Facebook says we became friends six years ago, but I’ve known Scott a lot longer (since 2004 perhaps). Anyway, I remember the first time I met him…
I didn’t know him back then, but we were both members at the Tega Cay Tennis Club. I knew his wife Susan because she and I both worked at Microsoft. When she learned I was a tennis player, she asked if I’d met her husband Scott. I told her “No,” but that I knew we’d eventually meet playing at the same club…
Fast forward to the first “Compass Draw” Tournament (for time and length’s sake, I’ll spare the description, but you can find one here). When I looked at the draw to see who I’d be playing next, I saw his name and thought, “Oh, he must be Susan’s husband.”
Soon afterward, my name was called to go to Court #2, the second of two show courts and the site of some pretty epic matches. I asked, “Where’s my opponent?” The tournament director replied, “He’s on the court waiting for you.” I thought, “Hmmm, okay, this guy’s not out here socializing, he’s strictly business.”
As I headed down the steps of the observation deck and toward the court, I looked through the fence and saw him loosening up. Though he appeared to be very fit, he was shorter than I, and old enough to be my dad. As I entered through the gate and made my way to the bench, my opponent greeted me with a warm smile, a husky, “Hello, Scott F” (last name withheld), and a firm handshake. I replied in kind, “Matt Talford, very nice to meet you Scott! I work with your wife at Microsoft. She’s told me a lot about you.”
After the exchange of pleasantries, he headed to the baseline on his side to begin the pre-match warmup. I finished organizing my bag, water bottles, towel, etc, and headed toward the baseline on my side. Next, in a moment of over-evaluation-of-self-worth-fueled-by-youthful-ignorance, I said to myself, “Man, this dude is shorter than me and old enough to be my dad! Plus he’s over there bouncing around like he’s Rocky and I’m Apollo. HA! Normally, I would toy with a guy carrying on like that, but because I know his wife and she’s one of the sweetest people you’d ever want to meet, I’m going to have mercy on him and get him out of here quickly and expeditiously!”
Now anyone who’s ever studied the game of tennis knows that all of the literature suggests that for players you’ve never played against or seen before, you should try to pick up cues about their game, style, tendencies, etc, during the warmup. Well, nothing about our warm-up suggested this match would be any challenge for me at all, which served to further inflate my sense of how easily I would dominate the match.
Finally, one of us (I don’t recall which) spun his racquet to determine who would serve first. It was long enough ago now that I don’t remember who won the spin, or if I or he chose to serve first, but knowing my state of mind that day, it would be safe to assume that if I won the spin, I chose to receive…“He can move his serve around the box, but it doesn’t have enough pace to concern me… I should break his serve every single time!” I probably thought.
Well, Dear Reader… I would love to further excite you with tantalizing commentary of exciting shots, high intensity point play, exasperating scrambles to retrieve expertly timed and placed drop shots (and there were those), but suffice it to say I got my butt handed to me that day.
Not only did Scott cover the full width of the court with a speed that would have him labeled “a defensive scrambler,” whenever he had to pick up a stray ball from off the court, he would literally sprint over to it, then sprint back to the baseline (most people just walk to retrieve balls)! It was then that I realized the whole “Rocky” act was no act at all!
It was on that day that I learned the value of respecting every opponent, regardless of their outward appearance. Scott surprised me with his speed, skill, craftiness and consistency that day. We battled ferociously in what ultimately became the first of many epic tennis matches (we still play occasionally all these years later). Scott went on to win that match in straight sets. Though I don’t exactly remember the score, I want to say he won it rather easily, besting me something like 6-1, 6-3. He was the perfect gentleman after the match, thanking me for what he called one of the most fun and sportsmanlike matches he’d ever played. (Though considered a gentleman’s sport, tennis is not short on unsportsmanlike conduct–namely cheating on line calls.)
Scott and I became friends that day; and though time and circumstance have affected how much we get to see each other, we still find time to occasionally get out and punish that little yellow ball!
If you’ve never tried tennis, I highly recommend you find a local club or coach and try it out. Not only is it a fun way to shed the excess pounds; it is also a game you can play all of your days (physical health permitting). And who knows? You might just meet a new friend!
Matt D. Talford is the author of “From Fear to Faith: A Survivor’s Story,” a saga that chronicles a difficult chapter in his life where faith and the game of tennis helped him maintain focus while battling one of the toughest opponents anyone might ever face. (Available now in paperback, Kindle and iBooks.)
“Rocky” and “Apollo” are references to the Hollywood classic movie series, “Rocky”.