Tennis is not the only sport with skew angles. Pool has skew angles and spin and backspin. But pool is murk, pool is cramped in the dark. Soccer has geometry and passing shots, but teams, not individual players like tennis. Soccer has sun, like tennis, but also many violences. Football has an ugly sound on TV in the afternoon in a care home. Football is crippling and chunky, as is rugby. Basketball has leaps, suavity, fingertips on pebbled rubber and rubber through a net. But mainly interiors again, mainly night. Cricket has too many points and a bat like a headstone. Baseball has a prospect: all that land. And baseball has apartness, like tennis, but long periods of time where nothing happens, and also that situation of so many players and the sitting and the spitting. Tennis has brutal match lengths and returns and apartness and ongoingness and sunshine. It has one player as an intelligence moving around in space. It has elegance and wreckage and bad manners.
When you were grocery shopping on any Tuesday last winter, the tennis tour was going on. When you were throwing jacks as a child. Years before your player—the player you follow—was born, the tour was going on. The tour was on while you were getting married, dissecting a pig, learning to drive. While you were losing your virginity, the tour was going on, well lit, with player check-ins, catering, ticketing. Workers were misting the clay on the clay courts. Grass courts were seeded, grew, withered, grew again, were watered, were clipped. Stadiums razed, built anew. Roofs that close over stadiums, allowing play to continue if it rains, engineered and installed. The tour was never not going on. Even as you stood in the office supply choosing a lamp bright enough for your father to read his newspaper in the care home.
The served ball comes at your player with rageful intent: its m.p.h. could burn a hole in a racket head. And your player steps up and takes all the rate off it. Your player is your player because no other player reshapes force in quite this way, linking racket tilt and footwork, calibrating wrist swivel by intuitive degree, coordinating approach and angle. It is as if with bare hands your player has stopped a meteor, changing certain destruction into: Here we are sailing on a summer afternoon.
Suddenly you are in an alternate present. The ball is tracing a graceful arc back over the net. It is a kind of communication, your player’s return: a flirting. I’ve ignored that you tried to kill me, says your player’s impossibly gentle slice, and I like you. Tennis is not only sport but spell. By changing force, your player reshapes time.
In the six hours it takes to drive to your father in the care home, you have changed. You are no longer a mother with a young child, a woman who left a child home with a spouse and drove across two states to visit a father. You are not a person using a large and powerful machine to move at high speed, changing lanes, crossing bridge spans. An adult with full agency, pulling off at food courts, returning to a vehicle, the owner of a windshield, bumpers, fuel injectors, a steering column—you are not. You are not the purchaser and owner of ten gallons of gasoline, let alone the owner of two dogs in a city two states to the east. You no longer have a city. You are an annoying thirteen-year-old girl. You hand your father his newspaper. He bats you away like a mosquito.
The expressionless ball kid runs expressionlessly crosscourt between points, retrieving balls then kneeling, still. So still as to never have drawn breath: an ancient icon, a carving. Neither lighting up at nor regarding with enmity or appreciation or excitement or admiration or intimidatedness, or any other lifelike aspect, your player.
When ball kids move, they move obviously, to prove, in peripheral vision, that they are not birds or food wrappers or a hat in wind. They toss balls without opinion. They ask their single question with the position of their arms, straight out, semaphores.
Ball kids exist not only to supply your player with balls but also to shade (with umbrella) and guard (insofar as a child can guard) your player, who may ask for another water and another, more bananas, more ice. The inscrutable ball kids can deliver, should you wish, and your player does sometimes, an espresso on court. It will be hot.
You stand at the ATM as your father withdraws from his pocket his checkbook, into which he has intricately folded his deposit slip. A car pulls up behind your car and idles. As you helped your father out the passenger side, he gripped a handle over the door you never noticed before was there: he must have conjured it. More cars pull up behind the car behind your car, idling, waiting. You avert your eyes while your father punches in his secret code, as though you had not, minutes ago, seen him naked as his aide assisted him out of pajamas and into clothes.
The small amount, whatever it is, is sucked from his fingers. Next comes the job of getting him back in the passenger side. The line of waiting cars purrs. No one honks. No one lowers a window and swears. There is a bit of mercy here, and even a roof (it has begun to rain). There is some grace, but will you manage to slow the speed of your existence so that it matches your father’s grinding slowness? Your jaw aches.