Enrique Quinones started playing tennis at the age of four. He was good. Everyone in his town said he was good. His parents gave him lessons. His mother told everyone she knew that it was Enrique’s dream that he would one day be a great player like Alex Olmedo or Pancho Segura, or Gonzales. He, of course, wanted to be good like them but he said to his mother, “Mama, it is your dream for me to be a great champion, but it is not my dream.”
And so, when he was ten and old enough to travel on an airplane by himself his mother sent him to stay with her sister in America so that he could have a great teacher and become famous.
When his aunt Bellissima brought him to the tennis schools in San Diego, they looked at him and told her to take him home because he was too old to learn to be a really great player. And so she took him to the biggest and best and most expensive schools in California and soon found the one she liked the best: the SHOQ Academy.
“What does SHOQ stand for?” she asked the director. “Swing. Hard. Or. Quit,” he told her. She thought that sounded just right, this was America after all, and she signed him up. She told Enrique good-bye, that she loved him very dearly, that she would come visit him every two weeks, and that one day he would reach his dream of being a great tennis player. “Good-bye, Tia Bellissima,” he said.
When Enrique graduated from college and turned pro, Edberg, Sampras, Chang, and Agassi were the top pros and Djokovic, and Federer, and Nadal were about his age, and he knew that he would never win a tournament they were in. But his aunt told him not to be discouraged. She sent him money and care packages and told him to remember to swing hard and not to quit. And so, he did.
He played on the pro circuit, in feeder tournaments, traveling from one city to another, staying in cheap hotels and, reading Kant and Nietzsche and Arendt, and eating takeout and Clif bars with the other players.
He kept hitting hard and not quitting and he became better and better, earning more and more ATP points, which put him higher and higher in the draws, letting him play lower ranked players in the early rounds with a better chance to make it into the quarters, semis, and possibly the finals. The promoters were making money. The sponsors were making money. The coaches and managers were making money, and he was making money. But not anything like one might dream of.
For a couple of years, during which he was playing both singles, doubles, and mixed doubles on the tour, he made enough to cover the airline and hotel costs with a little left over.
In his tenth year on the circuit, at a tournament in Palm Springs, Fiona Adler, a woman he knew at SHOQ and who had become a sports journalist when she realized her tennis career wasn’t going to happen, approached him and they started seeing one another when they were both in the same city for a tournament. They ended up spending more and more time together, nothing serious, and eventually she told him her sister had seen him play and she had a young son for whom she and her husband wanted to find a teaching pro.
“Enrique, face it,” said Fiona, “you’re good but not that good, you’ve been in this game ten years and you’re never going to make it big. Quit while you’re a name people know and have some money saved. You’re good looking. You start teaching and women from all over will want to bring their kids to you.”
“I doubt it, but okay,” he said. And so, Fiona introduced him to her sister, Ariana, and her son.
The boy was quick and confident, with near-perfect, sweet, natural strokes. He could feel the game. You could see it in the way he met the ball, not overswinging like most kids. He was loose. He hit like he was having a conversation with the ball. A natural talent. Enrique moved to Long Island took a job at a upscale tennis club and took the boy on.
Ariana brought the boy for lessons every day after school and all day on weekends, though Cal, her husband told her it was a waste. He said, “Let’s take him down to Bollettieri’s school in Florida. The hell with this loser teaching pro. What can you possibly see in that guy?
Ariana saw a lot. “He’s a good teacher and he knows what tennis academies do to a young kid. He knows that Conor is good, not enough to beat a Djokovic. But he sees him playing in college and maybe pros and loving it. Let him do that. Don’t turn Conor into a commodity you can market for your own sake. Give Enrique a year to get him into the juniors and see how he does.”
“You’re being small minded,” he told her. “Conor needs a chance to be great. He can have six months. That’s all.”
Ariana said, “Thanks. You won’t regret it.”
Enrique took Conor to the boys’ twelves and in three months he got a national ranking in the juniors. Ariana went along to all his matches. The three of them got along well. Conor liked Enrique and Enrique liked Conor. The problem was that Ariana liked Enrique a lot and Enrique liked her too. A lot. And one night after they had all said good night at a cheap hotel in Cincinnati … well, you know what happened.
So Cal, hurt beyond belief, said, “Ariana, what did you think would happen?” He sued for divorce and he took Conor, who was hurt well within belief and would not say a word to his mother, and their other son, Chris, who was too young to believe or understand anything or even to know what was going on, down to Bollettieri’s, leaving Ariana the house and all of his winter clothing.
She was heartbroken. All she had left was a home with an island in the kitchen and a gazebo in the backyard, friends who didn’t call, and the hope that Enrique would not leave her too.
He did not. He told her he loved her, and they sold the house with the island in the kitchen and the gazebo in the backyard and moved to Ecuador, where he taught tennis at a club outside of Guayaquil, not far from where he’d grown up.
Ariana cried a lot, missing her boys, sending them cards on birthdays and holidays and in three years they went to see Conor play doubles at the US Open where he lost in the third round, and they all went out together to an Asian fusion restaurant on Queens Boulevard in Flushing.
Their waiter asked everyone to smile and to lean in together. “More close, please” he said, and he took their picture with two separate iPhones and brought them two separate checks.