Richard Codor knows what he wants when it comes to tennis. He wants to play early, at 7:00AM, before the heat of the day. He wants to play on Court 6B, the tree-shaded clay court farthest away from the Prospect Park Tennis Center's clubhouse, to minimize the glaring early morning sun. And he wants me to stop catching my toss over and over again before my serve.
I was doing way too much of that in our weekend doubles match: Rich and my husband Mark versus me and Robert.
"Hey, I thought you fixed that," he said to me on the changeover, after I had barely held to keep us a break back at 1-2 in the first set.
"Oh, you mean I'm still doing it?" I said. "Thanks for pointing it out."
[Editorial note: There was a 5-minute "rain delay" to allow the sarcasm that had dripped onto the court to evaporate.]
Here's what Robert and I needed to watch out for with Rich: his steady serve, often out wide, which he can ace you with if he brings on da heat. His net game -- he's excellent, especially with half volleys. He's got more slice than a mandoline, which means his passing shots are often low screamers over the net that are tough to handle. Best to pin him back behind the baseline because some of his slice shots can float, becoming tasty morsels for us at net.
Codor, an accomplished illustrator, book author, and blogger, has been playing tennis since he was a teenager. I'm convinced he'll die with either a racquet or a charcoal pencil in his hand. Or slumped over a bowl of Mimi's Hummus, his favorite.
"I first took lessons when I was 10 in a Parks Department program in Wilmington, Delaware," he said. Free lessons, funded by "an obsessed member of the DuPont family."
Codor honed his wicked slice shots (forehand and backhand) every weekend with his "meshuganeh family." His uncles and cousins all played tennis. They played year-round, too, long before anyone thought of putting up a heated bubble.
"I used to have a picture from the Wilmington News Journal of me shoveling snow off a court as my uncles waited on the sidelines."
Now that's meshuganeh.
Robert and I struggled to find our rhythm in the first set. He pushed his balls deep, all right, but, like, out of the court deep. I was double faulting, my toss wavering like a drunken sailor, and shanking volleys. What kept it close was that Rich and Mark were having trouble, too. We traded breaks in what Rich dubbed "the battle of the underwhelming serves." They broke us one game better, though, and took the first set, 6-4.
We doubled down on our strategy, but failed to adjust to theirs. Robert was kept off-balance by their deep groundstrokes and offensive lobs. I couldn't get Rich's wide serve to my backhand away from Mark. I kept at it, though, refusing to go down the line (because I was scared of missing it) or lobbing it over Mark's head (because I was too proud to hit such a defensive shot with these three guys watching). And Mark kept capitalizing on my stubbornness. Ka-ching. Volley winner.
Rich was serving for the set, 5-4, when the bell rung.
His advice to us Haters? Embrace our crazy.
"Go for all-out, pedal to the metal, over-the-top, smash mouth, full contact, psycho killer tennis meltdown. After one of those, the nuclear fuel will be spent and you will be in a better, more tranquil place."
Year to date record:
Me: 0. Richard Codor: 1.