Game, Set, and Match

Donna King

Kingfisher

Chapter One
<p
"You're a winner, Leo, and you have big dreams."
<p
Carrie Springsteen read her horoscope and sighed.
<p
"You get right where the action is, and don't you just love it when the
spotlight is on you!"
<p
No! Carrie thought. Okay, so I have big dreams of winning in tennis, but that
spotlight stuff—no way!
<p
She sat cross-legged on the grassy slope, reading her magazine. Although
she had an August birthday, she didn't see herself as a typical Leo show-off.
More of a shy type, really.
<p
"Good shot, Joey!" Hilary called across the net to the dark-haired kid she was
coaching on a nearby court.
<p
Carrie glanced up, sighed again, and then closed her magazine. Joey's
session was about to end. Me next, she thought.
<p
Her dad came down the steps from the clubhouse. "Hey, Carrie, why aren't
you warming up? Come on, pick up your racket—summer vacation may
have begun, but we can't have you slouching around."
<p
So she sprang onto her feet, and they headed to the practice court. For ten
minutes Carrie hit a ball against the concrete wall.
<p
"Nice work!" her dad told her. "That backhand is really improving. Most grown-
ups can't hit the ball that hard. Good job!"
<p
Carrie grinned at him. She felt good—ready to start work with Hilary.
<p
"Hi, Carrie!" The coach greeted her with a wide smile. "How's my star player?"
<p
"Great, thanks." Carrie took up her position across the net from Hilary.
<p
She checked her grip and waited for the first ball.
<p
Whack! She hit it in the middle of the strings and returned it fast and low.
<p
"Good shot!" Hilary called.
<p
She nodded and smiled. Yeah, that felt cool! Carrie pushed a stray strand of
fair hair back from her face and tucked it into her ponytail.
<p
"Again!" Hilary instructed.
<p
Whack! Carrie played the same shot. It zoomed across the net.
<p
"Watch your position. Move your feet!" her dad shouted from the sideline.
<p
Carrie nodded. She crouched and waited. The next ball came toward her, and
she hit it hard.
<p
"Nice one!" Hilary said, studying Carrie's backhand.
<p
They'd been playing for almost an hour without a break. Carrie's dad made
sure that there was no "slouching around," as he called it.
<p
"Move your feet!" he had yelled over and over. "Come on, Carrie! Run!"
It was hot. She was tired. The palm of her racket hand was sticky with sweat.
<p
"We've got the County Championship coming up this weekend," Martin
Springsteen reminded Hilary. "Carrie needs to be at the top of her game."
<p
"She's playing really well," the coach told him. "Her backhand drive is her
strongest shot. For a twelve-year-old player, it's the best I've seen."
<p
"Yeah, but she still has to work on the rest of her game." Carrie's dad wanted
his golden girl to win. He was determined to make her the best. Ever since
Carrie had been able to hold a tennis racket, he'd had his heart set on
producing a Grand Slam champion.
<p
Hilary glanced up at the hot sun. "Let's take a break," she suggested.
"No, we haven't had our full hour," Martin argued, checking his watch. "Keep
playing, Carrie. You need to practice your serve."
<p
The hour of coaching was over at last. Carrie was in the changing room,
getting ready to take a shower. She unlaced her tennis shoes and threw
them under the bench. Then she unzipped her dress and loosened her long
hair. Turning on the shower, she tilted her head back and let the cool spray
sprinkle her cheeks.
<p
Good shot! . . . Nice serve! . . . Game, set, and match to Carrie Springsteen!
For her whole life she'd been hearing that stuff.
<p
Carrie's a natural tennis player . . . She has buckets of talent . . . That girl
will go far!
<p
At five years old Carrie had been spotted by the coach at the fancy club
where her mum and dad played tennis. At seven she'd been put into a
special program for talented tennis kids.
<p
"Carrie's the one to watch," everyone said. "She's a future Grand Slam
champion. She's a star!"
<p
Under the shower Carrie could hear all those voices inside her head.
Okay, at 12 she could hit the ball harder than most adults. She had the
longest legs, terrific speed, and lightning-quick reactions. She was good!
But lately she didn't go out on the court with a spring in her step like she had
last year and all the years before. Carrie took a sharp breath. Maybe she was
tennised out!
<p
Take last night, when her best friend, Liv, had called.
<p
"I'm meeting Alice and Mandi in town tomorrow at ten. We're going shopping.
Can you come?" she asked.
<p
"Sorry, I can't," Carrie said.
<p
"Okay, don't tell me. You're playing TENNIS." Liv had said the word in capital
letters—like, TENNIS MENACE!
<p
"Yeah." Carrie's voice was flat. She was missing out again.
<p
It was the story of her life. Tennis triumph and social life sadness.
Sorry I can't come to the dance/party/movies . . . I need an early night . . .
I'm playing in a tournament. For Carrie, tennis always had to come first.
Sighing, she turned off the shower and got dressed. Ouch! She felt a small
pain in her thigh, as if she'd pulled a muscle. Pressing her thumbs into the
spot, she massaged the ache.
<p
"Hey, Carrie, are you limping?" Hilary asked as she came out of the changing
room and onto the balcony overlooking the courts. The coach had been
talking with Martin Springsteen while he waited for his daughter to shower
and change.
<p
"It's nothing," Carrie answered.
<p
"Are you sure you don't want Hal to take a look?" Hilary asked.
<p
"No, thanks." Hal was the physiotherapist, but Carrie didn't think the pain
was serious.
<p
"Probably just a cramp," her dad guessed, taking her sports bag and heading
off down the steps toward the car.
<p
For a few seconds Carrie hung back.
<p
"Is everything okay?" Hilary asked. She knew that Carrie was shy and
wouldn't always say what she was thinking.
<p
"Yep." Carrie couldn't think of what else to say. Anyway, her dad was waiting.
"Well, good luck in the under-fourteens this Saturday," Hilary said.
Carrie smiled and nodded.
<p
"The County Championship is a good one to win," her coach reminded her.
"It'll get you noticed at a national level—the big time!"
<p
Where the action is—the spotlight! Carrie swallowed hard. "Thanks!"
<p
Hilary gazed at Carrie—at her wide, blue eyes and her sunburned face. "You
can do it!" she said quietly.
<p
Carrie gave Hilary a final nod before she followed her dad down the steps. The
ache in her leg was still there, she noticed.
<p
"Your mum called—lunch is ready," her dad said as she got into the car.
She took out her phone and read her text messages as they drove home.
<p
Gd luck on Sat Alice had texted.
<p
Bought cool shirt Liv wrote.
<p
Cool Carrie texted Liv back. Then she stared out the window while her dad
talked tactics for the weekend's matches.
<p
"Plenty of topspin on your second serve . . . good, solid baseline play . . .
don't take risks . . . wait for your opponent to make the mistakes . . ."
<p
Yeah, Dad, whatever! she thought. She rubbed the ache on the side of her
thigh. But do you know what? Okay, you and Mum want me to be a tennis
star more than anything else in the world. But the way I feel right this minute,
I wouldn't care if I never picked up another tennis racket in my whole life!