At least that’s what I thought I heard from my place on the bench outside of court #2 at the Yale Club in NYC.
Then, “Vamosam!” Was I watching the right women’s Tournament of Champions qualifying match?? I turned to the woman next to me and gestured at the very fit young woman in a pink tank top on the court. “What’s her name?” I asked.
“Samantha Teran,” she said, in a Mexican accent. “Sometimes we call her Sam or Sammy.”
Ah. Ah-ha. I realized now what they were really saying. “Vamos Sam!” Let’s go!
And Sam does go. Very, very fast. Her first game against Englishwoman Fiona Moverley was full of hard, low cross-courts and rails. The two women looked fairly evenly matched. Although they looked physically quite different. Samantha was compact, her muscled legs and back well-toned. I couldn’t help thinking of another compact, well-toned player, Nicol David. And, like Nicol, Samantha wore an intense gaze that followed the ball’s every move. Her opponent, Fiona Moverley was a statuesque blond, and she was at least a head taller. While Samantha reached to make her shots, Fiona had to both reach and fold her body down to sweep the ball back. Her gaze was more relaxed than Samantha’s, but it was also more of a mask, as if she didn’t want to give away how focused she was.
Both players moved around the court well, and the points were long, pushing both women up the score ladder so that it seemed that either could land the game in their net if they didn’t misstep — or mis-hit. It was impossible to hear the score from the gallery outside the glass wall, so I only got a clue that Samantha had won the first game when she let out a yelp of victory after a satisfying corner drop from her position high on the T.
Her bare arms were glistening as she exited the court between games, and as the warm air seeped out into the gallery, I recalled my own league games there and how hot the courts could get. No matter how hard you hit the ball, it would pop up. Winning often took endless patience and fewer errors.
Someone seemed to have told Samantha something meaningful between games, because she came back on the court like a whirling dervish. Her wind-up seemed bigger, and she was taking the ball on the fly or well before it made it to the back wall. As the game progressed, the ball ricocheted like a bullet, and I couldn’t help wondering if she could keep the pace up.
Whether Fiona was wondering the same thing was a mystery, her face was so devoid of emotion. But she did give every lunge her all and shot back as best she could. However, as the game went on, her errors began to increase. And that fed Samantha’s confidence. She zipped up game two 11 to 6.
By game three, Samatha’s shirt was solidly wet on the front and splotched with sweat on the back. She was working hard. And she really didn’t let up. She continued to throttle the ball until there was an opener for a closer. And try as she might, Fiona couldn’t find many of those openings. She was mainly on the retrieving treadmill, until she fell off. As the stumbles increased, so did her growls and the disintegration of her mask. “Come on, Fi!” her fans called. But their cheers proved to be too late. Fiona lost the 3rd game as well, for a 11-9, 11-6, 11-8 match score.
Afterwards, and after her many friends and fans had congratulated her, I asked Samantha what she changed in the second game, sure that some wise words from her friend Ms. David must’ve revved her up. But she confessed that she played pretty much the same throughout. The first game was feeling out a player whom she hadn’t played before. She was relieved to win that one. And then she felt that a few mistakes on Fiona’s side gave her extra confidence. Perhaps that was the cause of her pacing metronome going into double time. In any case, she was relieved and happy. There would be a shower, food, and rest before her next match against Egyptian star, Nour El Sherbini on Saturday.
Fiona would get an even longer rest. Her long body sagged a bit on the leather bench by the elevators. “Great match” I assured her. “You both seemed to have a similar game.”
“It really wasn’t my game,” Fiona confessed. “I tried to slow the pace down, but the court was too hot.”
“The court suited her,” Olivia Blatchford chimed in, having played and won earlier that evening. “The ball was flying. It was tough.”
Fiona nodded. I nodded. It is tough be a qualifier and play on a court that suits your opponent more than yourself. But that’s the game. And hopefully, undoubtedly, there will be more.
Happily, there will be more ToC matches for the women. Their main draw starts today in the glass court in Vanderbilt Hall. I’m ready. Are you?