Page 50 of The Singles Game


An email from Isabel, the WTA publicist, popped up on Charlie’s iPad and she opened it.

Dear Charlie,

Please find enclosed the roundup of last week’s events. I’ve included all the mentions, stories, interviews, spottings, blind items, and photographs that include either you, Marco, or both of you since the night of the player party in Miami. Congratulations! This is truly tremendous reach, and we are always appreciative of the chance to draw attention to our sport. I hope you’re enjoying the VF shoot. I’m in constant contact with their people, but please do let me know if I can be of any further assistance.

All the best,

Isabel

Below the note were three dozen links, which at first glance included everything from US Weekly to O, The Oprah Magazine. Page Six had a juicy tidbit insinuating rumors that she and Marco had been having an affair – ‘in various luxe hotel suites all over the world’ – for over a year now; Gawker featured a rambling sexist exploration on why female tennis players were, in their words, ‘pretty much the only attractive professional women athletes on earth,’ with especially derogatory commentary aimed at female basketball players and swimmers; E! Online had dug up a dozen photos of both her and Marco as junior players, and paired them with lots of empty, breathless copy lines like ‘Meant to be!’ and ‘Fated from birth!’ across their website. Most online magazines and blogs featured the photograph now dubbed ‘The Kiss’: some zoomed in to make it look like a sneaked paparazzo shot and others blurred the background using Photoshop so you couldn’t quite tell that Charlie and Marco had pecked while walking a red carpet in front of hundreds of people, but they all sent the same message: Hot New Couple Alert.

Charlie turned off the iPad and tucked it in her beach bag. Lowering the lounge chair to flat, she stretched her arms overhead and felt the early-morning sun hit her body. It had all happened so fast. New coach, new look, new boyfriend, new aggressive style of play. And just in case there was any doubt it had been the right call, there were the tangible results to consider: a semifinal finish at a Premier Mandatory tournament, a bump in her ranking, and more media attention in the last week than Kate Middleton had gotten with her second pregnancy announcement.

When she woke up a half hour later, it felt like she’d been asleep all morning. When was the last time Charlie had been relaxed enough to fall asleep poolside? Hell, when was the last time she’d even been poolside? Of all the fabulous hotels she stayed in, all the exotic cities and far-flung countries, she rarely ever saw anything except the airport, the tennis site, and the inside of her hotel room. Occasionally she’d have dinner at a great restaurant or attend the player party at a fun nightclub, but all of these five-star places with the best chefs and the prettiest clientele could be anywhere. If it weren’t for the jet lag and the passport stamps, Charlie could barely ever remember if she was in Hong Kong or Shanghai, Melbourne or Auckland. One time she’d written a group email update to Piper, Jake, and her father and told them about what she’d seen out of her window on the drive from the Abu Dhabi airport to her hotel; it had taken her father replying to ask if she wasn’t playing in Dubai that week before she realized he was right.

Her phone read 9:08 a.m. Normally Charlie hated running, but it was widely acknowledged among players as the only way to squeeze in a little sightseeing: it counted as a workout, and you got to see a bit of local flavor at the same time. She headed back to her room to change, and although the private plunge pool on the balcony of her oceanfront suite nearly dismantled her motivation, she changed into shorts, laced up her sneakers, and tucked a twenty-dollar bill in her sports bra in case she found a place to buy some water. Meads Bay beach was nearly empty when she jogged down, only a couple of families with young children sitting in the shallow surf, and they gave her tired waves as she ran by. Her feet hit the sand rhythmically and her breath started to come faster. Despite her fitness level, she could never manage more than a seven-minute mile for any real length of time, but she settled into a comfortable pace and focused on taking in the salty air. In a few minutes Charlie was running past another resort, not nearly as luxurious as the Viceroy, but nice enough and filled with happily shrieking children. In another half mile or so the beach ended abruptly with an understated PRIVATE PROPERTY sign affixed to an imposing gate. Behind it, lush vegetation rose seemingly out of the sand to mask a stucco mansion: only the shingled roof was visible above the palm trees.

Veering off the beach onto a paved sidewalk, Charlie followed the path out toward a village road. To her left was a sprinkling of cottage houses, a church, and what looked like a schoolhouse. She turned right and ran toward a village with a charming little pedestrian area dotted with local shops and restaurants. There were a few tourists poking around with their telltale sunburns and oversized straw bags, but mostly the customers were Anguillan: old ladies bustling about with sacks of plantains and schoolchildren in crisp uniforms finishing their breakfasts. A little donut shop at the end of the strip advertised bottled water, so Charlie jogged over.

‘Hey!’ she heard a familiar voice say from somewhere behind her.

Charlie stopped, her heart doing little flip-flops. Had Marco followed her? Was he here to apologize?

When she turned around, it took her a moment. ‘Dan? What are you doing here?’

He sat in a green plastic chair, an espresso cup in front of him. Shielding his eyes from the sun, he looked up at Charlie and said, ‘I could ask you the same.’

Charlie mopped a stream of sweat from her forehead and then awkwardly wiped her wet palm against her shorts. ‘I was just out for a run. Figured it was my only chance to leave the hotel and look around a little.’

‘It’s pretty nice, huh?’

‘The hotel? It’s gorgeous.’

Dan laughed, a hearty laugh with crinkly eyes and his face turned to the sky.

‘I’m going to get a bottle of water. Do you want one?’ she asked him.

He motioned to the cluster of three empty chairs at his table. ‘Why don’t you join me? We don’t have to be back for another forty minutes or so. They have the most killer coffee. Even better than Turkey.’

Charlie glanced around helplessly. Why did she suddenly feel so uncomfortable? And then she realized: she’d never been alone with Dan. She barely ever spotted him off the court, to the point where Jake often wondered aloud where he went and what he did. It seemed Dan was not interested in hanging out if he wasn’t on the clock. Other women befriended their hitting partners – some were even rumored to sleep with them – but Dan clearly wanted no part of any of it.

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