You can’t hit topspin with a pork chop

For 45 years I have been a tennis player and a tennis fan. As such, I’ve been glued to the television for nearly two weeks and will be again this weekend. We’re talking the U.S. Open. The 50th anniversary of the U.S. Open.
Still, in my circle, it seems I’m the only one who knows it’s going on.
Okay, my wife knows. She even watches when I’m not around. But not a single person in my Public Speaking class Wednesday afternoon had any idea. I asked how many of them heard of Serena Williams. All of them. How many heard of Rafa Nadal? None.
Which meant there was no point in telling them my little story about Dominic Thiem. But that won’t stop me from telling you.
Thiem, an Austrian, is one of the up and coming stars in the sport. He extended Nadal, if not the greatest then one of the greatest players of all time, to five sets Tuesday night before losing 7-6 in a tie-breaker. The match lasted nearly 5 hours.
But it is not Thiem’s spectacular play that had me excited. It’s his pre-match practice routine.
On ESPN, he was shown in the locker room hitting tennis balls to his coach who tossed them to him underhand. First Thiem hit them back not with a tennis racquet but with just his hand. Then he hit them using a roll of paper towels instead of a racquet. Then a water bottle.
And all the while, I kept shouting, “He’s living my nightmare!”
See, I have this recurring nightmare (which is probably more of a “bad dream” than an actual nightmare) that I am playing tennis, but always with a severe handicap. Sometimes, it’s the tennis court. The surface will be an undulating mass of hills and valleys reminiscent of moguls on a ski slope. Of course, my opponent’s side of the net will be perfectly flat. Every time I hit a horrendous shot, I’ll try to point out that the ball is bouncing in all sorts of crazy directions, but my opponent seems completely unaware of what I am going through.
Other times, the court is flat as it should be, but I will be playing with anything other than a tennis racquet. It’s usually a pork chop, but has been other things as well. A fly swatter. A rolled-up newspaper. Even a cantaloupe. Ever try to hit a tennis ball with a cantaloupe?
Again, my opponent never notices.
“See this?” I yell. “It’s a pork chop. A PORK CHOP.”
He just smacks another serve.
Next time, maybe I’ll try a roll of paper towels.

Ed Ackerman