For those of you who missed it, Hurricane Earl was mostly hype with not much punch. Six weeks ago, however, Lyn and I faced a real storm. We played Sam Potter and Sam Protzmann in a mixed doubles tournament. If you know the team (I think of them as the Sam squared), you will understand my sense of trepidation as I left the house for the ECTC.

Things got worse as I walked onto the court. The two Sams came with six racquets. My, they must break a lot of strings, I concluded. What’s the matter with me? The last time my racquet was restrung was 20 years ago. I can’t ever remember breaking a string.

Maybe it’s because I’m serving underhanded now, I thought. But that idea lasted only until I started warming up with the male component of the dynamic duo. The ball rocketed off of his racquet. It seemed to wobble from mine.

At three-all in the first set I had a major lapse in concentration. As the female member of the team prepared to serve, her partner was at net realigning the strings of his racquet with his fingers.

I looked down at my strings. Perfect alignment. Damn! Maybe they have become fossilized in place over the course of the last 20 years, I speculated as I moved into position to receive serve. My sense of insecurity increased.

Despite my lack of concentration, we eked out the first set 7-5. Lyn was hitting the ball well and hard. Maybe her strings are out of alignment. Wouldn’t that be a gas! I was feeling better about things. We might just pull this off.

It’s now the third set, we lost set number two 7-5, and Sam, the man, is serving. He throws up the ball, and smashes it at me. It’s good. I take a backswing, and slam the ball back. It sails between them at the net — a winner.

I should be thrilled, but I’m not. Boy, I hit that ball hard, I mutter to myself. Why can’t I break a string? These strings are older than either one of our opponents.

Then I relaxed and smiled. Older than our opponents: that’s the key. The kids have new strings, undoubtedly made in China. Most consumer products are these days. No wonder their strings break. No wonder they need three racquets each. My strings are older, made in the good old USA. My family will bury these strings and racquet with me.

On the long walk home, I came to a different conclusion. The strings are not the problem. They have not become fossilized as I concluded earlier. My ground strokes have. The kids hit with incredible topspin. My strokes are flat. Topspin enables them to hit the ball so much harder. That’s why they won.

But I’ll be back next summer, playing tennis with flat ground strokes with the same old strings, and reporting on it. In the meantime, have a wonderful winter!