The Soon-to-be-Senior Mixed Doubles Circuit

by

07/19/2006

181 Mercer St., New York, NY, 10012

Neighborhood: West Village

A.K. is as often used in mild, fond condescension as it is in derision: “Let him alone: He’s just an A.K.”…I make no special plea for alter kocker, but I certainly prefer A.K. to its English equivalent, “old fart.” –Leo Rosten, The Joys of Yiddish

We arrive for our weekly game on Mercer near Houston Street, four players just shy of Social Security—two men and two women, all married, but not to each other. We have a total of seven high-tech racquets and three cans of balls (two new and one used from “who remembers when? But I think they’re still pretty good”). Mike wears a tennis elbow splint on his right forearm, plus two matching knee braces in a highly attractive midnight blue; I wear one tennis elbow band (right arm) and one ankle ace bandage; Bill has an ice pack taped to his left shoulder for the rotator cuff injury that never fully healed; Susan is the only one with no orthopedic devices on any extremity–yet.

We are all equal club players, give or take a few questionable line calls—mostly mediocre, occasionally inspired, never consistent. We have accepted the reality that our inadequate second serves will never improve, and we are no longer embarrassed by a blundering missed overhead—“It went right through the hole in my racquet strings!”

Bill’s strength is an inside-out forehand learned from an over-the-hill tour player turned resort-pro at Hilton Head Island. My asset is that I have connections with the best physical therapist in town—just a jog away in Union Square—and can get an appointment at the flick of a cell phone. Susan’s secret strategy is to lob over everyone’s head–frustrating moon balls, and who cares if they call her a dinker? She wins more than she loses. Mike has a sheepish secret: back in his early twenties, he’d poked fun of those splint-adorned and boisterous “A.K.’s” who limped around the next court; now he is one.

We play “first one in.” Bill and I win the first game 40-love. We do not switch sides, just pause for a water break.

“Did you hear Jeff’s having a knee replacement?” says Bill.

“No, it’s a hip replacement,” insists Mike.

Bill shrugs, pops three Advil with a chaser of kiwi-strawberry Vitamin Water.

It’s Susan’s turn to serve. First one in, double fault, wide serve moving me way off court, weak return, a killer net winner that’s so good it surprises her, never admitting she’d just stuck her racquet out, for once being in the right time and place. Timing’s everything, from real estate and the stock market to backhand volleys.

“Great shot,” says her partner.

“Just lucky,” says Bill.

“Thirty-fifteen,” Mike announces, assuming the serve position.

“No, it’s fifteen-thirty,” Bill corrects.

Mike shakes his head. “Can’t be, we won the first point, double faulted, then we just got a winner.”

“Whatever,” Bill says, scowling, re-adjusting the strings on his racquet the way he’s seen the pros during Grand Slams.

Nobody holds serve in the first six games. Another water break.

“Did you watch the French Open?” asks Susan.

“My wife refuses to support anything French these days,” says Mike. “I Tivo’d it and watched it secretly when she was at Pilates.”

“Do you think Serena is on steroids?” asks Susan.

“I’d trade my Jell-O arms for hers anytime,” I say.

“I don’t know half the players anymore,” says Bill.

“Rod Laver…now there was a tennis player,” Mike says dreamily.

“I thought Lendl had sexy legs,” admits Susan.

“Let’s play already,” I say.

“What’s the score again?” asks Mike.

“Four games to three,” says Bill.

“Impossible, we played six games total,” I say.

We re-enact who served when, who won, and then debate if it’s four-two or three-all. Nobody can agree, so we just call it a tie and resume play.

Mike has been known to stop giving his opponents generous line calls when he’s down. Susan blames losses on either the net (too high…too low), her racquet, or the fight she had last night with her husband. We all have tickets to the U.S. Open, where we’ll buy enough hats and T-shirts for next year’s mixed doubles wardrobe.

We play three sets, argue a little more about the score, and shake hands. “Thank you”…“Great game.” Limping off the court, we avoid exchanging glances with the twentysomethings on the next court. Bill claims he heard one of those young guys muttering “A.K.” as they crossed their back court, unhurried, interrupting their play, but no one else can substantiate it. As soon as Susan finds her glasses and Mike finds his car keys, we can go home. On the way out, we pause to see one of the twentysomethings attempt a winner at net, but it sails way long.

“Just unlucky,” Mike mutters, throwing his oversized U.S. Open bag over his shoulder, hoping he’s said it loud enough for those upstarts to hear.

“Youth may have energy, but we have experience and wisdom,” I say, forgetting where my car is parked—but just momentarily.

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