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When it comes to getting shellacked, old habits die hard

To inaugurate their beautifully resurfaced tennis courts, members of the Spokane Racquet Club graciously invited me to come and get carved like a standing rib roast by the club’s resident pro, Steve Clark.

“Sure,” I said, “why not?”

I have a long psychotic history of putting myself in masochistic situations.

Years ago, an aged lady pool hustler cleaned my clock at eight ball. Another geezer burned me in a go-kart race.

And I still have nightmares from my 15-5, 15-5 badminton annihilation at the hands of Casey Gustafson.

That doesn’t sound so terrible until you hear that I was spotted five points per game.

Or that Casey was a 12-year-old girl.

But when have I ever let reason stop me? So on a recent balmy night, I drove to the club’s tree-lined compound at 1903 S. Dearborn on the South Hill.

I had higher hopes this time. I don’t like to brag, but I have competed twice a week in the same doubles group for the last 20 years. True, my court movement often could pass for a “Night of the Living Dead” cast member. But I am quite good at keeping score.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to face Clark (no relation) alone. I was paired with a 68-year-old lawyer named Gary Gainer.

Clark had a partner, too: Bryce Cooper. Twenty-three years old. Former Gonzaga University tennis ace. Left-handed …

“This is not going to go at all well,” I mumbled to Gainer.

But isn’t tennis a genteel and gentlemanly game?

Clark the pro shattered this archaic notion by walking onto our court holding two helmets and a large white protective groin cup. “You guys might want to put these on before we start,” he advised.

Har. Har. What a riot.

Clark, 46, is a former high school and college tennis standout and tournament player from California. The chiseled athlete moved to Spokane last year after coaching tennis at UC Irvine.

He’s making quite an impact at Spokane Racquet Club. On Sept. 22, the club will host a day of clinics featuring Clark’s friend, Vic Braden, who is recognized as one of the world’s best tennis instructors. Braden’s visit will also feature a dinner and an exhibition of high-level tennis. (Call the club,(509) 535-1239, for tickets/details.)

Funny. Gainer and I weren’t asked to participate in that match.

Getting back to our play, it wasn’t long before I began to wish I hadn’t told Clark and Cooper not to hold back or they’d look like sissies. “TTHWaaaPPP!!!”

For the first time in my tennis-playing tenure, I felt I might actually lose an eye or perhaps a major appendage.

The man’s serves came at us like cruise missiles. It was all we could do to get out of the way.

Cooper’s lefty serves just made us look stupid. The ball hits and then kicks higher than an Amy Winehouse rehab-skipping night on the town.

On one Cooper serve, I swung and missed the ball by roughly the distance between Colville and Chewelah. This produced a chorus of titters among the small but highly sadistic group of jackals who were enjoying the massacre from a balcony vantage.

Oh, yeah. I almost forgot. Those new Spokane Racquet Club courts look great.

The color, Clark told me, is called “U.S. Open blue,” which contrasts nicely with the rich green of the out-of-bounds area.

Speaking of the U.S. Open, on Sunday Roger Federer won his fourth straight. That puts Roger just two grand slam wins behind Pete Sampras’ record of 14.

I’ve conquered a record number of grand slams, too. Unfortunately they’ve all been on the Denny’s breakfast menu.

Let me close with a few words about my partner.

Never have I played with a more effective human shield. During our match Clark ripped a backhand about warp six straight into Gainer’s chest. Once he could breathe again, I tried to talk him into splitting a lawsuit. But Gainer told me he didn’t do personal injury cases.

Fine. Go through life with “NNEP” tattooed on your sternum.

In the end, Clark and Cooper only beat us 6-2.

OK. I’m lying. They won six straight games. We won two points. Period.

Gainer wore the groin cushion on his head in shame.

“I didn’t see any of the shots,” he later said, “but I am told they came in fast.”

Yep. That pretty much sums it up.

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