I gazed into the crowd filled stadium. Their cheers seeped into my skin, leaving a sweet taste in my mouth. I took in a refreshing breath. I was ready, physically and mentally.
I swung my racket while looking over to my opponent. Jan-Michael Gambill from the professional circuit. He tipped his ball cap in my direction.
Even though I was the underdog in the match I was excited to give it my all. The phrase, “Just because he’s strong doesn’t mean he can’t be beat,” echoed in my ears. I wanted to take my passion and let it trump logic. Beat the odds.
Feeling pumped, I jogged in place on the green court to warm my blood and loosen my muscles.
“Play!” The chair umpire said.
Jan-Mike had the first serve. I gripped in my ready position, eyes on the ball. It launched over to my side with speed. I volleyed it back then centered myself for the next hit. The crowd clapped and fueled my desire for another successful slam.
My backhand swing returned the ball and the throng of people yelled their surprise. “Ya, Max!”
The commentator declared, “We’ve got ourselves a game.”
I didn’t want to loose my momentum. My next hit came out with a grunt.
Jan-Michael missed it.
“Ooh,” pinged off the walls of the crowd as the ball barely hit over the baseline.
Every moment counted.
The ball torpedoed back at me. I hurried and loaded my weight onto my back foot and coiled for extra torque.
The crowd went silent.
Okay, okay, it didn’t go like that. I didn’t play Jan-Michael Gambill, but it was just about as intense.
It was the high school championship. The announcer listed off my opponent’s name but I couldn’t remember it. All I saw was purple and I preferred Mustang royal blue. The Sting Rays were undefeated so I had to make sure I played my best game.
I had the serve. I extended my right arm in the air and tossed the ball up. I swung hard and ball flew over the net with sharpness. I heard my mom yell, “That’s the way to do it.”
My shoes squeaked as I dashed across the green court hitting the ball. Our volleying back and forth left us out of breath. Backhand, forehand, all holding the grip with strength. And then–I missed the ball.
I had to win, for me, for my team.
With my hands clenching the racket, I focused my eyes. My heartbeat erratic. When I saw his arm straighten, I sank into a squat for more spring. The ball launched in my direction but the officiator yelled, “Foot fault.”
Relief emptied my lungs. I had the control again. The pressure to succeed crowded around me like the fence lining the court. To my right my teammate, Chuck battled for his own win but I had to ignore his game.
I served and my opponent missed. An easy point. I made another point and another. Confidence swelled in my head as I won the first set, but then the second set went in his favor.
I glanced over at Chuck’s scoreboard, he lost his match. Additional weight sat on my shoulders, I took in a deep breath and my head spun. I started seeing spots, big enough spots that I worried I wouldn’t be able to tell which one was a ball.
Alright, Alright, I exaggerated. I wasn’t in the state championship game, but I did go and watch it. Our high school barely won.
I actually played ping pong with my younger brother, Tyrell, but my dad was watching the Wimbledon match on TV.
My hits did hurl over the tiny net with speed, and we did volley back and forth before either one of us scored. There were enough times that we fought over the rules that we needed a referee.
“Quiet!” My dad yelled a few times, but it only fueled our disagreements.
Even though Tyrell was younger, he won most games so I was still the underdog. I wanted to flip the script and finally gain the title of ‘Champion,’ but it was like my paddle had holes in it. The ball slipped passed me too many times. Here it was my turn to tear through the opening before me, I had to be serious and hit with skill to come off conqueror.
I crouched over the table in my position for victory. This was it, I just knew it.
The white ball zipped over the net and hit me.
“Ow, my eye. You idiot.” I yelped.
My dad flew off the couch. “That’s it! Give me the ball.”
Tyrell laughed, “Don’t ask Max to get it. He can’t see a ball even when it hits him in the face.”
“Funny!” I yelled as my eye watered.
“And the game goes on,” Tyrell said as he walked off into his bedroom.