Friday, November 20, 2009

When Sports is Better than Sex

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2009 at 10:35 AM

"Better than sex."

That's what an old tennis partner used to say, just loud enough for his doubles partner and opponents to hear, after hitting a winner.

Athletes know the feeling by other names — runner's high, in the zone, out of your head, grooved, unconscious — but I like "better than sex" for those rare moments of perfection for us amateurs more familiar with failures that are "worse than dental surgery."

The thing about runner's high or being in the zone in golf is that there is no humiliation of your opponent. To be better than sex, the moment has to happen in close quarters in a one-on-one match. Historian Bruce Catton describes the ferocious Iroquois in Michigan "deriving ecstasies from the infliction of pain and going to fantastic lengths to prolong the victim's suffering so that the general orgy that followed the final gasp might have maximum dimensions."

That's the squash lob for you. Squash is played on the smallest indoor court there is with a ball that is less bouncy than a racquetball or tennis ball. "Out" lines further shrink the court, and a 20-inch high telltale across the bottom of the front wall makes racquetball-style "rollouts" impossible. Really good players can get to just about every shot and rallies can go on until somebody gives out or gets faked out of position.

For the lob to work, the opponent must first be lured into the danger zone, like the Light Brigade or Lee at Gettysburg. That would be the front of the court, in anticipation of a drop shot or sharply angled volley. Instead, the ball is struck at an upward angle against the front wall, floating just over the opponent's head as he realizes, too late, that he's been trapped, and backpedals only to see the ball land at his feet in the back corner with a light "thunk" like a shot dove, impossible to hit. Too high and it hits the ceiling and is out of bounds. Too low and the opponent smashes it for a winner. Too wide and it lands above the "out" line. Too long and it comes off the back wall for an easy return.

The pleasure of a great shot is magnified against a superior opponent. Shubho Banerjee is a physics professor at Rhodes and has a squash IQ of about 200. To watch him play is to see a demonstration of force, vectors, angles, arcs, leverage, acceleration, and deceleration. He is way too modest to do it, but he could hold class on the court. Albert Johnson played professional basketball in Europe and can still jump. In a month of matches, I might get one unplayable lob over each of them.

But what a feeling. It's only one point, but for two seconds our roles are reversed and my masters are shamed, emasculated, humiliated, and made to look foolish.

The proper response, and again this comes from an old tennis partner, Jack Powell, is this:

"Nice shot, you lucky prick."

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