Click, swat, whoosh, smack . Repeat. Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap. "No!" Silence. Two heads acknowledged my entrance with a finger- to- lip, then returned to the glowing box above my Zambian hostel's bar. I dared only mime for a drink. Like a blind man, the bartender's hands fumbled with my request, his eyes transfixed to the screen. Bounce, bounce, toss, whoosh, smack. Click, swat, whoosh, smack. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And, ruuuussshh and Smack! "Balle de match, Gaudio," stated the Line Umpire, followed immediately by his English translator. As a tennis great- of- the- past- turned- commentator named the Argentine victorious over sponsors and ceremonial music, I peered from my barstool perch at numb bodies rising from a crescent-shaped cluster of well-worn couches and wooden chairs.
A declaration, "Second year, no French Open for Federer," breaks the silence.
"He's going to have to learn to play on clay if he ever wants a Grand Slam. And, he seems good enough," answers another, waving his sweating beer bottle in punctuation.
"Agreed,” concurred the first. “Hell, he won Wimbledon and beat Agassi at the Masters last year. So, are you a Sampras or Agassi fan?"
And, in three exchanges, a new friendship is born.
Flash forward to July, swap in the names Ronaldo, Ronaldinho or Thierry Henry, and place your winning bets on Brazil, Spain or France. One match, two fans, three mini conversations. Voilá! Instant amity.