Hero for a day

Wed, 25. Mar. 2020
The winning team with Victor Dial on the right and Patrick Zürcher on the left in the front row. (Courtesy of Victor Dial)

GstaadLife reader Victor Dial shares the story of a memorable day, on which he unexpectedly turned out to be a tennis hero for a day.

Imagine it’s mid-morning on an overcast Sunday in Gstaad. You’re relaxing in the cozy bedroom of your lovely chalet nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains full of undecorated Christmas trees. Your companion of many years is curled up beside you, leafing through the pages of her favorite magazine; and you’ve almost finished the Sunday Times crossword. It’s a day with nothing on the schedule – it’s just the two of you. You’re starting to think of something else that could make the morning even better, yum yum…

Just then, the phone rings. I hesitate to answer, but curiosity always gets the better of me. It’s Patrick Zürcher, a teacher at Le Rosey, a nearby boarding school. I’m one of Patrick’s admirers, even if he is a generation younger than me, but we don’t often speak on the phone – we see each other in the village or at the sports center.

“Victor, I’m sorry to bother you at home on a Sunday morning, but I need your help!” (What could it be? I wonder.) “As you know I’m captain of the over-35 men’s tennis team.” (Yes, of course I know that.) “We’re playing an inter-club match this morning against a strong team from Bern. It’s an important match: if we win, we’ll be promoted to a higher league next season.” (Why’s he telling me this? I ask myself.) “The score in matches is 4-all, with one match – a doubles – left to play. The winner of the ninth and final match wins promotion, the loser goes nowhere.” (I thought I saw where he might be going, but kept quiet.) Patrick continued: “I was scheduled to play the last doubles with Michel Bacher (the club pro), but he injured himself while winning his singles, and can’t play.” (Oh my god, he’s going to ask me to fill in! My heartbeat starts to rise.) “I know this is an imposition, but would you be willing to step in for Michel at such short notice and be my partner?”

This call took place some ten years ago when I was “only” 70-something. For several years I’d been playing for the over-45 team, so I knew how it worked and what was involved. Patrick added “I’m sorry to press you, but I need a yes or no right away – all the other matches have finished, and if you can’t play, we’ll have to default.” In the few seconds he’d given me to decide I thought of many reasons to say “no”, and a few to say “yes.” The “yesses” won: I enjoy a challenge, and I was glad (and also flattered) to be asked to come to the aid of youngsters half my age. Would I be up to it?

I arrived at the indoor tennis hall about 15 minutes later, where I met our two adversaries, waiting impatiently. They looked young and hungry. I learned they were the number one pair of their team, ranked way above both of us in singles. What they didn’t know about me – apart from my white hair and advanced age, impossible to hide – was that I love to play doubles, and over the years have won a lot of doubles tournaments. On the over 45 inter-club team I often played number one or two in singles, winning some and losing some, but I rarely – if ever – lost a doubles match. While our adversaries today were young and fast, Patrick and I could beat them using superior tactics – angles, variety, and above all, control of the net.

As we walked onto the court – I truly don’t know what came over me, I hadn’t planned it at all – I motioned to our two muscular opponents to meet me at the net. With a huge smile on my face I said that I wanted to explain the rules. They looked at me dumb-founded: “Rules? What rules? We know the rules!” I pointed to my white hair and said “you must hit drop shots and lobs only to Patrick, not to me”. (I have noticed that some of my Germanic friends – some, not all, mind you – occasionally take things a bit too literally, thereby missing the joke. This looked to be the case of our opponents, and my new “rules” may have destabilized them.) As we warmed up, I could see they hit the ball well, but the question was, how well would they play together as a team?

I need to recognize my partner Patrick. Much as I’d like to take the sole credit for what was to come, Patrick is a very good player and even if it was the first time we’d ever played an important match together, we meshed instinctively. Our adversaries hit as many balls as they could to me – including dropshots and lobs in spite of my playful pre-game admonition – but I was in good form that day, and Patrick was a star, as usual! In the first set we broke their serve early on. Leading at 5-4 with my serve to come, I managed to control my nerves and serve out the set: 6-4 for us. Their spirit broken, Patrick and I ran away with the second set, crushing them 6-1. Victory was ours – how sweet it was.

The Gstaad over-35 team won the match 5-4 and was duly promoted to a higher league the following season. The whereabouts of the team from Bern is unknown… it must have been a very long ride home.

I heard rumors that my teammates considered commissioning a statue in my honor, but nobody seems to know where it is…

Victor Dial

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