Riley and I spent a few days earlier this week in Austin, Texas, visiting my 99-year-old mother as well as an assortment of siblings, nieces, and nephews.
I wanted my mom to see Riley in the aftermath of his graduation from UNC-Chapel Hill AND I wanted to see her at the midpoint between her 99th and 100th birthdays. (I saw her last November for number 99 and of course my whole family will be back here this November for a blowout on her 100th.)
What I didn’t count on happening, though, was watching a National Championship happen.
It turns out that the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships was held this week in Waco, Texas (no biker bar jokes, please) on the campus of Baylor University. Waco is only 100 miles from Austin.
I read in Tuesday’s paper that the final match would be that day, and would feature two teams who have ascended to the upper echelon of college tennis only in the last decade or so: Oklahoma University (OU) and the University of Virginia (UVA). (Back when I played college tennis, a title match between those two would have been as likely as a BCS Football Championship between Wake Forest and Northwestern. In the 80’s it was always Stanford versus fill-in-the-blank.)
There was an added attraction: one of the members of UVA’s team, Thai-Son Kwiatkowski, had taken tennis lessons alongside Riley when Riley was eight and Thai-Son was six. In fact, I remember watching with amazement in those days as Kwiatkowski pummeled ball after ball against much older hitting partners at the Charlotte Tennis Academy.
So I persuaded my older brother and sister to join me and Riley for the 100 mile trek from Austin to Waco, bought some bleacher seats, and watched the drama unfold.
I noticed a few things have changed since I played college tennis in the 80s:
- No one serves-and-volleys. No one.
- That’s because everyone has great groundstrokes. Everyone.
- American-born players are the exception rather than the rule. Which has made some folks in college tennis want to change the rules.
- Most players have two-handed backhands. I was pleasantly surprised to see four one-handers among the twelve singles players.
- Teams and fans cheer a lot louder. (Or maybe Princeton fans in the day were too sophisticated to cheer at all?) Who would have ever thought you’d hear a BOOMER SOONER cheer at a tennis match?
- I sat next to the Dartmouth coach and struck up a conversation about Ivy League tennis, which apparently is better now than ever before. I wanted to defend myself but kept quiet. He was most impressed, however, when I introduced him to my sister with “and she beat Nancy Richey once.” (Nancy Richey was a top pro in the 60s and 70s, even winning both the Australian and French Opens. But she didn’t beat my sister Nancy!)
- Andy Roddick attends matches. That’s because his brother John is the coach of OU. Andy sat four rows in front of us. I didn’t think it was an appropriate time to tell him of my man-crush on Roger Federer, who had a 21-3 advantage in their head-to-head.
After hundreds of serves, thousands of groundstrokes, and tens of volleys, UVA won, 4-1. Actually, Thai-Son Kwiatkowski won the next-to-last point for the Cavaliers, very calmly serving out the match in spite of the obvious tension in the stadium. As soon as UVA won the clinching point, the players and coaches stormed the court in frenzied, euphoric celebration.
I realized it was the first time I’ve ever seen a national championship won, live and in person, as it happened.
Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday in central Texas.