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GERONIMO ENKIA

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by Prakash

The Americans finally got Osama last weekend, culminating a chase that lasted nearly ten years post 9/11. Some people never give up and keep on chasing. I've been on my own chase for a while now – the chase of that elusive national tennis ranking point.

It's something I've dreamt about it for just as long as the Yanks have been chasing Osama; but I've only started working on it in the last 3 years. My chase took me back to the courts of Khar Gymkhana to participate in the qualifying draw of the All-India Tennis Association (AITA) event happening there on Saturday morning.

A year ago, I was half-way to my target – the farthest I had ever gone in my chase. This time, I decided to do a covert operation.

Only my family knew as I set out for my target. I didn't tell anyone else. Not even one of my most trusted allies, Siddharth (name changed to protect identity). Siddharth is my frequent knocking partner and current study partner (we're both taking the same finance exam in June).

He thinks I don't spend enough time studying and I don't handle my distractions well (He's right on both counts !!). So I thought it would be best to inform him and the rest of my friends post-facto.

I set out on the train at 9 AM from Churchgate station. Unlike last May, there would be no Madonna or Rihanna pumping music in my ears this time. Instead, I was reading my study material in the train. Ethics was the topic (very appropriate as you will find out soon).

I reached the venue by 10 AM for my scheduled 10-15 AM match against Arun Siwarkar (to be referred to as Geronimo going forward). I didn't get a chance to Google him but the draw showed he had 3 AITA ranking points, which means he would be ranked 200 odd in India (he's actually ranked 227 in India I found out later).

Our match was soon called on Court no. 1, right next to the waiting area where the other players and officials were seated. This was the same court where I had lost to Prashant Sawant last year. Sawant is the top seed in the qualifying draw this year.

As Geronimo showed up on court, I remember seeing him at some of the other events I had played. His service action made him stand out. We started warming up and I did my routine pre-match dissection. Forehand is his stronger side; backhand is average; he didn't handle my slices too well in the warm-up.

Hmmm.... food for thought. I won the toss and elected to serve. I didn't start too well, losing my first service game but broke back immediately on Geronimo's serve. His serve was average too and made me think I had a shot on every service game of his if I got into the rallies.

Unfortunately, I couldn't keep the ball in play long enough. Geronimo broke me again and held for 3-1. On the first point of my next service game, Geronimo hits a forehand and approaches the net. I throw up a lob. He backs up and botches the smash, landing badly on his ankle.

It looks like he twisted it. He limps over to the chair and sits down in pain. He starts flexing his ankle and calls for first aid. I sit in my chair alone with my thoughts. Would he retire hurt?? Would I have to come back in the evening for my next match and have lesser time to study in the day?? If he gets back, should I try to hit some drop shots to exploit his injury?? Is this what Rafa and Roger think about when they are in the same situation?? After some Relispray, Geronimo is back on court, and moving cautiously on his feet.

I'm unable to exploit anything and lose serve once again to go down 1-4. Although I break him back for 2-4, I lose serve again and Geronimo holds for a 6-2 lead (It's best of 15 games here so you need to win 8 games to win the match or tie-break at 7 all). I'm down 2-6 0-30 and imploring myself to just get the ball back over the net and engage him in some rallies.

The next point, I retrieve a few of his forehands with my backhand slice. On his fourth or fifth forehand, he finally dumps it into the net. He seemed like he was struggling with my backhand slice. Hmmm.. food for thought. I decided to try and explore this weakness in his game.

The strategy, I told myself, was to take the pace off and slice EVERYTHING back to his forehand. I held serve for the first time in the match to go 3-6. His next service game was longgggggg. He had multiple game points and I had multiple breakpoints But neither could convert.

I stuck to the strategy. He kept hitting his forehand around the court. I kept retrieving it with my slice – at times, he would dump his forehand into the net – at other times, I would surprise him with a running forehand of my own.

The small crowd watching us could not have been enjoying this too much. It wasn't entertaining tennis. I thought I shouldn't care too much about entertaining them – and do whatever it takes to win the match instead (and leave the entertaining to my blog). I won another long rally in which he attempted to drop shot me.

I got there in plenty of time and sneaked a forehand passing winner down the line. Geronimo was tiring. He needed some water so I decided to have some too. He called the score Ad-Out (translates to breakpoint for me) and walked back to the service line.

I thought the score was deuce but wasn't sure. I was trying to reconstruct the last few points in my head as I walked back to the baseline but the game had gone on so long that I couldn't figure it out. My philosophy in tennis is simple – when you're not sure, give the benefit of doubt to your opponent.

I wasn't sure if I should tell him I thought it was deuce. Was this a good time to take the higher road and implement the ethics I was reading about in the train?? Geronimo stood on the ad-court while I was still confused and began his service action.

Unable to come to a decision, I decided to go with his version of the score. A few points later, I broke his serve to get back to 4-6. That scoring dilemma was still playing in my mind. Did I cheat him of a point?? My mind raced to that infamous Wimbledon match between Venus Williams and Karolina Sprem I didn't feel too good but there was nothing to do about it now.

Maybe he was right and there was nothing to feel bad about, I told myself. I tried to block it from my mind. A few points later, he helped me eradicate those thoughts completely. Another close game with several chances for both of us.

I had advantage and a chance to close the gap to 5-6. We engaged in another long rally with the same pattern – he would hit his forehand side to side and I would slice everything back to his forehand as much as I could.

Geronimo took a short slice of mine, laced a forehand into the corner and approached the net. I managed to retrieve it and he had an easy volley to put away. He got a bit too eager and as he hit the volley, he and his racket touched the net (in tennis, you lose the point immediately if you or your racket touches the net while the ball is in play).

But he didn't acknowledge it. I got his volley back somehow and he then hit a drop volley which I was managed to not only get to but also put away with a two-handed backhand passing shot. I couldn't believe he didn't stop play after touching the net.

It was so loud and clear that even Osama would have heard that deep inside the Indian Ocean. I didn't feel too bad now about my 'possible' indiscretion earlier. I held on for 5-6 and was now just one break away from leveling the set at 6 all.

I stuck to the slice-n-dice tactic. I thought of a comment the former Spaniard Felix Mantilla made on the tactics of Patrick Rafter as I broke back for 6 all.

We must've been playing for over an hour and the heat was really getting to both of us. I managed to hold for 7-6 and move ahead for the first time in my match. I could see that Geronimo was caving in as I drew closer to the finish line.

He seemed a bit more physically spent than me. I told myself just one more game of slicing. I thought to myself, I should ask Pepsi if they want to sign me instead of Katrina Kaif as the brand ambassador for their drink Slice.

Geronimo was wolfing down some bananas as the battle went into the last mile. I wish I had some myself but I only had water (not even Mango Slice) to get me through this. At 30-all on the next game, Geronimo tried to drop shot me again.

I hit another forehand passing shot winner and let out a C'monnnnnnn. Just one point away from a memorable comeback and victory – it would be the best victory of my short career yet. I thought of the sms I would send my brother and my friends after the next point – GERONIMO EKIA!!! Geronimo had other ideas.

He hit an ace – his first of the day - on the next point to get back to deuce. I managed a wry smile. I chipped and charged on his next serve and he dumped a backhand into the net. Match point no. 2 for me. This time, Geronimo got a good first serve in.

My return landed short and he had an easy forehand winner to put away. Back to deuce. Geronimo managed to hold serve for 7 all which meant we went into a tiebreak. He decided he needed a bathroom break. Wanting to escape the blazing noon sun, I decided to follow him.

The locker room has only two urinals here. I would rather have not, but had no option than to go the one adjacent to his. After battling head-to-head and forehand-to-slice for nearly 90 minutes, here we were relieving ourselves in adjacent urinals.

I thought of an incident that Andre Agassi narrated in his book 'Open' where he and Marcos Bagdhatis shared an intimate moment in the locker room moments after their classic 2006 US Open battle.

As we went back to the court, I thought I had a good chance. Geronimo could not have been feeling too confident after letting such a huge lead slip. But I didn't start too well. He built a 4-2 lead in the tie-break. On the next point, as he tossed to serve, a ball from the adjacent court came towards ours.

I pulled my hand up calling time, while he hit his first serve into the net. I called first serve. I don't think he heard me or saw my hand go up. He got back into position and threw in what seemed like a second serve – it was long.

He passed the ball to me thinking he had double faulted and moved on to receive serve. The score could have been 4-3. Flashes of the Justine Henin-Serena Williams hand incident ran through my head.

I passed the ball back to him and told him he had a second serve. He looked confused but glad for the opportunity. He went on to win the point and go up 5-2. I couldn't keep the intensity in the tie-break. Geronimo won the next two points to win the tie-break 7-2.

We walked up to the net and did the customary post-match handshake. He said bad luck. I said well played. As I sat down and packed my bag, I thought of the sms that I wouldn't send my brother and friends.. GERONIMO EKIA!! I wondered if there was an equivalent term used when you fail to kill the enemy.

ENKIA (Enemy not killed in action)?? Perhaps, I could send them that. As I walked past the referee's desk where Geronimo was updating the score sheet with his victory, I patted him and wished him best of luck for his next match.

He said thanks. Another player told me well fought. I was glad someone else noticed. I got back home, quickly showered and decided to head to the library to study where Siddharth was already burning the mid-noon oil. We met outside the library where he was having coffee and exchanged notes on what we were going to study.

He told me he had a dream about me the previous night. In his dream, we were discussing competing in a tennis tournament. In his dream, he decided not to play the tournament due to the upcoming exam and advised me not to play either.

In his dream, I decided to play anyway and reached the quarter-finals of the tournament losing to some Spaniard called Versace, who went on to reach the final of the tournament against one of the other players in our tennis group.

And in his dream, a foreign coach was doing a post-mortem analysis of why I lost to Versace and the coach told us it was because I sliced the ball too high to Versace and that I should have sliced lower. How uncanny, I thought, that he would have such a dream just one night before I set out on my covert operation where I almost sliced my way to victory.

I didn't update him on my match though. I'd rather have him read this. I think he'd be disappointed with my lack of focus before the exam. He'd rather I chase the exam than the ranking points. As we entered the library, I thought to myself, the chase for the ranking point goes on hold for a while and the chase for passing grade resumes!! By Haresh Ramchandani Join my Facebook page .

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