September 02, 2006

My Victorious U.S. Open Tennis Match

With this week's U.S. Open tennis coverage of past matches due to rain, I recall my victorious tennis match there. It was the mid-1970s, and I was a wee lad, a "junior" in tennis terms. The Open was played at the esteemed West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, NY, just a few miles from its current location in the less fortunately named Flushing Meadows.

I remember walking around the arched ground level of the stadium before match time. In addition to the crowds lined up for food and souvenirs, I spotted a distinct queue. All heads were turned, and all necks were craned, toward the front of the line. I went to take a look, and saw a most unusual singles match being played. It took place on a table top about five feet long and three feet wide, with a net in the middle. It looked like a miniature ping pong table. However, instead of paddles, the two players each had a plastic spring-loaded cannon that they slid back and forth along their baseline to try and hit a small, heavy-looking ball over the net at each other. The table was raised in the center and sloped down at each end. Around the table was a green and white display with the words "Zing Tennis!" There were also some t-shirts hanging on the display, which matched the sign. One of the two players was a teenage girl decked out in Zing Tennis gear.

I asked someone what was going on, and was told that the line was to play the newfangled game against the Zing Tennis rep, and if you won, you got a Zing Tennis t-shirt. Since we were a bit early for the matches and this seemed like a fun game, and what kid didn't want a new t-shirt, I got in line with my friend. The line proceeded reasonably swiftly. Each new player practiced against the rep for a minute or two, then began playing. The rep was very competitive, and beat nearly everyone within a few minutes. Apparently, she did not have many t-shirts to give away, or maybe she just did not like losing. Eventually, it became almost time for the tennis matches to begin, so I started getting antsy.

Some time later, the kid in front of me took his turn. But instead of the usual cursory warmup period, he took his time, practicing every shot like the tennis players on the other side of the stadium entrance tunnels. So I turned to my friend, and said, rather loudly, "I hate it when someone hogs the game while a lot of people are waiting to play." The teenage rep glared at me and, in a rather unfriendly tone, said, "I hate it when someone complains about others taking too much time, then they take too much time themselves." I replied, "just for that, I'm going to beat you."

Finally, it was my turn to play. Under pressure from the Zing Tennis rep and the crowd that had heard our exchange, I practiced with her for just a moment, then said, "let's play." I had never before seen, let alone played, Zing Tennis. But then something happened that only happens to most people a few times in their lives. I got into the Zone. It's one of those feelings where you get in an ultra-relaxed state, tuning out everything around you except the task at hand, and can do no wrong. Elite athletes get into this peak state on occasion, when they win tournaments and set world records, and then wonder how the hell to replicate it.

The game lasted only a few minutes. I still recall a number of the shots. Like ping ping, the goal is to hit the ball over the net. But instead of bouncing when it lands, the heavy wooden ball rolls quickly down your side of the table. You have to slide your shooter right over to where the ball is coming and time your return shot precisely, all in a split second. It is also possible to put a spin on the ball by sliding the shooter ever so slightly to one side or another at the moment of impact. Somehow, I was able to do all of this instinctively.

When I won the final point, I pumped my fist and yelled "yesss!" The crowd cheered. The rep sneered. She turned around, grabbed a neatly folded Zing Tennis t-shirt, and shoved it at me. Victory was sweet. Victory was mine.

I don't think the Zing Tennis tabletop game sold well, if at all. But I proudly wore my Zing Tennis t-shirt for many years, until one day, shrunken and riddled with holes, it simply expired.


At 8:30 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

Are you saying you were a tennis champion? Did you ever think about going pro? You could be going through hell right now just like Agassi is...


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