“I’m Chris Evert and I’m here with number 20 seed Travis Konecny ahead of his fourth round match against number 10 seed, Nolan Patrick. Travis, there’s some bad blood between you and Nolan, isn’t there?”
“Hi Chris,” Travis smiled smoothly at her and then at the camera. “I wouldn’t call it bad blood. We’re both fiercely competitive and that’s come out in recent match-ups.”
“How are you going to keep your cool during this match? I know that was as issue in Cincinnati when you played Nolan last.”
Travis smiled again, his expression a little tighter and his hand clutched on the strap of the bag over his shoulder. “I’m just here to focus on my game. Everything else is noise.”
“Thanks Travis, good luck and have fun.”
“Thanks Chris,” Travis waved and headed toward the court.
“And here is Nolan Patrick, number ten seed here in the fourth round. You had quite a battle against the unseeded Carter Hart in the third round. How have you recovered from that match?”
“Hi Chris,” Nolan nodded, tucking his hair behind his ears. “Today’s a new day so I’m looking forward to focus on this match.”
“After what happened in Cincinnati, everyone is talking about the rivalry between you and the number 20 seed. How are you approaching this match with Travis?”
“I’m here to play my game and I’m not here to get distracted by him. But he knows what he did in Cincinnati and he’s going to pay for it today.”
“Well!” Chris Evert said, her eyebrows high on her forehead. “Strong words here from Nolan Patrick. This should be a good one! Back to you, Cliff and John!”
Nolan dropped his bag next to his chair and sat down hard to retie his shoes. He got his racket out and fidgeted with the strings before fishing around in his bag for his bandanna. He tied it tight around his forehead to keep his hair back and headed out onto the court.
Travis was across the net, chatting with the ball boy and bouncing a ball idly with his racket. When Nolan took up his position for warm-ups, Travis shifted his gaze to him, smirking across the court at Nolan and adjusting the brim of his cap. Nolan rolled his eyes and started with an easy volley to warm up. Travis returned the volley without moving from his position, now chatting with the linesman. Nolan rolled his eyes and practiced his serves.
When warm-ups were over, Nolan walked over to the chair umpire. Claude Giroux covered the mic with his hand and leaned down to glare at him and Travis. Nolan wasn’t looking at Travis out of the corner of his eye.
“I don’t have to warn you two that we’re not going to have any of your nonsense today, do I? This is Arthur Ashe, not the schoolyard.” Giroux looked at each of them meaningfully. “I will not hesitate to dock either of you a game if you can’t keep it together. Are you listening to me, Konecny?”
Nolan looked over to where Travis was smirking like a kid being reprimanded by a teacher in class. “Yes sir,” Travis said and saluted sarcastically.
Giroux rolled his eyes. “Fine, let’s go.”
Travis came out swinging in the first set, setting a fast pace. He won a game for every one that Nolan won and then pulled out to win two more games to take the set 7-5.
At the break before the second set, Travis toweled off and changed his shirt, joking with the ball boys near his seat and tossing extra balls into the stands behind him. When Giroux called time, he strutted back onto the court, sending an infuriating smile to Nolan across the net.
Nolan closed his eyes for a moment and got ready to serve. He served a 122 mph ace that ripped past Travis before he could react. Then he hit another, and another, taking three games without even giving Travis the opportunity to volley or work the net. He could see Travis getting frustrated on the other side of the court and Nolan smiled to himself. Work him up and then relax, his coach had told him before the match. Use his temper against him. That was the plan, Nolan thought.
He took the second set 6-4 and, as he passed Travis on his way to his seat, he heard Travis mutter "cheater" under his breath. Nolan sat and drank some Gatorade, trying to tune Travis out, but Travis was jawing with Giroux about Nolan’s racket not even being legal. Nolan leaned forward and said loudly, “My racket’s legal. It’s not my fault that my arms are longer than you are tall.”
Travis glared at him as they took the court for the third set. Travis double faulted in the first game, and Nolan could see his face was flushed like it was before he lost his temper. When Travis tossed his towel at the ball boy with too much force, Giroux issued a warning that he’d be docked a game for unsportsmanlike conduct if he didn’t calm down.
Nolan stayed calm, methodically working his long game and keeping Travis scrambling along the baseline. Before he knew it, he had taken the third set 6-2. As they sat during the break, he could hear Travis’s coach calling to him to relax and to focus on his serve. Nolan smiled to himself because no coach had ever been able to control Travis.
At the start of the fourth set, Nolan stared placidly across the net and, right before Travis set up to serve, Nolan winked at him. Travis bobbled the toss and the serve went wide right. As soon as it was called out, he charged at the net, shouting to Giroux that he wanted Nolan to be cautioned.
“For what?” Nolan shouted, his racket gripped tight in his hand.
“For being a dick,” Travis shouted at Giroux.
“Time, gentlemen,” Giroux said into the mic and then he covered it with his hand. “I’m going to penalize you both if you don’t get a fucking move on,” Giroux said just loud enough for the on-court staff to hear.
Nolan was sweating like crazy under the lights, his hair plastered to his neck as he lunged across the court to return Travis’s sneaky little drop shots. Nolan had been up 5-4 but Travis was in a groove now, sprinting his heart out and making every improbable shot. At the tiebreak, Travis made a no-look shot between his legs and the crowd roared. Travis took the set 7-6.
On his way past Travis to his seat at the break before the fifth set, Nolan let his elbow swing wide and dig into Travis’s side. Travis whirled on him but Nolan was already in his seat so Travis turned to complain to Giroux, who looked like he was over all of this.
“This is bullshit,” Travis shouted. “He elbowed me!”
“Maybe if you weren’t so busy trying to make hot dog shots you’d watch where you were going,” Nolan snapped while he stretched out his shoulder.
Travis was fidgety as they set up for the start of the fifth set. Nolan could see him gripping his racket and twirling it like he always did when he was nervous. Nolan tried to keep his cool, focusing on the follow-through on his serve, but his shoulder was aching now and he was having trouble getting the spin he needed to get an ace past Travis. Instead, he was playing into Travis’s short game. And when it came to darting around the court to make sharply-angled shots, Travis was always going to beat him. Before Nolan knew it, he was down 2-4.
By the time Nolan pulled even at 4-4, he was feeling more confident, the win in his sights. As he got ready to serve, he smiled to himself. It was time for revenge. He tossed the ball and hit a 120 mph serve right at Travis.
“What the fuck!” Travis shouted and grabbed his leg where Nolan had hit him. “This is un-fucking-believable!” he yelled toward Giroux. Nolan just looked away and put his hands on his hips.
“Patrick, that’s a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct,” Giroux said over the mic, his voice weary. “Game, Konency. The score is 5-4.”
“He should be disqualified!” Travis shrieked. “That asshole hit me on purpose!”
Nolan rolled his eyes. “That’s for Cincinnati, you fucking hypocrite!” Nolan shouted back at him.
“Gentlemen, you’ll both be disqualified if you don’t get. On. With it,” Giroux shouted after covering the mic.
Travis’s face was fully red now and he was having trouble keeping up with Nolan from the baseline, his reach just short on Nolan’s long volleys. Nolan was up 6-5 and even caught Travis at the breakpoint when he successfully challenged a call. When Giroux announced that his shot had been in and he went to deuce, Travis slammed his racket on the court with a scream, denting the head.
Nolan smiled at Travis from across the net as he took a timeout to get a new racket, lucky that Giroux didn’t give Nolan the match for racket abuse. But Nolan wasn’t worried. It was matchpoint and he was in control. Travis returned his serve but Nolan’s volley had too much topspin for Travis to catch.
The crowd was on its feet, cheering at Nolan’s win. Nolan threw back his head and bellowed in joy, only noticing a moment later that Travis had already slumped over to his chair to grab his bag and hustle off the court.
Nolan took his time packing up his bag and then stopped by center court for his post-match interview.
“Nolan, what a win, what a gutsy match,” Chris Evert gushed. “What does this win mean to you?”
“It’s a big win, and I have to thank this great crowd,” Nolan said, raising his hands in appreciation for the crowd, which roared again in thanks.
“Is this vindication for you?”
“You bet your ass it is,” Nolan said with a smirk toward the camera.
“Congratulations again, Nolan,” Chris Evert said.
Nolan headed down the tunnel, which was dark after the glare of the night time lights in the stadium. When he got to the end, he stopped in front of Travis, who was leaning up against the wall with a soft smile on his face.
“Good job, babe,” Travis said as he tipped his head up for a kiss.
“You were out of control out there,” Nolan said before placing a hungry kiss on Travis’s lips.
“You love it,” Travis said, his hand coming around to squeeze Nolan’s ass.
“Not here,” Nolan said, kissing along Travis’s jaw.
“That’s not what you said in Cincinnati,” Travis said, slipping his hand beneath the back waistband of Nolan’s shorts.
“We almost got caught in Cincinnati,” Nolan said, pressing Travis back against the wall with the length of his body. “Can’t you wait until we get back to the hotel?”
“Nope.” Travis was groping Nolan’s ass with both hands now. “You know what your serious tennis face does to me.”
“Is that your excuse for dropping that last set?” Nolan said, biting into Travis’s neck.
Travis hissed in response and dug his fingernails into Nolan’s ass. “Just for that, you’re going to fuck me when we get to the room.”
“What a punishment,” Nolan smiled down at Travis. “C’mon, babe” he said, holding out his hand for Travis to take. “Let’s get out of here.”