Roddy L’Estrange: Fury tempts Vinny to make a bad call

Misfortune for Angie in tennis final sees her devoted husband lose the plot

On one side was Angie, slim, dark and tanned; on the other was Norma Farquarhson, stumpy, straw-haired and pale as a bottle of milk.

On one side was Angie, slim, dark and tanned; on the other was Norma Farquarhson, stumpy, straw-haired and pale as a bottle of milk.

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The finalists in the Vernon Vase were called to attention at 7pm on Sunday evening.

“Two minutes, ladies. Two minutes,” bellowed the umpire, Toby Masterson, from his high chair. In reply, the thwock-thwocks became that bit more animated as the contestants fine-tuned their preparations.

On one side was Angie, slim, dark and tanned; on the other was Norma Farquarhson, stumpy, straw-haired and pale as a bottle of milk.

“Way to go, Ange,” cheered Vinny Fitzpatrick from his position at the rear of the court, in the shade of a venerable oak tree.

The Vernon Vase was a highly coveted bauble fought for by the lady members of Clontarf Lawn Tennis Club, aged 50 and over.

This was Angie’s first eligible year and her progress to the final was remarkable considering her health issues and lack of practice.

Somehow, she’d survived matches on consecutive evenings, two of which had gone to a third set tie-break.

Against Maud Montgomery in the semi-finals, she’d saved three match points, each one of which Vinny peeped at through his fat fingers.

Her feel-good story had caught the imagination of the club membership and beyond and the Clontarf Courier were on hand to run a picture story – win or lose, Angie would be plastered all over Dublin 3’s free-sheet that week.

Should she win, Vinny would be plastered too, in celebration, he’d decided.

The duel in the sun was a contrast in styles. Norma Farquarhson was a hard-hitting, baseline grinder who grunted ceaselessly whereas Angie was silent and silky, all drop shots and deft angles.

Vinny reckoned his wife would have to win in straight sets, as her stamina reserves were in red. She might be three years younger than Stormin’ Norma but she’d far less tennis in her legs.

As Toby Masterson called ‘time’, Vinny said a wee prayer for Angie for he knew what winning would mean after all she had been through.

The contest unfurled as Vinny had hoped. Angie’s touch was sure, her eye was in.

She broke Stormin’ Norma in the second game, held her serve handily and kept the advantage to claim the set 6-3 inside 24 minutes. As she reached for her towel, she gave Vinny the thumbs up.

The Vase continued to run at a perfect script for Angie. She had Stormin’ Norma on a string as she varied her play, with a wondrous blend of drop volleys, weighted lobs and velvet cross-court passes.

And then came the moment when the match, and the magic of the evening, turned. It was deuce in the second set with Angie 4-2 up.

On a rare advance to the net by a fretting Norma Farquarhson, Angie was forced, at full stretch, to conjure up a wristy Garryowen. In the air, the ball looked destined for the branches of the old oak but it spun to the turf, catching the edge of the white markings at the court’s boundary. Vinny knew this as he had spied the faint puff of chalk from his vantage point barely five yards away.

“Allez Angie,” he shouted.

The initiative

But his joy was silenced as he heard Toby Masterson call the ball ‘long’ followed by “advantage Mrs Farquarhson”.

Instantly, Stormin’ Norma slammed down an ace to take the game, and the initiative.

Apoplectic with rage, Vinny waddled to the umpire’s high chair. “‘Hey Toby,” he called out. “That ball was good. If you weren’t sure why didn’t you play a let?”

Toby Masterson hadn’t become club life president without being able to handle himself in tight corners, and he swatted Vinny away like a nagging fly. He thundered: “Would Mr Fitzpatrick please leave the court before I demand his removal. The ball was called out, so out it was. May I remind you the umpire’s word is final,’ he added, his face reddening in anger.

Angie implored: “Vinny, away with you, for heaven’s sake. You’re behaving like a spoilt child.”

A seething Vinny repaired to his vantage point. What followed only enraged him more. Angie lost the second set tie-break and ran out of juice in the finale, winning just one more game.

When it was over, she embraced Norma warmly at the net and then shook Toby Masterson’s hand as the applause rang out. But as the presentation took place, with Toby as MC, Vinny was alone in the car park. He spied the car he wanted, parked in the life president’s reserved spot. Casually, Vinny walked past the 2014 Mercedes 200 SEL, dragging his own car keys into its sleek, shiny, flank.

“Game, set and match,” he said through gritted teeth.

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