01 Ready? Play!

Amanda Auster sat down on her chair. She had just broken Tamara Bepakova with two excellent inside-out forehand winners. Was this the beginning of one of Tamara’s massive chokes? Amanda could not hope for it. She was still one set down and trailing 3-4 in the second set. She needed to stay focused. If she could win her singles game there might be a good chance for the Australian team to advance to the Semifinals of the Hopman Cup, given the fact that she and her male partner were both known for their doubles skills.
But there was a distraction, she couldn’t get out of her head. A glance to the left into the front row of the stands confirmed what she already knew. Blond girl. Rather tall. Cute smile. Cute smile? Amanda shook her had. Who was this girl, staring at her? Amanda was sure, she had seen her before.

Business before pleasure, Amanda told herself and she couldn’t help smiling. Bitterly, though. If she reviewed the past few months, nothing really deserved to be put in the ‘pleasure category’. Maybe Mr. Mochi’s sushi restaurants in Tokyo. But that was far away now. Besides, food was considered compensation anyway, as her psychologist had informed her.
Now she had to serve with this blond girl’s eyes on her back. It was an annoying distraction. She was tight already playing in Perth in front of her home crowd. Their cheering had never helped her. Instead it put more pressure on her then she ever felt for the rest of the year. The Australian season had never been successful for her. Last fall her team came up with the idea to play the Hopman Cup. It was team work to go further in the tournament and she could play doubles. She was good in doubles. Really good. Sometimes she even won Grand Slams. But doubles didn’t count anymore. She wanted to go to the very top of the singles game. Losing the first match of the year wouldn’t help for that aim.

She got up and walked to the baseline.
“C’mon!” The supportive voice hit Amanda, making her jump in surprise.
Slowly enough, Amanda turned around only to face the blond girl’s smile. Except it had changed. From a sweet, delicate one, it had adopted the shades of determination.
Now Amanda really wanted to know, who this woman was. And that wasn’t helping at all. She knew if she lost her concentration, she could kiss this match goodbye.
Tossing the ball up in the air, she went for a heavily sliced serve out wide. Too wide. Second serve. If there was one part of her game she could rely on with eyes closed it was her second serve. It kicked up high and was a problem for most of her opponents. But not this time. Tamara smacked it back to Amanda’s backhand. She could reach it but her ball went straight into the net.

Back at the baseline Amanda turned around to the ball boy. She glanced up to the front row and almost missed to catch the ball that was thrown at her. The girl’s seat was empty. The blonde had left.
For the next two minutes Amanda felt she was in a slow motion haze. She simply couldn’t concentrate anymore. She shanked the ball twice into the stands and double faulted at 0-40 only to hand the game to a satisfied Tamara. Back on serve, the Russian seemed to have gained confidence. Even though Amanda could save a match point with the game going to deuce multiple times it was Tamara who smacked a scorching backhand cross-court to make the final shot of the match.

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