The Prologue from my freshest manuscript, Greatness. It tells the story of the world’s greatest tennis player, coming to terms with the true cost of “greatness” over the course of his final US Open. .

Prologue.

He was heaving for air, his lungs labouring as hard as they ever had. A sulphuric taste in them like car exhaust hitting cool morning air. His lower back radiating heat, feeling like it had been stabbed by a hot knife. He had no feeling in his serving shoulder. A blister leaked lave-like puss into his sweaty sock, made it feel like he was standing on fire. 

He remembered what Muhammad Ali had said: I only start counting when it hurts. 

He’d been counting points all tournament long. 

He was leaned against the wall at the back of the court, in shadow, the sweat pouring down his face so that he tasted it like chicken soup. He made one last swipe with his towel, centre court coming back into focus. There was an ovation, and cheering, flags, signs, a reverberation spreading beyond Ash Stadium and Flushing Meadows, they all knew they were watching history in real time. He refused to glance across the net, to risk looking his executioner in the eye, so his eyes drifted upwards, into the stands. A ring of twenty-three thousand, most of them watching him, studying him. Too many cameras and phones to count, portals into smaller worlds where he meant something to all of them, even if he was their villain.

Though he knew he was well past the 25 seconds players were allowed between points, he let himself marinate in the energy and emotion. The umpire had yet to call time, to start the shot clock, but that was a technicality they didn’t consider, knowing rules like that no longer applied to him.  

His fans would say he had achieved greatness. But that was not how he felt in the moment, still another brick to lay.   

His mother’s last words to him were, “We sacrificed everything so that you have a shot at greatness.”

His last words to her were, “What if I don’t want greatness?”

That was in the early days, on the heels of a shameful loss. Now, on reflection, it was clearer: his tennis career was both an apology and a thank you. 

He firewalked to the service line, still, even in what could be the final point of his final professional match, trying to make things right between them.

The umpire leaned forward in her tall chair, twisting the hot mic to her mouth: “Quiet, please.” 

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