Tennis Is Not A Game You Play Alone
a Tennis RPF fanfic
Notes: Set after the Australian Open 2009.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction.
Roger pushed open the access door with one hand, the other
dangling the bottle of Penfolds Grange, and emerged onto the
rooftop garden of the hotel. It was still oppressively hot;
long past midnight, but the temperature had barely dipped. At
least the place was deserted.
He wandered past potted palms and miniature fountains and white
spotlights recessed into the ground. It was cooler near the
perimeter, a slight breeze stirring the air. Roger leaned his
elbows on the railing and looked out over the Melbourne skyline:
lights tiling the office towers, lights pulsing along the roads,
the black surface of the Yarra reflecting the neon glow of the
In the distance, Melbourne Park, its lights dimmed now that
the carnival was over, the Australian Open done for another
year. Where yesterday he had stood before fifteen thousand people,
a hundred cameras in his face, completely unable to hold back
his wrenching disappointment.
Now he had his privacy; but no tears came. Roger uncorked the
bottle and took a long swig. Rich flavours rolled over his tongue,
the liquor burning pleasantly, sliding smooth and warm down
his throat. Blessed anaesthesia.
He knew that someday he would retire, same as he knew that
someday he would die; it lay in the distant unimaginable future,
impossibly far away. But if it galled him to be introduced as
the World No 2, how much worse would it be to slip to No 3,
No 10, No 100? Maybe it was time to admit his deepest fears:
that it was too late, he would never get it back, and this was
all there would be.
And now at last it came, moisture pricking at his eyes, blurring
the city lights into a misty orange haze. He drew in a long
He knew that voice. The last person in the world he
wanted to see right now, naturally. He blinked twice and turned.
The new Australian Open champion stood at the entrance to the
roof, the jacket of his suit knotted about his waist, tie hanging
loose around his neck. His dress shirt was unbuttoned at the
collar, its sleeves rolled to the elbow. He rocked on the balls
of his feet, gazing at Roger in consternation. "What are you
doing up here?"
Roger raised the bottle in a mock salute. "Getting drunk."
He leaned back against the railing and curved a sardonic smile
at Rafa, but the other man did not return it. Instead, he stepped
forward cautiously, as though Roger were a startled deer that
might bolt at any second. No need, Roger thought, there was
nowhere he could go.
Rafa closed the distance between them and wrapped an arm around
his shoulders. "You should not be out here alone." He drew Roger
back towards the centre of the roof, glancing behind once. Roger
allowed himself to be guided, over to a bench beneath a trellis
heavy with jasmine. "Are you okay?"
Roger didn't have the energy to pretend. Instead, he said,
"You should be celebrating."
Rafa shook his head. "Too much celebrating already. I need
air." He sank down on the bench beside Roger, stretching his
long legs out in front of him.
"Would you like a drink?" Roger said, proffering the bottle.
Rafa hesitated, then accepted. He tilted it back for a polite
sip, then lowered the bottle with a choked gasp. "This is good!"
"It should be," Roger said. "It's nearly twenty years old."
It was the kind of vintage you saved for special occasions.
He didn't say why he had bought it; Rafa could probably guess.
They passed the bottle back and forth for a while in silence,
Roger growing pleasantly muzzy-headed. But Rafa kept casting
him sideways glances, until Roger finally said, "What is it?"
With absolute seriousness, Rafa said, "Do you hate me?"
"No," Roger said. "Well, maybe a little." He smiled, but Rafa
looked stricken. "It's a joke," he said gently, tousling Rafa's
"It's not funny."
Roger let his hand fall. "What do you want me to say, Rafa?
I'm not perfect. On court or off court."
Rafa looked like he wanted to respectfully disagree.
"Stop worrying about it," Roger added. "You played better than
me. You deserved the win."
"I mean what I said before. You are still a great champion--"
"There is only one champion in a Grand Slam. There is only
one No 1 in the world. And we both know that is you." The words
came out sharper than he intended. He rubbed his face with both
hands. "I'm sorry. I'm not fit company right now. You should
Rafa shook his head. "Stop asking me to leave. Or I start thinking
you do hate me."
Roger huffed a broken laugh. He leaned back against the bench,
leaves rustling against his neck, shirt clinging to his skin
with sweat. Rafa's profile was backlit, outlined in gold like
a king on the coins of old. Not a kid anymore, Roger thought.
"Three years," he said. At Rafa's quizzical look, "As No 2.
How did you stand it?"
"You were better--"
"Forget the line," he interrupted. "I'm not some journalist.
Don't tell me you never wished that guy would get out of your
way. Never wondered what it would be like if he wasn't around."
Rafa met his gaze, dark eyes unreadable. "I would rather lose
to you," he said, "than win everything in a world where you
Time stopped beating. Roger could not look away, even as he
was sure everything showed on his face. His throat tightened,
like he was back on that podium again.
Rafa leaned in close, breath warm. "You are special. Always."
He touched Roger's cheek, almost shyly, then drew away. "Been
following you for a long time. Had to climb a long, long way
to reach you."
"Well, you're here," Roger said, mesmerised. He had to resist
the impulse to trace his fingers over that spot. "What now?"
"We keep climbing together, no?" With a brilliant smile, Rafa
stood. Reached out a hand. After a moment, Roger clasped it,
and the other man pulled him up. They stood facing each other,
not releasing that grip, exactly eye to eye. The same calluses
ridged both their hands.
"I will see you in Paris?" Rafa said. It was almost a statement.
"You will." And all of a sudden Roger could imagine it, the
landscape of the year unrolling ahead of him, game after beautiful
game. Because this was what he did, this was why he was. And
the future was full of changes, but now he wanted to see it
"Good," Rafa said. "I'll be waiting."
- fin -