‘I was in the Emirates Suite for the semis against Natalya. You just undid her game. Took it apart point by point. You controlled the pace of the match and didn’t give her an inch. You were focused, methodical, and entirely in control. I don’t need to tell you that winning straight sets in a Slam semi is pretty damn impressive, and if you can do it there – against Natalya Ivanov – you can do it tonight, too.’
‘Thank you,’ Charlie said. She sat up straighter and pushed her shoulders back. ‘Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. Always. Your baby is so lucky to have you as her mom.’
‘It has to be a girl.’
‘She is a girl.’
‘You know already?’ Charlie asked, eyes wide.
‘They have a blood test now for old moms like me. Yes, a girl. Maybe one day you’ll help me teach her to play?’
Charlie walked around the table, slid in the banquette next to Marcy, and gave her a proper hug. ‘I’d be honored.’
charlotte silver ready to play
US OPEN, AUGUST 2016
Charlie watched as Karina Geiger fielded the questions from the ESPN reporter. The two women were standing in the long hallway that led from the locker room to the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Surrounding them both were framed black-and-white photos of all the champions who had played that court, either a year or a decade or a half century before them: Steffi, Pete, Andre, Roger, Stefan, Jennifer, Marco, Chrissy, Martina, Rinaldo, John, Serena, Jimmy, Natalya, Venus, Rafa, Andy, Maria. Otherwise it wasn’t fancy or particularly impressive – just a windowless corridor that felt dark and a bit industrial if it weren’t for the legends staring down from every direction.
‘What do you hope to accomplish at this match today?’ the woman reporter asked Karina, thrusting the microphone under her chin.
Karina, normally friendly, couldn’t keep the look of disdain off her face. ‘Accomplish?’ she asked in accented English. Karina looked at the reporter pointedly. ‘Well, I’m not here today to work on my backhand,’ she said, and pulled back on her oversized headphones.
‘Good luck, Karina!’ the reporter called, but Karina had already slung her racket bag over her shoulder and proceeded to the door, where she would bounce and pace, waiting for Charlie to do her interview so both women could be formally announced onto the court.
‘And here we have Charlotte Silver, number-two-ranked woman in the world and clearly the crowd favorite here in Flushing Meadows today. Charlotte, how are you feeling right now?’
Reporters loved this question, and every player in the history of the game gave a variation on a theme: ‘I’m feeling really confident in my game right now. I’m ready.’
Which is exactly what Charlie said. She was surprised, as she always was, when the reporter nodded enthusiastically, as though Charlie had just shared a great revelation.
‘It must be quite the experience to be standing in the company of such legends,’ the woman stated, her lipsticked mouth hovering centimeters from the microphone.
Charlie waited for the question, but as is often the case, there wasn’t one.
‘It sure is,’ Charlie said, looking directly into the woman’s eyes. She could see the cameraman zoom in for a close-up over the reporter’s shoulder. ‘And this is an especially poignant night for me. It will be my second-to-last US Open ever.’
Charlie could feel the quiet descend on the hallway before she could hear it.
‘Does that mean … Are you saying … Is this a retirement announcement?’ the reporter sputtered.
Charlie leaned forward and caught Dan winking at her. He and Jake already knew her plan, but this would be the first her father was hearing about it. She took the microphone and, rather than answer the reporter, looked off to the side, directly at her father. ‘Yes, it is. Regardless of whether I win or lose here tonight, I’m only going to play professionally for one more year. Next year’s US Open will be my last major tournament.’
The surprise on Mr Silver’s face was second only to the reporter’s, who was clearly not prepared to deviate from the usual pregame script. She coughed for a minute, began to ask a question, and then stopped. Finally, she said, ‘It’s unusual, no, for a player who’s only twenty-five and by all accounts at the peak of her career to retire? Any further explanation of your decision? What will come next for Charlotte Silver?’
Charlie only said, ‘Please excuse me, but I have a match to play.’
‘Yes, yes,’ the reporter murmured, obviously having forgotten all about the reason for the interview in light of her breaking news scoop. ‘We wish you the best of luck today. And always.’
Charlie immediately felt her father’s hand clamp over her shoulder. She turned to face him and threw her arms around his neck. ‘It’s time,’ she said into his neck.
‘You’re certain?’ he asked so only she could hear.
She pulled back a bit and nodded. ‘Yes. One more year. It finally feels like enough.’
Her father’s eyes crinkled as he smiled. ‘It’s more than enough; it’s incredible what you’ve accomplished. How hard you’ve worked. But the best part of all is that you feel that for yourself. It’s all I’ve ever wanted for you.’
‘I know, Dad. And I appreciate it, more than you know.’
‘Charlotte? Karina? Time for the introductions,’ Isabel called out, checking the giant digital clock that was counting down the seconds from its perch above the court entrance.
Her father kissed her cheek. Behind him, Dan grinned at her and gave her a knowing look while Jake flashed her a thumbs-up. A tournament official motioned for Charlie’s and Karina’s entourages to follow him through another exit, where he would escort them to their respective player boxes. The door to the court was for players only. The women would have to walk through it alone.
Charlie listened as the announcer called out Karina’s career highlights and accomplishments: ranked as high as number one in the world; made it to the finals of a Grand Slam six times and won three of them; youngest woman in the last ten years to win two consecutive Slams. The screen showed the rowdy American crowd cheering, as they would for any final contender, but it was obvious they were anxious for Charlie. By the time the announcer began calling Charlie’s stats, the crowd drowned out his voice. Charlie tried to listen to his biography of her, to hear how he encapsulated the last twenty-odd years of her life into a single paragraph, but the noise and the emotion were too overwhelming. When it was finally time for her to take her first steps on the legendary court, she was so overcome that Isabel had to give her a firm push.