Throwing down the Gauntlet

The lanky German kid stormed into the local pub and pushed his way past a few drunk regulars.  He made his way towards the familiar meeting table where all frustrated racket wielders went.

As he lumbered along in a gait similar to that which he carried on a court, his boyish facial features – he was barely a man – scrunched up into a frown that was hardly intimidating, even if that was the intent.  Apart from his height, nothing else about this kid was intimidating at first glance.  However, those who’d seen him play knew.  They knew what lay beneath the boyish looks, youthful golden brown hair and rather lean frame.  A future champion, and a rising star.  He of the next generation.

He took his seat beside a few of his peers gathered at the table.  The wooden surface was littered with bottles of beer and tall glass mugs of the same.  Smoke hung precariously in mid air like an alien weather system threatening precipitation unknown.  The kid kicked a racket leaning on the worn down wall and poured some beer into an empty mug undoubtedly reserved for him.

“Hey… what’s the matter?  I thought this was a celebration.  You’ve grabbed four titles this year… that can’t be said for most of us.”

The kid looked at Mr. Perfect hair who flashed him a well practiced old school smile and took a sip out of his own beer mug.

“Welcome to the club, pal.”  The Bulgarian imposter said while rubbing a hand through a shock of black hair.

“Oh please.  Don’t lump me in with the likes of you.  I’m not like either of you.  I’m better.”  The German kid sneered in a shrill voice.

“Oh really?”  The Austrian interjected as he loudly smacked on a chewing gum.  “Two Grand Slam semifinal appearances right here.”  He said in a slightly cocky tone.

“Same here.”  The Bulgarian imposter said with a cheeky smile.

“How about… one Grand Slam final?”  Mr. Perfect hair said.  He took another casual sip from his beer mug.

“Why are you sipping beer like it’s tea?” Little Nicky said.

He leaned back in his chair with that familiar and rather annoying “I don’t care what the world thinks of me” facial expression.

“Hey mate!  He’s Canadian.  What do you expect?!”  Tennis’s number one hater yelled in drunken Aussie accented English.

“Um… you two do know you are hated by just about every tennis fan on earth… right?”  The quiet Croat chimed in.

Number one hater jabbed his thumb in midair, pointing at the quiet Croat.

“You should hate yourself, mate!  Reduced to a weeping willy by Roger in the middle of Championship match.”

“Oi aren’t you too old for this gathering anyway?  Your 28, mate.  You’re no next gen.” Little Nicky added.

“About to be 29.”  Number one hater said while sneering at the quiet croat, who wiped a tear from his eye.

“I lost to the greatest of all time in the cathedral of tennis.  I was playing with blisters!  At least I’ve beat him on the way to a Grand Slam final.  At least I have one Grand Slam title.  You guys are just a waste!  You can’t even beat him.  All of you!”

“Um… some of us have… wins… against… him.”  The kid said sarcastically.  “Like I said… I’m not and will never be like you guys.  You lack the spine to take him out!”

“Calm down.”  Mr. Perfect hair said in a voice straight from the sixties.  “It’s not that easy.  If I remember he manhandled you in your country.  Halle, wasn’t it?  He’s playing like he did when he was in his prime.  In fact… he’s back in his prime.  It is kinda scary.”

“Think he’ll win at the big apple?” Little Nicky asked.

Mr. Perfect hair shrugged and was about to answer when a familiar Swiss-neutral voice cut through the air.

“It would be crazy to think I won’t.”

They of the Next Gen cadre, scampered behind their chairs and held out half emptied bottles of beer, defensively. Whispers shot through the room.

What’s he doing here? 

Wasn’t he supposed to be in Toronto?

Shhh… It’s Montreal, idiot!

The Fed smiled and continued.

“I mean… I am very dominant right now, along with Rafa of course.  How do you feel about that?”

There was no response.

“If you want to beat me then get up, train hard, stop whining about how the sport was not your first choice, stop trying to play like me and start trying to win like me.”

The Fed’s eyes scanned the entire table and stopped on the Bulgarian pretender.

“Yes, you.”  He said with a Swiss-neutral smile. “If you don’t, I’m going to be here for a long time.  That’s pretty cool cos you know, I’m always here if you need some advice or anything.”

The Fed turned around and whistled a happy tune as he strutted out of the pub named ATP.


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