>>> Balls to the Wall
By staff writer Dan Opp
October 26, 2005

Dear Martina,

It’s about time you consider hanging up the racket. You were great in your prime and I thoroughly appreciated your game, but the twilight of your career has long since passed. I’ve expressed this to you several times before, but you don’t seem to have gotten the hint, so I felt the need to put it in writing.

At the outset of our careers, I was awe-struck by your grace and skill and I considered myself fortunate to be on the same court as you. Back then, your shots were firm and lively and I’d return them with a limp jab and a whimper. As our careers progressed, our matches became more passionate and my game improved greatly. Your bone-jarring overhead volleys were met with my hard ground strokes and emphatic grunts. Point after exhausting point left us panting and sweaty. When the match had concluded, we’d gather our things and leave the court, well content in the completion of a hard-fought match, no matter the victor, even though we both know that I could rarely finish you off.

The time flew by, and before I knew it, you were beginning to lose your edge. Your shots became soft and droopy, making it difficult for me to get into the match. I wanted to be upfront with you, so I let you know that I wasn’t enjoying our matches anymore. Believe me, I was more than relieved when you agreed we should look for other people to play tennis with.

I enjoyed my new-found freedom, only stopping by for a set or two when no one else was willing to play. As the frequency of our matches waned, you resorted to begging me to play, until I decided it would probably be for the best if we didn’t play tennis together anymore. You wanted to remain friends and I was cool with that as long as tennis was out of the picture. Again, you agreed.

The truth, however, was that you didn’t want me to be your friend. You wanted me to be your loyal tennis partner. Every time we hung out, you sent a few serves my way, but this only annoyed me. You wanted me to come over and play a set, but I declined. A few times you went so far as to drop by my house unexpectedly, grab my racket, and demand a match. Even then, I politely refused. Inside, I was screaming like John McEnroe, but tennis is a gentleman’s game and I tried my damnedest to play the part.

Despite my repeated refusals, you persisted, and I became increasingly annoyed. It’s no wonder that I’ve stopped returning your serves altogether. I never thought it was possible, but for a brief period of time, you turned me away from tennis entirely.

Thankfully, I got over it. Now, I need to move on once and for all and find a new tennis partner. I realize that this will leave me staring at a wall, hitting forehand winners by myself for a while, but if nothing else, it’s good practice. If you should choose to forge on with your tennis career, I hope you find future success or whatever it takes to get you to stop fucking calling me.