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Special "K"
By Richard Freeland

We were on vacation at Fiddler's Cove Beach and Racquet Club in Hilton Head and were looking to play some tennis. All the courts there are clay, adjacent to the villas, and you only had to walk out your door to find a court.

My son Josh & I were hitting around when a little Indian guy limped out to the court. He couldn't have been over 5' tall, sixty-ish, bent and wizened - looked sort of like Yoda without the pointy ears. He watched for a while, and during a break asked us if we'd like to play with him and his son the next morning.

Well, why not? We figured we could hit with them awhile, maybe break a sweat, teach the old fella a few things, then find some real opponents to test us. Little did we know...

We met them on court the next morning, thinking we'd pretty much teach them a little about tennis. Lessons were taught that day, but not by us. That little guy's name was "K" - no spelling, just the initial. He didn't look like much, but he was hell on wheels on a tennis court. Almost like magic, he could take the pace off the hardest hit ball and put it anywhere on the court he wanted to. He would direct lobs so inticingly close, but just out of reach. His vollys were either crisp straight down the middle, or carressed with sweet underspin to die a foot from the net. The pace and spin on his serves (from a man who looked as if he'd blow over in a gentle breeze) were unbelievable. Overhead, forehand, backhand - you name it, he had it.

His son (name Prakash), in his mid-thirties, was just as good, only more powerful off the ground. Turns out Prakash had played no. 1 singles for his highschool. Josh played no. 1 doubles for his school, so they were pretty evenly matched. But "K" far outmatched me - and me 25-30 years his junior.

We played that day till we were all worn out. During that fantastic week we played several times a day, my two sons and my wife Martha and I, and we came to know "K" and Prakash and their families well. About the only thing "K" couldn't do well was move. He had excellant anticipation, but tended to wear out easily. He grew up playing tennis in India, on courts of dirt or cow-dung. He moved to Missouri while still young, and won almost every major tournament there.

One of "K" secret weapons was a serve we dubbed the "Special K Serve". He would lull us with jokes and smiles, then suddenly hit an underhand serve with tremendous, wicked spin. It would invaribly clear the net by six inches, spinning away and back, hit the clay, jump up and out about a foot off the ground, and die. I never could get it back. Then "K" would just grin and move over to serve again.

During that week I played some of the best tennis I've ever played, and still lost most of the time. But playing against "K" and Prakash made me a better tennis player. And getting to know them and their families was icing on the cake. I'm proud to call them friends.

But if I never see that "Special K" serve, it will be too soon...!