With only two more tournaments left on my Around the World Tennis Adventure calendar, I arrived in Mexico City feeling increasingly desperate. I’d been on the road for months and I had only a few walk-overs and a couple of consolation match wins to show for it. In other words not a legitimate win.
This tournament venue was the beautiful Club Aleman, which was founded by German immigrants to Mexico and is located in the pretty southern suburb of Xochimilco. The club has an illustrious history, having been the site of Mexico`s Davis Cup ties over the years as well as hosting the Mexican Open, an ATP event, until 2001 when it was relocated to Acapulco.
To get there I had to ride the carnival known as the Mexico City Metro to the last stop, then continue for another dozen stops on the light rail system. My first glimpse of the site left me awestruck; it surpassed even Santa Cruz Bolivia`s Club de Tenis, my previous standard of sumptuousness in private tennis facilities. In addition to all the usual amenities, Club Aleman also boasts a library and a hairstyling salon. And rumor has it that its lush grounds double as the city’s botanical gardens.
I had been to Mexico City once before, around twenty years ago, and my main memory was of an unusual headache lasting the entire week and which I attributed to the effects of the two mile-high altitude. But as I arrived for my first-round match I felt fine, at least until I found myself alone. Where was everyone? I thought as I strolled the strangely empty grounds.
Then I noticed Leticia Cruz, the friendly young tournament director, into whose office I had wandered the previous day seeking to register. She had shown me the draw sheet and schedule, and confirmed that my first-round match was on Monday. But it turned out we both misread it. There were no matches today. The tournament would begin on Tuesday. And Mondays, she told me, the club is closed for the members. Then she mentioned that another player–and in the same age division as me–had apparently misread the schedule too and was looking for someone to hit with.
“You can play with him for practice,” Leticia said, seemingly relieved to be able to salvage the situation.
As we waited for him she handed me a packet of the special Head tennis balls that are used for high altitude play. They´re not vacuum-packed in a can like regular tennis balls but come in a small carton like men´s cologne.
Ruben was a tall, dapper Mexican who spoke fluent English. As a player he was an anomaly, a guy with a 5.0 serve and 3.0 ground strokes. We had a very competitive session playing points without keeping score. Why can’t I draw someone like this guy? Then I might have a chance. And the altitude was another factor working against me, I realized as I staggered off the court afterwards.
My first-round opponent was another toughie. Like so many of the competitors in these tournaments, he was a teaching pro and had flown in from his home in Acapulco for the event. He told me he’d been certified by the famous Dennis Van der Meer Academy in Hilton Head. I recalled a tennis instructor in New York once telling me that giving lessons ruins your own game; feeding balls over and over, he contended, is repeating an incorrect stroke.
Even if that’s true–and in my experience it isn’t–it didn’t apply in this case. I had my moments but didn’t really feel that I could win. He was a good level above me. He also infuriated me by saying during one changeover in the second set that in the next round he would have to play much better in order to win. Plus I was having difficulty coping with the thin air. His only complaint about the altitude was that the balls seemed to be sailing. I hadn’t noticed that. My concern was more pressing; getting my breathing rate down to within the AMA guidelines for avoiding sudden death.
I managed to survive the match but it was another painful loss. On to San Jose Costa Rica and my last chance to get off the schneid.