Tennis Prose



The doubles match at the park

They’re in the first game of the second set. Frank and Rob seem in trouble because it’s a long game and Rob seems to be getting on Frank a bit for some sloppy, nonchalant play.

Frank misses an easy ball. “I played an outball on the serve. Then (the return came slow, high and deep and) I was hoping it was going out.” It dropped in by two inches and Frank muffed the ball into the net. “I was stupid,” said Frank out loud.

His partner Rob is your standard retriever who can get everything back off both wings. He has good wheels, but lacks power though he makes up for it with a positive, passionate demeanor. You can tell he wants to win a little more than the rest but he never shows any hint of anger or frustration on the court. Rob is also a chatty talker during the battle and likes to grunt and make all kinds of different (and sometimes distracting) sounds and moans while hitting his shots. During the day Rob drives a PATH train for Port Authority in and out of Hoboken. He tells us stories sometimes about seeing the same people ride the train over the years, how the wannabe actors hopeful expressions of youth have eroded to being beaten by the years of rejection in the difficult world of the performance arts.

Frank, an easy going sort, can’t break an egg with his backhand but he has quick feet for a man over 60 and he will hustle down any and every ball. Frank can play better than this and Rob lets him know it, in a firm but helpful tone.

“Let’s go, duece,” says Rob.

Rob makes another nice shot, which provokes Frank to say, “Yeah, you’re on, you’re on. You’re on a time card.”

Rob chases down a tough ball and is able to throw up a high “lob, lob! Yes!” He shouts mid-point. Frank seems to become inspired by Rob’s personality, and ends the point and game with an overhead that clips the net cord and falls out of reach of Manny and Larry. It’s 1-0 for Frank and Rob, who edged the first set 6-4.

Frank, who runs his own art business and has done some singing in radio commercials and acting on Broadway, drives a motorcyle to the courts sometimes. Today the easy rider is wearing a yellow “1992 Long Island Marathon t-shirt.” He has a relative that was a former NHL linesman.

Their opponents Larry and Manny haven’t made a sound or said a word since I arrived. They are not showing good chemistry or belief.

In the second game of set two, Larry finally says something – he states the score, “Five-30.” The release seems to help. Larry then slams a winner at the net and it’s 5-40 on Frank’s serve. Manny misses an easy overhead wide to make it 30-40 but Larry’s deep ball forces Frank to net his shot. Frank is broken to level it at 1-1 and let’s out a non-hostile but frustrated, “Ahhh, f***.”

Larry is a former hobbyist marathon runner who is retired now. He’s called “The commissioner” because he’s the leader of these courts. His father is 96 years young and watching this match, on a Thursday afternoon, from court side. Larry has lost 25 pounds this year which has helped his movement, which has clearly benefitted his flat solid shotmaking. He is the most improved player at Overpeck Park so far in 2010.

Manny, the usually enthusiastic Korean, is serving at 1-1. But Manny is uncharacteristically flat today and Larry senses it. “Okay, Manny, can do, can do,” urges Larry trying to lift his partner, in the same kind of semi-broken English in which Manny speaks, along with Korean, some Spanish and Portugese. As Manny readies to serve he mutters what sounds like a complaint. He says he’s distracted by something today. It’s just not his day, he’s just not himself today.

Rob smells blood and shows no mercy. “Let’s go, concentrate,” he says to his partner Frank.

Manny fires a cross court forehand winner off the first ball of the first point. Then Frank misses one long and says to himself, “Come on, come on, concentrate there, boy.” 30-love for Manny.

Manny fixed up these courts this year by patching up the cracklines with concrete and also building a four-inch mini-dam which blocks the rain water from the adjacent soccer fields from flooding the courts. Manny once lived in Florianapolis, Brazil and two or three times a week, including today, wears his white Florianapolis T-shirt.

Manny typically is an emotional competitor who exudes a very positive presence, often announcing his signature,”We can do it! Yes we can!” line with a huge gleeful smile, when he senses he’s starting a comeback rally, which is quite often, because he’s not one of the stronger or quicker players and he’s often overmatched in his doubles matches. He’s a tough competitor though and he has good hands at net but also misses many easy shots at net by being too ambitious with his fancy angle volleys. When he misses, you will hear him say his oft used line, “Wossss Uuuuup?”

Today there will be no upset. Manny and Larry don’t have the mobility or consistency to deal with two talented retrievers like Rob and Frank. They battle to the end though and lose 6-4 6-4 in an entertaining, well-played match.

That’s Rob and Frank in the near court, the show court of Overpeck Park in Leonia, N.J.


  • John · August 20, 2010 at 3:30 am

    Enjoyed the story. Good description, good insight.

  • Dan Markowitz · August 20, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Any cover charge to these courts, Scoop? The free courts, where you don’t need a town pass, are disappearing around where I live. Even if they’re only hard courts located in a schoolyard, often there is an attendant who wants to collect for playing. Which I think stinks because tennis gained a lot of its popularity in the 70’s with free courts and easy access.

    Anyway, nice story, do you ever play with these guys or are you too good for them?

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 20, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Free courts, the law supposedly says in NJ that since it’s a public park they will remain free. I don’t remember the exact wording but the commissioner explained it once. Some other courts they do check for badges which cost about $20 for the summer. We have a lot of courts in our area which most are still free. I do play sometimes with these guys, which is like the B level. But mostly prefer to play with the A level but not all the A guys always come. Some good players here, former college players and tough competitors. A lot of characters. Last night I hit with a 15 yr old who plays nationals, and plays USTA 18s, and is clearly going for pro with his ambitious father behind the wheel. The sage who coached his two daugthers to tennis glory – state champ and #1 singles at Yale, beleives the kid can make it, he has a chance to make it. He beat me 21-16 last night and 61 62 on Monday. It’s a good scene for tennis, always people there ready to play pick up tennis, it’s mostly the same players and some semi-regulars. They just built six beautiful new courts a mile away on the new half of the park but all the players still come to the old side. People love it there. You should come down some time.

  • Dan Markowitz · August 20, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    Yeah, like to, but can you believe it, foot doctor says I have acute achilles tendinitis and gave me this boot that goes all the way to my knee. He wants me to wear it and basically nothing else. It immobilizes the foot and heel so I can’t move them at all. That’s the only way I can heel. I’ve had this sucker for more than a year.

    But I’m too active and I’m going to the Cape and then the US Open after that and then my cycle trip from CO to CA, so I’ll start wearing the boot in Nov.
    But I’m not playing much tennis now except for with Callum.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 20, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    You were on your A game up in Newport though, you will beat these injuries for sure. Maybe try those Nike Ballistec 2.3, whenever I put the new ones on the places in my heel that hurt from using the old shoes, seems to go away. I recommend those shoes, they are very comfortable and durable and excellent for sensitive feet of court runners who put their feet through hell like us.



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