can’t be far.”
And just when I’d figured there’d be nothing to worry about when I came back.
Another rookie mistake.