Let me set the scene for you: Weekly doubles match, indoors, Court 3, under a bubble covering four clay courts. In the very first game I was struggling to hold serve when Anthony Pozzi, a good friend and lefty opponent possessing a devastating drop-overhead volley (yes, it doesn’t seem possible but it is — a dropper from the overhead position), hit an overhead backhand parallel to the net, bound for Court 4, an almost sure putaway. But after a long winter of doubles against him, I anticipated this move and sprinted diagonally toward the space between the net posts of the two courts, my eyes wide and wild with the distinct possibility of hitting a forehand winner around the net … Of course, I’m not Roger Federer, not even close. I missed the shot, running smack into the Court 4 net post, scraping up my right hand and bruising my left thigh, not to mention getting tangled in the netting separating the two courts. They broke my serve, and we went on to lose the match. I am certain if I had nailed the ball around the net posts that we would have gone on to win. At least I didn’t hurt myself seriously — James Blake broke his neck in 2004 in a net-post collision.
This foolish attempt of mine was another failed moment in a lifelong effort to hit a ball around the net post, the rare shot that is equivalent to golf’s elusive hole-in-one. I did it once in practice in high school, but that was a long time ago, and not during a match. I almost hit one in a 4.5 USTA league doubles match a few years ago, aided by the fact that the net on the adjacent court was down, providing ample space, but I still missed the shot. According to Patrick McEnroe’s commentary in this fantastic compilation video of Federer’s around the net post shots, an ATP player might hit a shot around the next post six times in their career. Me, I’ll be happy with one … Most likely, however, I’ll settle for none.