"Out!" my opponent called.
Darn.I needed that serve. When the score is 5-4 in my favor and I'm serving, winningthat game means winning the set. In this case, it would mean winning the match.
I lined up to serve again. My first was hard and powerful, close to 100miles per hour, and my second had a kick to it, just enough to take the ball outof my opponent's power zone and force him to hit a defensive return. I only got36 percent of my first serves in usually, but I knew my second serve wassomething I could always fall back on.
I tossed the ball up and behind me,arched my back, flexed my knees and swung my racket at the spinning yellowsphere. The ball flew over the net and bit the inside corner of the service box.A perfect second serve. He returned it to my backhand and the point began.
Idrove my backhand down the line to his forehand. He returned it cross-court,landing a bit short of the middle service line and forcing me off the court.Barely getting it back, I turned to see him running toward the net. I didn't likethe look on his face, even though I had seen it often during that match. He hadthat "bring-it-on, I-can-take-anything- you-could-possibly-throw-at-me"look. I scrambled to get back to the middle as he hit a high shot that bouncedright on the paint of the baseline.
"No problem," I said quietly asI chased it down. But it kicked up high and traveled very far, very fast, veryunexpectedly. Before I knew it, I was running into the curtain only inches infront of the ball. I stuck my racket up and gave it a small thrust forward. Icould tell it would be just enough to get it over the net. I scrambled out of thecurtain and saw my opponent standing and watching my ball come toward him. Fromfive feet behind the baseline, I saw his grip change and racket rise as heprepared to drop it gently over the net. I sprinted as fast as my legs couldcarry me.
As the baseline passed beneath my feet, I saw the ball leave hisstrings. I still don't know how I managed to reach it but the next thing I knewmy racket reached out, barely getting under the ball before its second bounce. Aflick of the wrist and the ball was sailing up high in what I hoped would be alob, but it was too shallow.
Now I was standing four feet from the net, and Iwas in big trouble. His racket went over his back as he prepared to smash theball into my court to win the point. My real cause for concern was not this,however, but the position of his feet. The way they were - at a 45-degree angle -the overhead he was planning would probably end up down my throat. All I could dowas stand there and watch.
I compare that moment to looking down the barrel ofa rocket launcher. The ball reached its apex and began to drop. His feet shuffleda bit. I might as well have painted a big target on my forehead, because that wasall I was.
As the ball started its descent, I began to back pedal. I knewthere was no hope of escaping, but the more distance I put between us, the moretime I had to stick my racket out to block it. I couldn't react that fast. Theball was almost at his racket. I stopped and split my feet apart, ready to move.His racket reached out for the ball. Everything happened in slow motion. Hisracket ripped through the air toward the ball, and the sound of strings-on-feltresonated in the empty room.
I blinked. My opponent was walking back to thebaseline with his hands in the air. The ball rolled from his side of the net tothe service line. He couldn't have missed it! The shot had looked perfect!Somehow, he had managed to slam the ball downward into the net and given me thepoint. I walked to the net to retrieve the ball and smiled as I saw tiny bits offelt flutter from the impact that had ended a point I'd never forget.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.