James Wright and Joe Rasgado in Wheeling, West Virginia

Midsummer, 2022. Though many other players have recommended it, no way I’m playing the Jack Dorsey Memorial Tournament in Wheeling, West Virginia. It’s too far away, a 15 hour drive from home. “Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass. And the eyes of those two Indian ponies / Darken with kindness.”* Across the river from Wheeling lies Martins Ferry, where James Wright was born. I might look across the river of his imagination at the “ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel.” I might see his mind’s ponies “bow shyly as wet swans” on the long highway home and back. I “step out of my body and break into blossom.”

Senior tennis is not suicidal. It’s Sisyphisian. Roll the rock up the hill of inevitable defeat when you play someone like Joaquim (Joe) Rasgado, my opponent in the quarterfinals in Wheeling, West Virginia. Rasgado beat Borg at Wimbledon. That was in the juniors, but still. As a junior Rasgado was the third best player in the world while I was still learning to play second base.

Rasgado rarely hits anything hard and never looks like he’s trying. Intensity is not his bag. He prefers to slice and dice his opponents to death with a slightly bemused look on his face. His backhand is as beautiful as James Wright’s horses. Head stays down, focused on the ball. Before and after. Graceful lines of extension in both arms at once. Before and after. Precision, placement, a sudden drop shot. I lose 6-0, 6-2.

Another sport’s sons “grow suicidally beautiful, gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.”

*All the quotes above are from two of James Wright’s most famous poems: “The Blessing,” and “Autumn begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio.” James Wright is one of America’s most important poets of the 20th Century. You can learn more about his work and read these two poems and others from his page with the Poetry Foundation.

You can learn more about Joaquim (Joe) Rasgado from his page on Wikipedia and from the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame.

Artist Bio: Leonardo Luque, a retired Colombian naval officer, earned his fine arts degree in 2012 from Jorge Tadeo Lozano University in Bogota, Colombia. A highly ranked Colombian player in the ITF world rankings for men’s 60 singles, Leo has drawn all his life and is especially interested in the beauty and motion of the human body. After traveling through China and Panama, he settled down with his family in 2014 in Boca Raton, Florida.

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3 replies on “James Wright and Joe Rasgado in Wheeling, West Virginia”

In learning from and watching my father play for my entire life, I would say that this painting is quite fitting because his backhand is, most definitely, a work of art!

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