The Champ

By Linda Berry

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    Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge (Lev. 19:18).

    Kristin bounced gently on her toes, bending forward, eyes narrowed. She jerked a little as Shannon, the tall, dark-haired girl on the other side of the net, tossed the tennis ball high and hit it with all her might. The ball went into the net, and Kristin relaxed, but only for an instant. She had to be ready for the second serve.

    Kristin was moving as soon as Shannon’s racket hit the ball. This serve was good. It bounced just inside the outside corner of the service line. Stretching as she ran, Kristin managed to reach it with her backhand and return it low across the net.

    Shannon, not expecting Kristin to return the serve, had relaxed. The ball passed her and landed on the baseline. Kristin smiled with satisfaction.

    “Out,” Shannon called.

    There was a murmur from the spectators lounging on the grassy slope under the shade of a cottonwood tree.

    Kristin stared at her. “What?” she questioned, her satisfaction turning to disbelief. It was an important point because if Kristin lost it, Shannon would win the second set.

    “It was out,” Shannon repeated. “My game and set.”

    The girls went to benches on opposite sides of the court for a short break before the third set.

    Kristin reached for her water jug and took several cool swallows before sloshing some water onto a towel. She pushed back her damp brown curls and wiped her face and neck, then glanced toward the small group of spectators. Her mom and dad waved.

    “Hang in there!” Dad called.

    She waved back and smiled, closed her eyes, and tried to relax. But her thoughts weren’t restful. She and Shannon were playing the final match in the Pineview Junior Championship for twelve year olds. The winner would receive a new tennis racket, and Shannon had told all her friends that her mom had promised her a new tennis outfit, too, if she won.

    Kristin’s dad had just smiled and shaken his head when she’d suggested that he might do the same for her. “No, Kris,” he had said seriously. “We wouldn’t want to make the stakes so high that you lose sight of the game. You just do the best that you can, as you always do, and have a good time, as you always do.”

    “But, Dad—”

    He had interrupted her protest with a hug. “If you don’t enjoy the game, don’t play it. I’m not going to bribe you.”

    “Oh, Dad!” She had been annoyed and a little angry. Why can’t my parents be more like Shannon’s? she wondered.

    Kristin loved playing tennis, and she enjoyed playing against someone good, like Shannon, because she knew that it brought out the best in her own game. But she wanted it to be a fair contest. Earlier in the match, she’d thought that Shannon had made a bad call, but it was hard to tell from across the court, so she had shrugged it off. This last point, though, she knew was good, and the spectators knew it too! Still, it’s a player’s responsibility to make the calls unless there are linesmen at courtside. But that had really been an important point—especially for Shannon. Since Kristin had won the first set, if she had won the second, the match would have been over. This way, Shannon still had a chance.

    Instead of relaxing, Kristin was getting angrier just thinking about that last point.

    “Ready?” Shannon called.

    Kristin nodded, and they returned to the court.

    As with the first two sets, the third one was close. The girls fought for every point, and neither could get a comfortable lead. With the game score at 3–3, Kristin hit a hard drive toward the baseline that looked good to her. Shannon called it out. The anger that had been building up since the rest break made Kristin so careless that she muffed the next two points, giving Shannon a comfortable lead on that game.

    As she bounced the ball and prepared to serve for the next point, Kristin looked at Shannon. Shannon was looking nervous but pleased.

    Kristin thought about Shannon’s expression as she bounced the ball one last time before serving. It was another hard-fought point. But the game ended when Shannon skimmed one over the net at a difficult-to-retrieve angle. Kristin scrambled for the ball but couldn’t get to it. The ball landed right on the line at a place where it was difficult for Shannon to see. Kristin, still angry, had raised her hand to signal it out, when suddenly she understood what her dad had meant about losing sight of the game. She also understood that look on Shannon’s face.

    Tennis rules state that if a ball touches a line, the shot is good. If there’s a question about the shot, the players’ code of sportsmanlike behavior says to let the questioning opponent have the point.

    “Your point,” Kristin called. The point made it Shannon’s game for a score of 4–3.

    Surprisingly relaxed now, as though some important crisis were over, Kristin enjoyed the rest of the match, even though Shannon made another questionable call.

    It was close all the way, but after three long sets, Shannon drove home the match point with a beautiful passing shot. She had won the championship. And the new racket. And the new tennis outfit.

    The girls met at the net to shake hands.

    “Good match,” Shannon said automatically.

    “Yes. I always learn a lot when I play against you,” Kristin told her. “I hope you enjoy your new stuff. See you later.”

    “Thanks.” Shannon looked a little embarrassed.

    Kristin turned away to see her parents waiting at the edge of the court.

    “You played very well,” her mother said.

    “Tough loss, Kris,” said her dad, “but you played like a champ.”

    They walked away arm in arm. Kristin looked back at Shannon, who was walking to the tournament desk to report her win.

    “You know, I feel like a champ,” Kristin said. “Thanks, Dad.”

    Illustrated by Lori Anderson