Tennis Stories: The Sub

There are moments that stand out for the wrong reasons.  The strangest and most cringe-worthy moment of my 33-year tennis career happened when I was subbing.  

Tennis can be an expensive sport.  Lessons cost money, court time can cost money, tennis equipment is not cheap, tournaments cost money, leagues are not free … Subbing is generally one of the most positive experiences a player can have.  A sub is liked/welcomed because a league match can go on when it would otherwise have been canceled.  The sub normally gets to play for free no matter how nice the tennis facility is.  Tennis subs benefit from the classic win-win situation.  Except when they don’t.

The Call

I was dating Michele, now my wife, in 2004 when I received a frantic call from the tennis club to which I belonged.  They had a doubles pair who was preparing for a national USTA clay court 50 and Over tournament.  The pair was willing to pay for anyone to come out and play with them before they flew out of town for the match.  Michele and I had lunch plans, but I called to ask if she wanted to watch me play tennis before lunch.  I figured no matter how good these guys were being half their age meant that I might look good for Michele.  It would be a fun way for her to see me doing something I love.  Michele thought it sounded like fun too.  I called back and was in for helping some fellow club members get ready for a national event.

The Partner

Sometimes doubles teams are thrown together in a haphazard manner.  I am also not sure what else could have been going on on this fine spring day, but I am guessing my partner and I were the only two people who said yes to the frantic calls from the tennis club.  My partner and I were roughly the same combined age as the team we were prepping.  I was 28 and my partner was 85-years-old.  Our opponents were both in their 50s.

One of our opponents knew the man who had crafted my game because they had both played together on the Satelite Tour.  I was a bit worried.  A former minor league pro was on the other team.  My partner seemed to cover very little ground in the warm-up.  We were playing on clay which is my worst surface (I’ve never played on grass, but I will just assume it can’t be worse for my attacking game than clay is).  A recipe for a royal beating in front of my true love was coming to fruition before my very eyes.  That turned out to be the least of my worries.

The Quote

Michele decided to sit courtside for the match on one of the benches between the clay courts.  All three of the other participants took time talking to Michele after we warmed up.  My non-former satellite playing opponent asked Michele what she did for a living.  Michele answered and asked what he did.  He said, “I’m a salesman.”  She asked what he sold.

Then it happened.  Words etched into my mind as I listened in horror to what seemed like a pretty standard question.

“I’ve sold everything but drugs at some point in my life.  I’ve even been a flesh peddler.  But I’ve been saved for 15-years so I don’t pimp anymore.”

“Flesh-peddler” “pimp” !?!?!?!?!?!?!

These are not terms I have ever heard anyone use to describe previous employment in any setting.  I could not read Michele’s exact thoughts, but she appeared to be more stunned than I was.  Subbing … why did I say yes to subbing?

The Drop Shot(s)

The match was a general destruction.  My partner did not move more than one foot in any direction the entire match and hit serves that would not get speeding tickets.  I was probably the second best player of our foursome.  The former satellite tour player was amazing, and his best shot was a drop shot.  His second best shot was his lob.  The flesh peddler was okay from what I recall but nothing special as a tennis player.

The problem was I think they enjoyed me being in my 20s.  Many drop shots and angle volleys were hit that I could reach that were only followed up by lobs many of which I reached.  I wanted to impress Michele so I was going to run for everything, but when I reached a lob normally another drop shot or angle volley followed.  If I reached that, I was not going to reach the second lob.  This was especially true on clay where I find changing directions to be particularly tricky.  Anytime we got any traction in the match, they would direct all of their shots to my partner or the former satellite player would just up the level of his shot-making.

What I thought would be a fun time playing on really nice clay courts for free turned into an exercise in seeing how much my legs and lungs could take after a pervy man told the person I would go on to marry that he used to be a pimp.

Yes, subbing is generally a win-win situation, but every now and then it can go very, very wrong.  The good news is that Michele and I get a laugh out of the term “flesh peddler” to this day so he did give us 15 years and counting of laughs.



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