Double Fault

Glenn Harmon was a tennis fan who had developed an unhealthy obsession with Serena Williams and had even gone so far as to look up her e-mail address on the Internet. Unfortunately, the Serena Williams whose address he found was not the world-class tennis player, but a college sophomore at FSU, from Columbus, GA. To make matters worse, she was away on vacation when he began his one-sided correspondence, so that by the time she returned, her box was filled with lengthy missives, counseling her on how to improve her backhand, or consoling her over a loss. This Serena Williams was not a tennis fan, and did not immediately make the connection, and wondered how she had garnered the attention of this obviously disturbed individual.

Wading through the megabytes of info, she found his notes to be incredibly detailed and frank. He wrote as though he actually knew the person he was addressing and had a long association with her. Of course, Serena soon decided, if he did know the person he would, no doubt, have a correct e-mail address for her. It wasn’t long after this curious episode began that Serena learned the truth, but rather than correct Glenn’s misconception, she decided to play along, so she began crafting terse, boilerplate snippets thanking him for his support and apologizing for not being able to respond in detail. She never stopped to consider that she might be provoking a deranged stalker liable to respond in any number of unpleasant ways. It was just a way for her to pass time between classes.

Day after day, she labored to reply to his increasingly earnest entreaties and day after day her mailbox was filled with more of them. Having no idea about the “real life” of the person this man was trying to reach, Serena labored to come up with convincing answers to his rambling, yet detailed queries.

“What advice do you have for others trying to overcome obstacles to achieve their goals?” one such missive read.

“Hang in there and never get discouraged,” Serena replied.

“I know you lived in Compton as a child, but I’ve had some trouble locating the block on which you lived,” another e-mail stated. “I’ve been scanning through old phone books from the time but there is more than one Richard Williams listed. Can you remember which house you lived in?”

More than a little disturbed by this line of inquiry, Serena replied, “I was pretty young then. I don’t really remember the specific house.”

In another, the poster sent an extremely long note asking for a comparison of one type of tennis ball to another.

“I generally use whatever the tour supplies,” Serena replied.

“But what about practice?” the poster returned. “What do you prefer then?”

“Actually, the answer is the same,” she said. “It’s better to use what you’re most likely to encounter during a tournament.”

“Of course!” the poster sent back. “That makes perfect sense. Do you ever steal balls from the various tournaments?”

“Do you really believe I’d NEED to steal any?” she replied.

“No, that wouldn’t make much sense,” he sent back.

Another time he asked for detailed specs on the main court at Roland Garros. Not sure what he was talking about, Serena instead sent him a recipe for banana bread she had gotten from her grandmother. “When I say I want a snack,” she included in a note, “this is what you’d better be ready to bring me.”

Was there any surprise that Serena arose one morning and found the news filled with stories of a demented individual trying to sneak into venues at the U.S. Open with 100 pounds of banana bread that he had baked himself? Did she feel at all responsible? Was this even the same man? She could not say.

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