I won a set today 6-2. It was the first time in a year of singles contests that I have ever been victorious against Bill, a four-days-a-week tennis player. He never gives up, he never makes it easy, he is as tenacious, “as Nadal,” he says. And he is a much much stronger player than I am. Even though he hadn’t played tennis in almost six months.

This is the third time in the last month or so that I have finally beaten someone who has always defeated me. The changes in my racket, strings and grip are paying off fantastically. So is the frequent practice. There is one more man I play with a lot who has never lost a set to me. I will keep on attacking that hurdle until I surmount it.

Nadal wins first US Open—2010

When Nadal and others win, they drop to the ground, kiss the clay, hold their disbelieving, crying, amazed and incredulous heads in powerful, skilled and sensitive hands. Sometimes, like Djokovic this year at the US Open, when he defeated Federer, they remain standing with eyes glazed and stupefied.

stunned Djokovic after conquering Federer

Other times they lie on the court on their backs or stomachs or roll around and dirty their clothes. In an instant their serious, stern, killer eyes and expressions transform into tears, stunned smiles and emotional release. It often intrigues me. Is it an act that they know the audience expects? The picture of the winner lying on the ground is frequently chosen to illustrate the news story.

So what am I feeling two hours after this challenge was met…or at the moment of triumph? A bit tired, of course. But no elation. There was an inevitability about it. My coach had predicted it would happen, that I could do it. My opponent had promised that it had to happen some day, and he said how proud he was of my accomplishment.

I also felt that I had arrived at the intersection of a dream and a reality. Yesterday this man and I played as well. I was ahead at one point 5-4 and was serving. As we sat on the bench during the changeover after odd games, I was conscious of this rare opportunity. But then I choked and ended up losing 6-8. Today at 5-2, I did all I could to rouse myself to really want to win, to play my hardest, to not throw points away with poor placements and dumb shot selection.

This time I made it. The great thing about a “first” is that it is a once in a lifetime event. The sad thing is that it can never be repeated.

Nevertheless, I did raise both arms in a victory acknowledgment, when I won the set point.

Immediately we played a rematch that I lost 4-6. I had been down 2-5, but fought back as best I could.

A friend saw me play in a tournament two weeks ago. “You don’t have that killer instinct,” she told me. “You aren’t as aggressive as the other opponents. Can’t you hit the ball harder? Don’t you want to really win like they do?”

As competitive as I think I am, I can never forget it is a game. But that is a crappy attitude. It involves constant rationalizing. In practice I can hit a solid ball. But I lack the confidence to do it in a contest.

In the army during bayonet practice, I would thrust my rifle (with the knife attached) at the soldier opposite me and scream “Kill! Kill! Kill!” as I was ordered to do. I was very surprised and upset to discover how quickly I really wanted to kill the guy I was facing. It scared me to discover how little it took to change my attitude.

But I can’t yet duplicate that emotional experience from 50 years ago. I want to. I want to be tougher. What will it take for me to find that inner child that hates and lusts to destroy my “enemy?”

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