I arrived in the Swiss mountain resort town of Davos on a pleasant but chilly Sunday afternoon. On the long trip from central Italy the temperature had dropped forty degrees. This was autumn weather. In the central shopping area, the streets were nearly deserted. Apparently they take the Sabbath seriously here. The place had the umistakeable feel of The Day After, New Year’s Day perhaps, when most people are home after a night of revelry. Somehow I doubted that the staid citizens of Davos had been doing much reveling. Most of the shops were closed, including restaurants and bars.
I had booked a room online at the Hotel Ochsen, which was cheaper than any of the hotels in nearby Klosters, the site of my next tournament. Switzerland, at least this area, seemed much more expensive than anywhere else I had been so far on this journey. I decided I wouldn’t stay here any longer than necessary. “Necessary” would be getting to play the second round, which meant winning my first.
At the hotel I downloaded the draw sheet. My match was the third one scheduled on court 6, with the day getting under way at nine o’clock. This tournament was rated grade 1, the highest grade, and it offered prize money. Unlike my two previous tournaments, which had attracted only local players, this one also had competitors from other countries, among them Belgium, Spain, Hungary, even New Zealand. And that was just the players in my age bracket. As usual I was the lone American.
When I had first planned my trip months ago, I selected those competitions that best fit my itinerary rather than the ones appropriate for my caliber of play. I’d hardly even noted their grade.
The train ride into Klosters was breathtakingly scenic and I arrived at the Klosters Tennis Club around 11:30, thinking I´d have plenty of time to prepare myself mentally. After all, the day’s third matches shouldn’t start before 1:00. (Usually this is specified but here it wasn’t.)
Although Davos is much better known, Klosters is the prettier town. Its tennis facility is impressive, with an array of the quaint wooden buildings that are characteristic of this area. The officials’ cabin, for example, really is a little log cabin. There is also a walkway for the spectators between the courts, as at the big time professional venues. Sponsors’ names and logos are ubiquitous. Matches are officiated by a chair umpire with a loudspeaker.
When I reported to the tournament director he informed me that there had been a walk-over on my court and thus my match was being moved up; in fact, my opponent was on the court right now waiting for me. I rushed over. Also waiting for me was a skinny teenage chair umpire. He was impatiently bouncing one of the Dunlop balls we’d be using for the match.
My opponent was a stocky, well-built Italian named Marcello. He spoke no English. This umpire did not have a loudspeaker and simply read our introductions in a bored monotone. (“To the right of the chair Richard Irving of the United States.”) I won the toss and chose to receive, which seemed to confuse Marcello. But his confusion didn’t last long. When the match began, I knew that I was in trouble almost immediately, as Marcello possessed both power and finesse.
I lost love and one. And no, the match wasn’t closer than the score; it was a thrashing. Mercifully there had been only a handful of spectators. When the match ended and I reached up to shake the chair umpire’s hand like the pros do, I at least felt like a real player.
Oh well, I had a week to prepare for my next tournament in the town of Bad Breisig in western Germany.