It has been only four minutes or so, and I am already facing defeat. As always at moments like this one, I think of Steve Waugh and what he stood for. Steve Waugh never said die, he stepped out of his comfort zone, he was bloody-minded, he was rigid, he owned his space. And so I think of him and pull my shoulders up and hop up and down and mentally take ownership of the squash court. Meanwhile, my opponent has plotted his service, my predictable return (rather insultingly, I think), and his angled winner. It is sometimes as simple as that.
My life has taken an interesting turn lately. I have rediscovered the joys of just playing. Not playing squash, or cricket, or anything else, but just playing. It's like being back in the days of "Mom, I'm going down to play." As kids you could play two sports at the same time unthinkingly, with complete disregard for offsides or beamers or line calls (okay, maybe line calls) and just have fun, you know? Well, it's been a lot of fun lately. The concept has, I mean. Losing hasn't, and I'm quite disturbed by a habit that sort of snuck up out of nowhere. In chase of a shot that is out of my reach, a good two seconds before it passes by me, I say to my opponent, "Good shot," and then, distressed by my sportsmanship, I wish I was Marat Safin so smashing a squash racquet would not hurt. My opponent, meanwhile, has perfected this technique of making me return serve a particular way, and he then prods the ball in to a corner with infuriating accuracy. What makes it maddening is that he's gotten better at it practicing it against me. I will of course not be party to this rout and will blast my way out of trouble in a flurry of attacking strokes down the line and over his head. But this is only a vision, and the opponent sets me straight with another one of his angled winners. I tell him he's good because he plays badminton. He tells me I should anticipate a little better. I tell him I will. And then he thrashes me. My scoreline with him reads something like this in 9 or 10 games: 11-1, 11-2, 11-1, 11-4, 11-8 (when he's tiring), 11-4, 11-2, 11-you get the idea. At the end of it I will turn to him and complain about a hip, knee or ankle problem, and he will look sympathetic and gently say, "You were better today than last time," and I say next time it'll be better.
That's the thing with sport, the unbelievably daft thing with sport. You get beat, you feel bad, you recover and goad yourself in isolation, and return to get beat once again. But you see, it's not the beating that matters. That part you ignore. It's the hope of the thing that counts. I know I'll beat my opponent one day. How soon it comes I don't know, but I know it'll come one day. I'll probably throw a party but more likely I'll feel all miserable because now that I've beaten him, I'll be waiting for the losses to pile up once again.
You've got to be mad to play sport when you're thoroughly outclassed.