I just played tennis for the first time in at least four years. No one told me how much the game had changed.
The service box has gotten much smaller. The net is higher. The court itself is shorter. Tennis rackets have less control. The balls never go to the same spot when you toss them anymore. And the surfaces of tennis courts are now made so that your running is slower but your opponent’s forehands and serves skip past you much more quickly.
I’m telling you, if I’d have known they’d made all these darn changes to the sport during my hiatus, I never would have consented to a 20-something-year-old grudge match against an old friend and one-time high school teammate. After months of smack talk back and forth, much of it in public forums, I was humbled 6-2 and 7-6. Meanwhile, my friend Shane can now die happy.
I’m now reminded of that devastating loss with every step I take. No, it’s not a mental thing. Trust me, hardly anything I do involves brain activity. It’s my big toe.
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I have all sorts of injuries that could have surfaced and given me a handy excuse for losing, but none did. The metal plate on my femur and my pieced-together hip and pelvis from my 2000 car wreck held up. The quadriceps muscle I once pulled in a pickup football game is fine. Even the rotator cuff I tore playing tennis my senior year stayed put. The only injury I could claim was a bruised ego.
And the big toe on my right foot was fine, too.
Until the next day. Apparently I used that big toe a lot on my serve as I jumped several millimeters into the air with each swing, pounding the ball at speeds way above those that are legal in most school zones between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Problem is, that big toe is broken. It’s actually an old injury I suffered during a short stint as a motivational consultant/lawnmower repairman. Those two jobs don’t often go together, and they didn’t go together for long. One swift kick from me neither motivated my lawnmower to start running again, nor did it fix whatever was wrong with the thing. And it broke my toe.
Normally, I can’t tell there’s anything wrong with my toe. But every now and then I’ll do something to aggravate it and remind me why I’m a journalist and not a motivational consultant/lawnmower repairman. A long walk. Stubbing it on a bed post. Toe wrestling. You never know what might bring on the pain. And, obviously, tennis.
So I’m now hobbling around like some goofy sidekick in a bad western movie. Fortunately, I just got a call that makes me feel a little better:
“Dude, please tell me you’re as sore as I am.”
Of course, I did what any old friend/rival would do when he gets such a request after getting humiliated on the tennis court.
“Nope, dude, I feel perfectly fine.”
Chris Johnson, whose column runs on Sundays, can be reached at 706-320-4403.