Love Match part 1
This is the prologue to the novel Love Match, which I will be writing for Patrons. The preview is visible to everyone; further updates will be visible only to Patrons. Let’s assume you’ve got a job. Okay, you’re a call center employee or a concession stand worker or a guy who makes tennis balls in a factory or a system administrator. That’s a real thing, right? My agent was talking to one when she was getting my website up. Whatever it is, you’ve got this job. Now say that every weekend—or every week in your case because you have weekends off, right?—every week, the way you do your job is compared to a hundred other people. Sometimes as many as two hundred if it’s a big week. Understand, you’re not just being evaluated against people at your company. This is across the world. All the best tennis ball factory workers, all the best concession stand workers, all the best system administrators. And your salary is determined by how you do that week. If you come out on top, if you make the best tennis balls the fastest, or whip out hot dogs without an error or…administer the systems the best: big raise. Huge. You might be able to coast for a few months on that, or a year or two if it’s a big week. If you finish in the middle, you keep plugging along. If you finish last, well, you can still do the job, but they stop paying you so much, or at all. On top of that, every week somebody in some central office ranks you against all these other people. There are listings people can read in the paper that show that you are the 198th best system administrator in the world, or the 48th best call center employee. Your life starts to revolve around those numbers. Maybe if you’re top-100, you can move to a better company. Maybe if you’re top-50, you can get major endorsements. Well, you don’t get endorsements, but you know what I mean. And it’s a pretty amazing thing, to be in the top 100 of all tennis ball factory workers worldwide. Top 100, out of like 6 billion people! But all you can think about are those 80-90 guys ahead of you. Welcome to professional tennis. I can tell you without fail what my ranking was at the end of each of my years as a professional (I’m currently in my fourth). I can tell you what it was for each of the last ten weeks. I can tell you what I was seeded at every tournament I’ve entered (ha ha, that is a trick; I have only been seeded in three tournaments ever). And I can tell you the names of the top ten players and my record against each one of them (2 wins, 8 losses, in the aggregate, because until this year I didn’t get to play top ten players very much). I remember the date I first beat a top-100 player (July 18, 2012 at the Cuyahoga Open. It was overcast. Grigor Markov, a pine marten with a below-average serve and a wicked forehand, was ranked #75 in the world. I blew one service game and lost the first set 4-6, then figured out how to return his serve and took the next two 6-3, 6-2. He smiled at the net, shook my paw, and complimented me on my return game. The next time we played, he was #94 and I was #81 and I beat him 6-0, 6-1. We didn’t speak at the net.) and the date I first beat a top-50 player (December 18, one week before Christmas 2012. Keiran Lubovic, a tall fennec thinner than I was with a great sense of humor. He joked on every changeover and had a great net game. I beat him in straight sets 6-4, 7-6, and at the net he asked for my autograph on a tennis ball.) and the date I first beat a top ten player (earlier this year, the wolf Dubro Bielovic, #9 in the world, 7-6, 6-7, 7-6). He shook my paw at the net and told me seriously that he would see me in a Major final one day. And here I am, almost three years later. There are four Majors a year, tournaments the world watches with off-the-charts prize money where everyone competes to get in. Just being in a Major final puts you in an elite club, and I’m in that one now. Right, the clubs. They’re not formal, like, there’s not a building you can go in if you’re in the “top ten” club (people who have been ranked in the top ten in the world—after this tournament I’ll be #12 at least, maybe #10 if I win). It’s more like a class of player: you get lumped in with all the guys who have made it to that level and no farther. If you’ve made it to at least one Major final, that’s a more exclusive club. Winning a Major final is another club, the first one that most casual tennis fans are aware of, and then after that you’ve got to do something crazy to make it into the last club, the “all time greats.” You could win seventeen Major finals, the current record, or you could win each of the four Majors once (a “career Slam”), or you could win them all in the same year. When I say “you,” here, I mean, obviously, not you, unless you’re one of the three best tennis players who’s ever lived. Winning all four majors in a year is called a “Grand Slam,” and only three people in the modern history of tennis have done it. That’s what the guy across the net from me is chasing. Braden Longacre is a cross fox currently ranked #1 in the world, which is a thing that will happen when you’ve won the last three Majors. He lost here in the semi-finals last year and then came back in January in great shape, improving his backhand and seeing the court better than ever. He’s also got a better record in five-set matches than anyone else in the top ten (maybe the top 100 for all I know) because even when he loses the first two, he’s analyzing his opponent, figuring out their weakness, and often that’s enough for him to win the last three and therefore the match. So yeah, pretty much the whole package for a tennis player: smart, young enough to be in his prime (he’ll be 26 in two weeks), and ridiculously talented. He’s also kind of a jerk.
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