Tennis Prose




Nov/10

15

Challenged by the “Chess Master”


While on changeover during playing with a friend at the Washington Bridge Courts in Washington Heights, I ran over to the two guys playing next to us to give them tennis-prose.com cards.

We chatted for a few minutes. Then something new happened to me. I was challenged on the spot by a stranger to a tennis match. Roman was his name. He expressed a desire to play me in a match, arrogantly and firmly adding that he would beat me “6-0 6-0” and that they would “teach you how to play tennis over here.” It wasn’t said with any insult, just total supreme confidence. He had observed my game and concluded he could beat me with ease.

Whoa. Talk about a verbal and psychological slap across the face! Roman could not have disrespected me any more than that, is what I told my friend/girl that night.

So I pull out Roman’s business card and we set up a game for Saturday. The card’s top line reads, “NATIONAL CHESS MASTER”, PROFESSIONAL CHESS/COACH/INSTRUCTOR. What comes to mind is the chess master episode on “Columbo” – “The Most Dangerous Match.” I remember the massive ego of the murderous chess champion and how superior in the mind he believed he was. I actually see similar qualities of this in my new friend Roman.

We meet at 11. I expect Roman to play slow, smart tennis and wait for me to make all the errors. And that’s exactly what happens. He doesn’t hit with pace and runs down every ball. At 56 he is in phenomenal shape and appears to be in his 40’s.

But Roman is in for a surprise. I love to play no-pace, 30-plus shot rally tennis. Patience is practically my middle name in tennis, it’s the foundation of my game.

Roman defers serve to me and I hold easily. Eventually I build a 5-1 lead. Roman is lefty, patient and smart but I surmise quickly that he doesn’t have enough variety or surprise shots in his arsenal. But he is a fighter with a vast array of psychological ploys in his bag of tricks. Constantly he commends me how smart I play, how he loves the way I play. During the match he must have yelled two full pages of comments and compliments, including:

“You play very smart, I love the way you play.”

“Nobody here plays smart like you. Everybody here makes the mistakes.”:

“Even if you win today, you will not beat me in five sets, that is the true test, to win a five set match. I can play eight hours a day.”

“Did I make you tired?”

About three times he tries to aggravate me after my missed shots by saying how smart I am. I missed the shot but he’s telling me how smart I am. Classic reverse insult.

There was so much more but I tried to tune it all out and ignore it. I told him on a changeover, I know you are trying to get in my head and distract me with all you’re talking but it’s not going to work. He kept on talking and raising his voice. Not insulting but more like a coach, like the master of the court, trying to make me look and feel like the inferior subordinate. But I know how to deal with that.

Keep playing smart, slow-ball tennis and wait for the right time to attack. Roman can’t generate his own pace and he does not like to have to try to hit the pass, especially wide in the backhand alley where his slice is a defensive shot. I release my built up intensity with some lion roars at the right moments.

At 5-1 he is down 0-40 but comes back and wins the game and he is ecstatic about it, yelling and celebrating. But I buckle down and close out the set.

I build a 5-3 lead in the second set but now, realizing he’s at the edge of the cliff, the chess master applies all his focus abilities on the task at hand. No more talk, no more gamesmanship. He is dead serious now. He gathers himself and slows down, he pauses. He’s going to give it his last push to try and win.

The chess master is a fighter. It’s very rare that some players can suddenly play their best tennis when they are on the brink of defeat. Roman is one of those players who is hard to kill. He breaks me to get it to 4-5. I then get a match point but he counters my return back at my feet which I awkwardly hit long. He eventually wins that game, 5-5. I’m not upset or shocked but a little annoyed I let him off the hook. We get delayed when a girl walks on the court, to talk to the people next to us, then another person comes in for water at the fountain: all in all, a three-minute delay.

I decide to hit my serves harder now instead of just putting them in the box. The extra speed causes his return to miss wide. 15-0. Then I serve a perfect ace down the tee. 30-love. A forehand winner. Then another service winner, to take the 6-5 lead. My best game of the match couldn’t have come at a better time. Roman comments, “You served better that game.” He was very surprised that I held serve so easily after blowing the last two games. Frankly, so was I actually.

I ride the momentum wave. First point of the next game I decide to surprise him again, with a drop shot off the return to his forehand, which he shovels two feet long. 0-15. Next point I throw up high lobs which are tough for him because he’s facing south, directly into the sun. He misses a shot long. 0-30. He nets an easy forehand. 0-40. Match point. Another rally and he hits another forehand long.

Great match. We shake hands and commend each other for our fitness and fighting spirits. Roman expresses that he would like to play matches against me for years to come. He is one of the toughest, smartest competitors I ever played. He has no weapons but he is a difficult player to overcome. Playing Roman, is like playing chess on the tennis court…it’s always going to be a psychological battle with many, many long points, and various probes for weaknesses. We talk about tennis in general, he has a very impressive passion and knowledge of tennis and the professional game which I would categorize him as an expert who loves the sport as much as anyone I know. It’s a very nice pleasure to make a new tennis friend like Roman.

One thing is for sure though, I will never attempt to play Roman in chess.

7 comments

  • Dan Markowitz · November 15, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Geez Scoop, if you’re having trouble beating a 56 yr old chess player, it might be time for you to start exploring playing other sports like shuffleboard and tiddlywinks.

  • Richard Pagliaro · November 15, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    I want to be there to do pre and post-match interviews with the two combatants. Something tells me the rematch will be like Pacquiao vs. Margarito (hopefully without the hospitalization ramifications).
    This guy must be super confident. I can’t imagine trash talking someone I had never played to the tune of 6-0, 6-0, but then again I got beat by a 9-year-old in a game of Hangman yesterday (had to resort to “Gravitas” and “vendetta” to save face and take the 2 rematch games).
    Then again, I can envision our own Red Baron in his prime taking players to the proverbial shed before the first ball was struck.
    Reflecting on the Magnus Norman-Robin Soderling and Roger Rasheed-Gael Monfils coaching pairings during the Paris final, I thought about dream coach-player pairings.
    How about own Dan M and DY – I see a beneficial pairing in that Red primarily favors plays with some feel, flair and net skills (though he’s also gone on record as a big Vince, Soderling and Fabio Fognini fan and none of those 3 are reminiscent of Rafter around net) and though you don’t see DY at net a lot he can play there. Clearly, DY needs to get tougher, more physically fit, gain greater discipline and start playing with some ferocity and fire on court – all qualities hot yoga studio guru Red, who spends his spare time running marathons and biking from Colorado to California, has in abundance (see Red getting physical even with Hall of Famers when he nailed Connors point-blank with an overhead – an action that drew dire retribution from the Belleville blaster).
    DY, do us all a favor and get Red in your corner. We figure he’s worth a few points a match – according to Marat Safin’s post US Open remarks a few years back – just by bellowing in his authoritative voice from the player box. Plus, both Dan and DY like to wear their baseball caps slightly askew in the young hipster affectation style.

  • Richard Pagliaro · November 15, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    When the rematch comes, I want to be there to do pre and post-match interviews with the two combatants. Something tells me the rematch will be like Pacquiao vs. Margarito (hopefully without the hospitalization ramifications).
    This guy must be super confident. I can’t imagine trash talking someone I had never played to the tune of 6-0, 6-0, but then again I got beat by a 9-year-old in a game of Hangman yesterday (had to resort to “Gravitas” and “vendetta” to save face and take the 2 rematch games).
    Then again, I can envision our own Red Baron in his prime taking players to the proverbial shed before the first ball was struck.
    Reflecting on the Magnus Norman-Robin Soderling and Roger Rasheed-Gael Monfils coaching pairings during the Paris final, I thought about dream coach-player pairings.
    How about own Dan M and DY – I see a beneficial pairing in that Red primarily favors plays with some feel, flair and net skills (though he’s also gone on record as a big Vince, Soderling and Fabio Fognini fan and none of those 3 are reminiscent of Rafter around net) and though you don’t see DY at net a lot he can play there. Clearly, DY needs to get tougher, more physically fit, gain greater discipline and start playing with some ferocity and fire on court – all qualities hot yoga studio guru Red, who spends his spare time running marathons and biking from Colorado to California, has in abundance (see Red getting physical even with Hall of Famers when he nailed Connors point-blank with an overhead – an action that drew dire retribution from the Belleville blaster).
    DY, do us all a favor and get Red in your corner. We figure he’s worth a few points a match – according to Marat Safin’s post US Open remarks a few years back – just by bellowing in his authoritative voice from the player box. Plus, both Dan and DY like to wear their baseball caps slightly askew in the young hipster affectation style.

  • Dan Markowitz · November 15, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    I if I were to be named coached of DY as of this afternoon, DY currently ranked No. 132 in the world, loser to Jesse Witten, 6-2 in third at Knoxville last week, would be in top 100 at year’s end. I guarantee it. Are you reading this DY? I know you read this blog. How could you not if you’re involved in tennis, you follow the game.

    That’s the problem, you’re following the game right now, after working with me, you’d be playing the game, dude. No more Burger King brekkies, that’s right, I saw you wolfing down some breakfast burrito in Newport a couple of years ago. It’d be Bikram Yoga in the morning, breakfast protein shake, three hours on the court in the afternoon, turkey on whole wheat and salad, followed by sprint and weight work, with salmon and glass of red wine and grapes for dinner. Then we’d do session of creative visualization, pray, and go to bed by 9. Next day we do same thing, but we bring in some old Aussie pro to work on your footwork to net, a volley coach, and we get you in the best shape of your life, and you’ll be spitting out opponents.

    No more pussy-footing around. Your going nowhere on a slow boat right now. If you want to change course, and fulfill your potential, get into the tennis trenches where you belong, bypass pretenders to your manifest destiny, like Ryan Harrison, then contact me at the Bikram Yoga Norwalk (CT.) studio. I’ll come out of my sivasana, sweating and ready to take you to the top.

    By the by, how about Nick Monroe getting to the semis of the Knoxville Challenger. This guy played in the Open qualifiers a couple of years ago, he’s about 24, skinny black guy, a real hustler, ranked like 500, but he had his best showing since I’ve been watching him. Nishikori beat a hot Kendrick to win the event.

    What happens to Melanie Oudin last year and Ryan Harrison this year? After their breakout showings at the Open, they both underwhelm the rest of the respective years.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 15, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Dan this guy is a very tough player! Very smart, very fit, very good mover, you would have trouble to beat him. Very strong player, every ball comes back and he’s quick. Excellent coaching blueprint for DY Dan. I hear boxing trainers say today’s young boxers don’t really listen to coaches. Back even in the Tyson early days, Tyson said he would listen and do everything Cus told him to. Today, the youth are not like that. I get a sense DY is hard-headed and won’t listen. This is why he is stagnating. I truly believe Dan that you would be a positive coach for DY and with your ideas and suggestions would make him more successful. Excellent read.

  • Dobey · November 21, 2010 at 4:25 am

    Scoop, What you should do with Roman is challenge him to a chess match with one condition: There is no time clock. Then you take an hour between moves, and loudly devour snack food while you are thinking up your next movie. It will drive Roman crazy. And he can not demand that you make a move because the rules allow you to take your time. It is called giving him a taste of his own medicine.
    I met a Russian chess guy a few years ago and he said chess has some similarities to tennis in that you are constantly going from offense to defense. He said that there are no similarities between chess and golf because the concept of offense and defense is nonexistent in golf. The guy did say that he imagined that lining up and plotting a putt in a big spot was probably similar to a chess player thinking of how to make a critical move at a big spot in a chess match.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 21, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    LOL. Pretty funny Dobey. Thanks for the astute advice but I’m not up to the task. I lost all confidence in my ability at chess, lost 10 straight times to a friendgirl four years ago. The last two I basically had her checkmate and somehow managed to blow the games. In chess I feel like a fighter who got knocked out 10 times in a row. It’s time to look for another game when you lose by KO ten times a row. I feel worse at chess than RIP does volleying at net. But thanks for the attempted help Dobey : )

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